Thursday, February 3, 2011

Death to Groundhogs

Yesterday was Groundhog Day...a day in which my fine state was covered in a snowstorm measured in feet rather than inches.

Meanwhile, in a tiny Pennsylvania town, thousands gathered at Punxsutawney's Gobbler's Knob for a glimpse of the revered rodent Phil as he predicted an early spring.
Phil is a cherished commodity in Punxsutawney and far beyond...an icon...a celebrity...a rock star.

I feel differently. I don't care for Phil or his predictions.

In fact, had I been at the Knob, I may have invoked a modified Shakepearean quote: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Phil, not to praise him."

Why? Because, from a gardener's perspective, groundhogs like Phil are crop killers.

They eat tender plants, dig holes through budding furrows and are general nuisances. And there's never just one. They travel in packs.

I should also note that once, many years ago, a family of Phil's relatives openly mocked me when I couldn't remove them from my garden. It was a humiliating experience that still haunts me.

Back then, the groundhogs lived in a 1957 DeSoto half-buried in my neighbor’s yard in a small Aroostook County town.

When we bought the house, we looked with promise at the gently sloping backyard - with a small brook gurgling at the rear property line - thinking a garden there would yield an abundance of produce.

Within weeks of planting our garden and carefully tending rows of sprouting plants, we learned we were wrong. We had visitors...very plump ones.

There were four groundhogs - a mother, father and two offspring - who, during the next two months, took a liking to the veggies growing a few feet from the DeSoto’s final resting place.

Our garden quickly became a buffet line, with half eaten tomatoes, bits of cucumber and a sprinkling of radish leaves scattered about. Action was needed.

We decided our beagle puppy was up to the challenge. The next morning, as the sunflowers began shaking and tumbled to the ground, I gave her instructions and set her loose.

She ran toward the garden, barking hysterically, and was met by a very angry groundhog who let out screams that sent chills down my spine.

The poor dog retreated, tail between her legs, and yelped until she reached the house. Once inside, she hid behind the sofa for hours.
Not want wanting to unleash firepower in my quiet neighborhood, I opted instead for a "wrist rocket" slingshot and a container of ball bearings purchased at the local Wal-Mart.

I sat on the back porch and took careful aim at my furry adversaries...for a week...until all of the ball bearings were gone. Not a single groundhog was killed. Or maimed. Or even intimidated.

As the last ball bearing missed its mark, I threw the slingshot at the garden wreakers. Sadly it, too, missed them. As it landed a few feet from the garden, I swear I heard them laughing.

I hear echoes of that sound each spring as the last seedling is planted. But not this year.

I'm older and a bit wiser now. So bring on your early spring and your relatives, Phil. I'm ready. Game on.

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