How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature

How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature

by Marc Hamer


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“A wonderful memoir … hands down the most charming book I read last year.”
—Margaret Renkl, The New York Times

“A small book of many things. In quiet, crystalline prose, [How to Catch a Mole] blends memoir, keen observations of nature, and ruminations about life, aging and death."
—Wall Street Journal

In this charming, peaceful memoir, a traditional molecatcher shares the mysterious tricks of his trade, alongside poignant moments from his personal life, including his experience as a homeless teenager, his work as a professional gardener, and all that he has learned about our own humanity from a life spent outdoors.

Kneeling in a muddy field, clutching something soft and blue-black, Marc Hamer vows he will stop trapping moles—forever. In this earnest, understated, and sublime work of nonfiction literature, the molecatcher shares what led him to this strange career: from sleeping among hedges as a homeless teen, to toiling on the railway, to weeding windswept gardens in Wales.

Hamer infuses his wanderings with radiant poetry and stark, simple observations on nature’s oft-ignored details. He also reveals how to catch a mole—a craft long kept secret by its masters—and burrows into the unusual lives of his muses.

Moles, we learn, are colorblind. Their blood holds unusual amounts of carbon dioxide. Their vast tunnel networks are intricate and deceptive. And, like Hamer, they work alone.

Beautifully written, life-affirming, and highly original, How to Catch a Mole offers a gorgeous portrait of one man's deep, unbreakable bond with his natural surroundings, and offers hope and inspiration for anyone looking to improve their relationship with the natural world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771644792
Publisher: Greystone Books
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 244,361
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 7.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Marc Hamer was born in the North of England and moved to Wales more than thirty years ago. After spending a period homeless, then working on the railway, he returned to education and studied fine art. He has worked in art galleries, marketing, graphic design, as a magazine editor and taught creative writing in a prison before becoming a gardener and mole-catcher.

Table of Contents

Prologue 13

Daybreak 17

Scything a Meadow 25

Golden Moles, Star-nosed Moles and Famous Moles 41

Molehills - Leaving Home 49

Earth 57

Tunnels and Sleeping 69

Getting Old and Walking 85

Reproduction 99

Oxygen 107

Gas and the Dead Past 119

Poison and Winter 129

Deterrents 135

Mole Traps and Breaking Things 143

Finding and Kneeling 149

Setting the Traps and Leaving 157

Killing 167

The Fortress and the Worm Larder 173

The History of Molecatching 179

The Future 189

Epilogue 195

Acknowledgements 205

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This is an extraordinary book: part natural history, part memoir, part poetry—all entirely gorgeous. I've read no other book like this. Its beauty and heartbreak will stay with me for a long time. PS: the author stops killing moles, thank goodness."

—Sy Montgomery, New York Times bestselling author of How to Be a Good Creature and The Soul of an Octopus

"Informative and effortlessly readable... Ultimately a reflection on humanity’s fraught but sustaining relationship with nature. "

—Publishers Weekly

Welsh molecatcher, gardener—and debut author—does not disappoint. How to Catch a Mole soars on the plain-spoken yet eloquent observations of its author and incorporates poetry and philosophy.”
Toronto Star

"This is a wonderful book about our relationship with the earth, with other animals and with our own troubled humanity. It has taught me a lot. I feel great love for it."

—Max Porter, author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

“It is rare to encounter such respect and understanding of nature.”

—Rosamund Young, author of The Secret Life of Cows

"Marc Hamer's uplifting writings shed some light on the velvety creatures burrowing beneath our countryside."

—National Geographic Traveller

" A beguiling mixture: part autobiography, part handbook, part travel book, part philosophical treatise. I’m happy to report that it succeeds on each level."

—Daily Mail

"Marc tells his story and explores what moles, and a life in nature, can tell us about our own humanity and our search for contentment."

—Sunday Express

"A lovely little book. I read it through, then found myself going back and reading parts again."

—Lloyd Kahn, publisher and author of Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter

"Discovering Hamer’s nature writing par excellence is a godsend."

—Foreword Reviews (Starred Review ★)

"Lessons learned from a life outdoors encourage the reader to dwell in the small, mostly ordinary but sometimes extraordinary, moments that make up an existence."


"The dreamy lyricism of How to Catch a Mole recalls the memoirs of Laurie Lee, another wanderer through the British countryside who affirmed that life’s most vital moments often unfold in open spaces."

—Christian Science Monitor


Dear Reader,

I am a gardener, and for many years I made my living by catching and killing moles, until I decided not to do it anymore. Telling the whole story of a mole’s life is impossible, and so is telling the whole story of mine, but this book is one of the many honest stories I could tell you that might be good enough to call true. The only certainty I can give you is that by the end of it, you will know a lot more about moles.

Many of us live apart from nature. We live in cities, work in offices, sleep in homes that have no naked flames or visible organisms. For some the natural world is beyond the veil, something that other people are involved in. I wanted to show that this is not true; we are all rooted, we are animals in nature. What we do has an effect on the natural world, and that world has an effect on each of us in a million different ways: the food we eat, the air and water, the rubbish and pollution, what we buy, what we wear, what we use, what we throw away, what we think, our attitudes toward life and each other.

I wanted to show that being quiet and looking and listening to the world around us is good, it is enough. We do not need to make a mark or leave a footprint. Our choices are limited by circumstance, but nevertheless we have a multitude of choices every day, and each moment can be a moment of focus on making life better.

I wanted to show that the natural world is not good, or moral, or pretty. Living things die and are eaten, all living things suffer. Everything decays, nothing lasts forever. This in itself is beautiful and normal and how it should be and not to be feared or shied away from. Embracing this is embracing life itself. The dark only makes the light brighter, and in the end there is no difference between them. The lesson to me of this was that I as a man have a light side and a dark side, and they are both part of who I am, and of who you are, and they should be accepted.

I want to show that if we want to change, we can, just by making the choice.

Thank you for taking the time with these words.


Marc Hamer

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