The American woodchuck is more properly known as the groundhog (or even more properly as Marmota monax), but by any name is a big bellied pest with an insatiable appetite for everything and anything in the backyard garden. Except perhaps for hot peppers.
Don't try telling me that they're cute. I've seen 'chucks who probably weighed as much as 30 pounds, although half that weight is the norm. Come to think of it, Norm on Cheers looked a bit like the 'chuck who used to patrol our backyard until Jack and Nicky, brother-sister chocolate Labradors, arrived on the scene.
* * * * *So how did the Woodchuck . . . er Groundhog Day tradition get started?
Blame the Celts, who believed that animals had supernatural powers at certain times of the year and if groundhogs and bears came out of hibernation too early they would be frightened by their shadow and retreat back inside for four to six weeks.
* * * * *We have a neighbor whom, you might say, is sometimes a little too smart for his own good.
Both his dogs have passed on. 'Chucks were digging under his garden fence and making mincemeat of his veggies. He dug a trench around the garden and laid 18 inches of fence below ground and another 18 inches above ground, but the 'chucks, despite their sizable girth, figured out how to climb over and in. Climbing over and out was harder with full bellies, but they did it.
'Chucks, for those of you who don't know, live in underground dens. These dens typically have two entrances, or an entrance and an escape exit, if you will, and our neighbor deduced that their tunnel system ran parallel to a treeline that separated his property from the folks next door.
The neighbor hatched a plan: He would light and push a gasoline-soaked rag down one hole and wait with shotgun in hand until the 'chucks bolted from the exit hole.
They did and he got them. But then he smelled wood burning and realized he had set ablaze the root system of his trees. He had plenty of garden hose to reach the 'chuck hole but it was in sections hither and yon. He raced around his house pulling and coupling hose together and finally was able to extinguish his a-little-too-smart blaze.
* * * * *If a woodchuck could chuck wood,
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck, he would, as much as he could,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.* * * * *I lived on a farm for many years with an enormous unfenced garden and a seemingly endless supply of 'chucks despite the fact that our golden retrievers made great sport out of chasing down and killing them.
Their usual technique was to grab them by the neck and shake them until their necks broke, although Ruffie enjoyed repeatedly throwing them up in the air until they expired.
* * * * *We also bred goldens at the farm and most of the pups were sold to families who would arrive in minivans that would disgorge a father, mother and two and a half children.
One such family showed up on a picture-perfect summer Saturday afternoon. They were escorted to a fenced-in area above the garden where the mother would retire with her pups after they were a couple of weeks along. There was a shed in the back of the pen where they sheltered when it rained and steps at the front so that the mother could climb in and out of the pen.
This litter was especially cute and everything was going swimmingly. A couple of pups had been sold and the last half dozen were bound to go quickly. The two and a half children were kneeling outside the fence and petting the pups, who licked their hands and faces as they whispered sotto voce "Buy me, I'm only eight hundred dollars." The father announced that the only thing to be decided was whether they would head back to suburbia with one or two pups.
"Two! Two!" the two and a half children cried in unison.
Then there was a commotion. The mother of the pups had appeared on the steps, an enormous and enormously bloody 'chuck grasped in its jaws. The mother screamed. The two and a half children screamed.
And the father said, "Maybe we'll come back some other time."