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Day 33: The Groundhog's Tale

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" --traditional tongue-twister question

Another name for 'groundhog' is 'woodchuck,' though why you never see 'Woodchuck's Day' I do not know.

From Wikipedia: 'Groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation, and often build a separate "winter burrow" for this purpose. This burrow is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line, and remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. They emerge from hibernation with some remaining body fat to live on until the warmer spring weather produces abundant plant materials for food.'

On that last, I would add '...and until ravenous hunger drives them from their hibernation burrow in search of food.' Somehow I can identify with the feeling, having been ravenous a time or two my own self.

The winter of '92-'93 saw quite a bit of snow dumped on our region of Pennsylvania. It was packed in the backyard, where it tended to drift up against the house then compact, but the porch kept it back from the foundation and the basement was nice 'n' dry, so we would let nature take its course and just let it melt in its own time. (Lord knows, there was puh-len-tee of shovel work along the front and sides of our lot, what with the municipal snow-clearing ordinances and all.)

At the time I worked nightshift at a newspaper, so my habit was to come home around daybreak, get the kids and the ex up, breakfasted, and out, then sleep most of the day until the kids got home. One late-March morning, everybody went off to their assorted assigned places, and I decided to take a nice hot bath before sleeping for a few hours.

The sun was shining and spring was definitely in the air. I sat in the tub, relaxing in the steamy bubbles and reading a book. ('If you find yourself in hot water, you might just as well make the most of it' - one of Kasey's Maxims.) We'd been listening to the (welcome) drip of snow and ice melting for several days. Now a new sound: it was a vibration of sorts, almost as though there was a car idling near the house and revving its engine from time-to-time. I couldn't hear a car or an engine, but the house was slightly 'buzzing' from this noiseless vibration.

After a few minutes it stopped, and I decided it must've been something outside. Then it came back again. It stopped and started all during the time I was in the tub, and in fact I heard it - distantly - intermittently even after I tried to go to sleep.

That evening I described it to the ex. It was dark by then, and in those days, after supper and checking homework, I would go to my job while he put the kids to bed then went to sleep himself. He said he'd listen out for it, in case it also happened after nightfall.

The next morning, he said he hadn't heard anything, and we concluded it must've been something unusual. Eh. The mysteries of Life, right?

Off he goes, kids up, off they go, and I settle down for a nice doze - buzz, buzz, buzz. I was on the sofa, in the living room, rather than upstairs in the bathtub, so there wasn't quite the vibration that the (non)sound had carried the day before, but there was a definite 'buzz' in the house itself. It was almost as though it was coming through the floor.

Annoyed as all get out (I really don't like to have my sleep disturbed) I got up and tried to track down the source, but of course, as soon as I would get up it would stop. Settle down and it would start again. Finally, I was able to move all around the downstairs during some of the buzziest times, but it really didn't resolve anything. I looked out of windows - another brilliantly sunny day, snow melting, even patches of grass appearing in some places - but there was no clue as to what could be making that resonance.

Again that evening the ex and I discussed what could be going on, but as the house did not appear to be in imminent danger of collapse - eh. Another mystery. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it was off to work I went.

The following weekend he said 'I know what that sound was.' 'Yeah?' 'It was a groundhog.' 'WHAT?!? There's a groundhog in the house??' 'No, no, it was under the back porch.'

A groundhog that had burrowed under the back porch for the winter had apparently awoken from hibernation. Finding itself snowbound - that is, the snow had piled up so high, then packed down so hard against the porch it couldn't dig its way out from underneath - it chewed a hole through the lattice just above the 'snowline' - an eight-inch hole, almost perfectly round and plenty big enough to allow him to get in and out, so he could go forage then return to his snug winter quarters.

A brief digression: I don't think a single thing had been done to update or maintain our house until we bought it in 1989, from the people who had had it built in 1934. ('For Sale: plain two-story house, constructed on the cheap, no charm, slightly used, one owner.' I used to refer to its style as 'Generic Depression.')

First things first - we upgraded the electric and replaced the furnace.

Second things second - the back porch was rotting, so in the summer of 1991 my father and ex-husband tore it out and rebuilt it, keeping only the roof of the original.

When they were nearly done, my dad asked if there was anything in particular I would like for it. Among a few other things, I asked for latticework around the bottom, to fill in the spaces between the piers and between the ground and the porch floor. Done and done. It looked really nice when it was finished.

In the summer of '92, the groundhog moved in.

Now, we didn't have any kind of garden, but the neighbors behind us did, a nice vegetable patch. There wasn't (apparently) anyplace convenient for the groundhog to live over there, so he dug out a space to crawl under the (brand-new!) lattice on our back porch, then dug down into the soil there to make himself a burrow. Great digs - no pun intended - if you're a groundhog. Double-protection from dogs.

Because there was the ready supply of fresh vegetables, he didn't bother anything in our yard. Why eat flowers or shrubs when you can get cabbage and carrots and potatoes? The neighbors were annoyed, but couldn't catch him in the act. Not that it would've done much good. They had called the local city offices - hah. Tried the county people. Nope. The ag center? Nope. Finally called the game department, and got put onto 'animal control,' but nobody was any help, really.

I gave it a shot, after they told me about this. I called the animal control office and explained about the groundhog under my porch. 'I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do about it,' he said. I allowed as how I had school-age children and was concerned among other things with the possibility of rabies.

Now, in point of fact, I was blowing smoke, because I grew up on a farm and none of us (not on our own farm or on any of those close-by) ever had a rabid groundhog. The very idea is kind of laughable. Oh, I'm not saying it couldn't happen - after all, they are mammals, and any mammal is susceptible - but groundhogs? Not likely. Raccoons, yes, and I've had a couple scary encounters from a distance. But never groundhogs.

He repeated there was nothing he could do.

While we had never shot groundhogs when I was growing up - my dad wouldn't have been adverse to doing so, if they had caused much in the way of damage, but blackbirds and crows were worse than any groundhogs, or rabbits, for that matter - I asked about it. This caused great excitement at animal control.

'Oh, no, you can't shoot it! You can't do that!'

'You mean because I live in a town?' (I'm not an idiot, I was just exploring some options.)

'No, because it's a protected species.'

What? We were discussing the common groundhog here, you know, the dozen-to-the-acre large-nuisance-but-essentially
-harmless rodent. All over the mid-Atlantic region, and for all I know, throughout North America. In great abundance.

'Then you mean I can't poison it either?' (Don't get excited. That was even less on my radar than shooting it, but again, I was trying to get some help here.)

'NO! If you do that, we will FINE you!!!'

Well, you'd have to catch me first, wouldn't you? And prove I was the murderer? *sigh*

He went on to tell me that the only government-sanctioned method of animal removal was to use a 'Havahart' live trap. (These are the ones that basically look like wire cages. You bait them, the animal goes in to get the goods, the door comes down behind them, and you can then take them somewhere remote and release them.)

Okay. I can deal with that. 'Do you bring me a trap, or do I come to your office and pick it up? And once I've caught him, do you take him out to the wilds to re-locate him, or should I--?'

'Oh, no, WE don't have any traps to lend you. You will have to go buy one.'

Even now, after all these years, I wince at the absurdity of the conversation.

'Whaddaya MEAN I have to go buy one?!?'

'Yes, I'm afraid so. It's the only acceptable method of groundhog removal.'

I told him I'd get back to him.

I went so far as to call a few of the local hardware stores. The minimum cost of a Havahart that was deemed sufficiently large for a good-sized groundhog was $140, in 1992 money. Plus six-percent sales tax. I briefly calculated the chances of catching the groundhog quickly, releasing him, and taking the trap back saying 'I've changed my mind - could I have a refund?' but the idea was fleeting.

Back to animal control.

'Let's just assume for a moment that I spend the money to buy a Havahart trap. Then what? I mean, if I'm responsible for purchasing the trap, I guess I would also be responsible for transporting and releasing the groundhog?'

'Yes, of course.'

'And just WHERE would I release said captive?'

'Well, you can't release wild animals in any of the inhabited areas. After all, there's always the threat of rabies.' (You have to see my face at this point, even now.) 'And you can't release it onto public property, so none of the county parks or state forest land or anything will do.'

'So where CAN I release a groundhog?'

'Maybe you know a farmer who--?'

Oh yeah sure. I know loads of farmers who would jump at the chance to have a real live garden-destroying wood-gnawing pest introduced into their little corner of Eden...

The upshot: we didn't do anything. Once the snow had melted sufficiently, the groundhog went back to rooting under the bottom edge of the latticework, the hole he'd made now being far too high for him even to reach, as it was a good two-feet off the ground. We didn't want to replace the piece of lattice - nearly an entire 4x8 section - so I grew some ivy over it and planted flowers in front of it. It was still there when I sold the house in 2001. To the best of my knowledge, it's there yet.

I hold no grudges. That particular groundhog is long gone, and for all I know, his (apparently it was 'his') descendants lived elsewhere. If any of them have ever returned to living underneath that porch, it's certainly not my problem any longer.

Does kind of give an answer to that age-old question, 'How much wood would a woodchuck chuck...' though.

"A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood." --traditional tongue-twister answer

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Kasey...you have such a gift, a great storyteller and funny as h---! We have several red squirrels that "dance" in and on our cottage roof and make noise like you wouldn't believe. I'm afraid of what we might find if we completely redo the roof (the cottage is an old hunting shack from the early 1930's...log cabin type) I kind of like to hear the little guys have fun up there but it drives my dogs crazy! Please continue to blog and tell us stories...I can never get enough! emoticon
    3684 days ago
    I NEVER would have guessed a groundhog!! I do have squirrels that regularly chew on my log house, a sound I've come to recognize! And the woodpeckers will peck, another distinctive sound. But the GROUNDHOG??? Glad your mystery was solved!
    3684 days ago
    You and your stories, just to darn funny ....love ya !!! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3684 days ago
    Oh my LOrd!!!! --- What a time you had eh ??-----reminds me of "'the bat in my living room " story----- which no one would remove, so finally I did with a fishing net---
    You had me laughing at your story girl!!
    You, coming from Pennsylvania (are yu?)--must be sorta related to the Woodchuck---- LOL----
    Anyway, good blog--
    Lynda emoticon
    3685 days ago
    ROFL!! You surely are a true "story teller". You have such a gift with words.

    My Punxsutawney Phil never had rabies. emoticon
    3685 days ago
    Great story on Groundhog day! thanks for sharing- ---don't you just love government bureaucracy.
    3685 days ago
    Cute story!
    3685 days ago
    Kasey, Your blogs just make me laugh. You have such a way with words. I really enjoyed your groundhog story! emoticon
    3685 days ago
    "A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood!"
    I have a groundhog living under my deck (it's only a foot off the ground and he's burrowed under. He doesn't bother me and I don't bother him. I figure he's a much better neighbor than the skunk who's moved in under the deck across the road. My cats watch him out the window when the weather's nice, so he's paying his rent by providing their entertainment.
    I can remember my great-uncle Broox showing me the "whistle-pigs" in the pasture across from the old farmhouse in West Virginia. He'd sit on the porch and give a loud whistle - the groundhogs would pop up to see what was going on. His philosophy was they were welcome to live in the cow pasture but they'd better stay out of the garden. He'd wage war on them if they ventured in to it, which was seldom due to the fencing he had around it.
    Buckeye Chuck, Ohio's version of Puxatawny Phil, says we'll have an early spring. I am SO ready for it!

    3685 days ago

    Comment edited on: 2/2/2011 2:33:16 PM
    Thanks for sharing this funny story. Living out in former "cow country" myself, we've had our share of groundhogs in the neighborhood over the years, so I can really relate.

    My yard is enclosed by a 6 ft tall fence but that didn't keep the pesky groundhog out of my yard...my apple tree was too much temptation! He would dig holes under the fence and we'd cover them with heavy rocks and soil...we found out that he was quite strong. We put out Kritter Keeper (it's suppose to be a deterent, yeah right!) and mothballs but he was unstoppable. When I would come into the yard, he would run and hide under my grandson's playhouse...peeking out to see when the coast was clear. He was sneaky, too. Animal control said to catch him and release him in a farmer's field. We tried, but we only caught bunnies and the squirrels would come in and eat the apple bait....no luck.

    One day, my neighbor caught him (or her) and one of the neighborhood teens who lives on a farm came and took him away. Don't know what became of the groundhog...I figure, don't ask, don't tell...it's better that way. emoticon
    3685 days ago
    Loved your funny story. emoticon
    3685 days ago
  • DR1939
    Funny story! We live outside town and have a variety of animals. Lots of deer and turkey at this time of the year. The turkeys the don't do much harm, but deer eat anything they can find. We still have our Christmas lights up as it is too cold to remove them. Some are wrapped around wreathing and I worry that the deer will eat them. So far the snow is too deep in front of the wreathing for them to get to it.
    3685 days ago
    Very cute story! Thanks!
    3685 days ago
    emoticon emoticon They don't have a cloud without rain, but I hear that Puxatawny Phil did NOT see his shadow this morning. We have yet to hear from Unadilla Bill, in Nebraska.

    Thanks for sharing this hilarious tale from the Pennsylvania woods!
    3685 days ago
    emoticon emoticon
    3685 days ago
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