the Hunter and the Philosopher. Once there was a hunter who spent his days tracking the wide prairies of North Dakota with his gun and dog and sometimes a small boy who would beg to trot along.
On this particular morning, hunter and boy, far out on the prairie, sat watching intently a rise of ground ahead of them. It was pocked with gopher holes. From time to time a small striped gopher would whisk nervously from the mouth of his den to the cover of matted prairie grass, soon to reappear with cheek food pouches bulging.
“Smart little outfits, the gophers,” the hunter observed. “I mean the way they have things figured out. Whenever you come upon a gopher village, you can be sure it will be near a patch of grain where they can get their food and close by a creek or slough for water. They’ll not build their towns near willow clumps, for there’s where the owls or hawks will be roosting. And you’ll not be finding them near stony ledges or a pile of rocks where their enemies the snakes will be hiding ready to snatch them. When these wise little critters build their towns, they search out the southeast slope of a knoll that will catch the full sweep of the sun each day to keep their dens warm and cozy. The winter blizzards that pound out of the north and west to leave the windward slopes of the rises frozen solid will only drift loose powder snow on top of their homes.
“When they dig their dens,” continued the hunter, “do you know that they do? They slant the runaway steeply down for 2 or 3 feet and then double back up near the surface again where they level off a nice dry shelf. That’s where they lie – close under the sod roots, out of the wind, warmed by the sun, near to their food and water, as far as they can get from their enemies, and surrounded by all their gopher friends. Yes, sir, they sure have it all planned out!”
“Is our town built on a southeast slope?” the small boy asked thoughtfully.
“No,” said the hunter, “our town slopes down to the north, in the teeth of the bitter winter winds and cold as a frosty gun barrel.” He frowned. “Even in summer the breezes work agains us. When we built the new flax mill, the only mill for 40 miles, where do you think we put it? We bulit it right smack on the only spot where every breeze in the summertime can catch the smoke from its stack and pour it across our houses and into our open windows!?”
“At least our town is near the river and water,” said the boy defensively.
“Yes,” replied the hunter. “But where near the river did we build our homes? On the low, flat land inside the river bend, that’s where. And each spring when the snows melt on the prairie and the river swells, it floods out every cellar in our town.”
“Gophers would plan things better than that,” the small boy decided.
“Yes,” said the hunter, “a gopher would be smarter.”
“When gophers plan their homes and towns,” the boy philosophized, “they seem to do it better than people do.”
“Yes,” mused the hunter, “and so do most of the animals I know. Sometimes I wonder why.”
John Ormsbee Simonds, Landscape Architecture