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Ground Hog:
An almost true story

By Laura Toffenetti


I didn’t used to know much about groundhogs. I grew up on the edge of Chicago where the wildest things we saw were squirrels and an occasional possum.  When we moved to rural Connecticut twelve years ago I finally met this fat, furry hound of hell.  If you’ve never seen one just picture a Timberline shoe box and cover it with fur. Tack on a straggly six-inch tail and you pretty much have it. They’re fat, low to the ground members of the rodent family.

I remember my first sighting. I was so innocent back then, so naïve. I was walking down the railroad tracks admiring the scenery when I spotted him.  Kind of cute, I thought, fat but cute. I used to marvel at the amazing ability of wild animals to actually survive so close to civilization. Then I took up gardening. 

I have developed a real passion for growing things. I’ve been at it for years. Every year I plant a sizable vegetable patch but my passion is flowers. And to me, the day lily is the garden’s version of chocolate; delightful and addicting. I love the shape of the plant and  the variety of colors. Even the seedpods are cool. Every year I invest a few more hard earned dollars on yet another unusual species: the Black Eyed Stella, the Catherine Woodbury, and my newest addition, the Bela Lugosi, which according to the literature promised to be a luscious dark beauty. As the summer months slide by I admire their blooms, especially anticipating the newest plant’s blossoms. I could hardly wait for the Bela to bloom.

Yes, deer think lilies are candy but I rather relish the challenge of trying to outsmart Bambi’s kin.  Over the years I have put together quite an arsenal, a combination of electric fencing, stinky concoctions and ingenuity. Then this ground hog moved in. A ground hog on my territory differs distinctly from one seen walking along the banks of the railroad.

We had lived in our house for eight years before this rotund mammal dared set foot in my Eden. One day, while gazing out the kitchen window at my beloved day lilies, just a day’s wait from blooming, I spotted the chubby new neighbor. Foolish idiot, I thought, knowing he was no match for my critter proof acreage.

Ground hogs are known by a variety of names, woodchucks, marmots, and, in the South, whistle pigs. I watched with confident amusement as he deliberately waddled over to the first lily in the row. I chuckled to myself as he sized up the seven foot electrified fence towering over him. He sniffed the dead salmon stew that encircled the plants.  Then with no thought to the owner of this property, he nonchalantly skootched under the stockade and casually pull down a stem! 

Frozen in horror, I watched as he slowly, like a pompous food critic, a pseudo gourmand, proceeded to eat half of the almost blooming beauty on my Lea Bee Orange Crush!  Leaving half of this delicacy, not bothering to finish it off and end it’s agony, not satisfied with the devastation of this single flower, he moved on to chew half of the next bud and then half of the next! Once in a while he would stop to belch, scratch his belly and then move on, busily grabbing a new stem and attacking another plant. Slowly, deliberately, evilly he proceeded down the row, munching the most tender tips of my Miss Mary Mary, my Mini Pearl, my American Revolution until finally he came to my prize, my gem, my Sheherazade: Bela Legosi. 

He had my precious in his cross hairs then stopped. I held my breath as he rested a moment to pick at a bit of petal stuck between his savage teeth. I had been waiting ten months for dear Bela to bloom. It was my rarest, my showpiece, my Hope Diamond and now all that waiting, that yearning was soon to be obliterated by a hideous glutton! I gazed in horror and disbelief!  Frantically I banged on the window and yelled, “No! Stop!” but he turned not his head nor hesitated in the slightest. Within seconds my Bela Legosi and his sweet cousins were but a nibbled wasteland. And then this creature of the devil turned his head and grinned at me..

Like General Sherman marching through Georgia this furry fiend smashed through the taste-land of my labors. He became a merciless despot. The fencing and minefields so carefully laid caused him not the slightest concern. He quickly discovered my vegetables and, leaving no leaf unturned, proceeded to scarf up my tomatoes, devastate my zucchini, raid my pumpkins, and devour my cukes. 

I am the defender of plants. It is my calling. My authority over the local wildlife has long been established as that of a fair and just ruler. The animals are welcome to wander at will as long as they didn’t poach on the Queen’s land. But now I was being blatantly challenged. I would not, could not, stand silently by when faced with such barbaric behavior. The lowly ground hog may be weak witted and one of God’s lesser creatures but he must be made to learn as other varmints before him that I was not one to be toyed with. In the past rabbits had taunted me, moles had abused my good nature, deer had taken to eating the wreaths off my door, but I was always victorious. I don’t know with whom this Ground Hog thought he was dealing but he was soon to find out he was messing with the wrong human. This was war and this particular fauna was going down.

Carefully I prepared myself for battle. I donned my dingy dungarees. I admit they were a bit snug around the middle but what commanding officer doesn’t assemble a few extra pounds during peacetime? I’d soon be back to my fighting weight. I pulled on my old straw hat, battered and worn but still loyal and true. My work gloves had fought many a battle with poison ivy and New England rock. They never shirked their duty to protect my hands from thorn and splinter. I knew I could count on them. Grimly I pulled on my wellies. Ah, my dear old wellies. Many’s the time I had toiled through mud and muck secure in the knowledge that my socks were clean and my feet were dry. I gathered my gear, girded my loins and punched the electric garage door opener. 

I emerged into the bright clear light armed with spikes, boards, chicken wire and bars of Irish Spring. I knew I had the technological advantage on the battlefield. This roving shoe box would soon be shocked and awed by my fighting power. In a matter of days the flowers and vegetables would burst forth like a terrorized populace set free from the voracious viciousness of their local tyrant.

For hours I toiled under the broiling sun, planning, plotting, setting down stakes, digging trenches, burying chicken wire six inches into the soil.  I cut up chunks of Irish Spring and strategically placed them around the parameter. Not content with these tactics, I mixed up a near lethal concoction of foul smelling ingredients and launched buckets of it at the flora I was determined to protect. Finally, as the sun set, I declared Mission Accomplished.  I would rest easy that night, knowing that nothing would dare attempt an attack on the high tech defenses I had just completed. 

Triumphantly I stomped off in my wellies, swabbing at the sweat pouring down my face. I headed back toward the garage contemplating a well-deserved gin and tonic.  Confidently I glanced back for one last look at my handiwork when I thought I heard a whistling sound. Whistling? And a rather nasty whistling at that.

WHEEEEE! WHEEEEE! WHEEEE! In coming! It was the dreaded Whistling Pig!  A sneak attack! Not content to confront me on the battlefield like an honorable opponent, I was being challenged on my own asphalt driveway! Not my flowers, he was attacking me! The scoundrel! But I am not one who is easily ruffled. I had anticipated just such a move. I was ready with my answer. I raised my hands over my head in the classic scaring off an attacking puma maneuver and bellowed back. “Go away!  Shoo!  Go away!”

The woodchuck only glared and increased his barrage of noise. “SCRIBLLE!! SCRIBLLE!! SCRIBLLE!!” he howled. Then he began his advance! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!

Did I falter? Did I tremble? Did I give way? No! I stood my ground, brandishing my arms, answering back in the language of all fierce warriors, “NO! NO! GO AWAY! GO AWAY! SHOO!”

Unbelievably, this enemy was undaunted by such fierce resistance!  He continued his advance! One had to admire such bravery against such immense odds.  his small but virulent strain of suicidal marmot showed no fear as he bared his weapon, the two terrible teeth that never stopped growing. Cocking his ear to distant bugles he abandoned all pretense of an orderly march and surged at me in a fury.

Startled, I beat a hasty retreat to the woodpile.  Furiously I wondered how much wood a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I soon discovered that they were damn good at chucking chucked wood as well as dodging, gnawing and leaping chucked wood. I hastened my retreat. 

Heading for higher ground I scrambled up the first few steps of my red cedar deck.  Surely, I thought, the added height would convince my stubby foe of my overwhelming superiority. Once again I waved my arms and thinking that perhaps this was a whistle pig from the South, I hollered my command in a language he’s understand, “GO ‘WAY!  GO ON, NOW, GIT!”

But to no avail!  Like some terrible nightmare he came, grunting and squealing, whistling and growling, chucking and screeching!

My heart beat a furious rum ta tum tum. I escaped up the remaining stairs and secured my position behind the door. Safe in my house I leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. I was trapped. I had declared war against my enemy before I had realized what a lunatic I was fighting. How was I to achieve victory over such an insane foe?  I peered out the window. He raised his head in a hellish howl as he turned toward my garden. I saw him begin to burrow. Within seconds he had tunneled his way under my chicken wire and behind him were reinforcements!  I did the only thing I could. I let my fingers do the walking until I found what I was looking for: Realtors.

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