Monday, April 18, 2011

How Much Wood SHOULD a Woodchuck Chuck? or
Can you say VEGETARIAN?

A common and abundant marmot here in the Finger Lakes is the woodchuck, a.k.a. the groundhog.  You see them burrowing under sheds and barns, poking around in the parks, and smashed beyond recognition on the highways. (How unfortunate when that happens on the first day out from hibernation!) They also like to live under big, old, front porches.

Our first year in the house, we gave permission to an Amish boy down the road to rid our property of the pests, and for a few weeks we would see him hanging around after chores. It was a rather surprising event when my in-laws were visiting. When my brother-in-law looked up from his dinner and said, "Uh, there's a guy in your front yard with a straw hat and he's carrying a gun?" and my response was "Oh, that's just Henry!" I realized how much our lives have been changed. I was willing to have someone do the dirty deed for me, and I wanted to feel okay about it. Us or them, right? I live in the country, and this is what we do. Top of the food chain, and all that?

Prolific breeders, no matter how heavily they are hunted, their numbers sustain. For the farmers who still plow with draft horses, the risk of broken legs or ankles is not acceptable, and I respect that. I've seen Elam become so frustrated that he filled one of the holes with manure. Not effective management, mind you, but satisfying nonetheless.

Our second summer in the house, Kevin started rebuilding the porch. The mama-chuck who lived under it delivered a litter of 6 babies and the barn-dwelling mama had 5. We were overrun. If you have never seen a baby woodchuck, know that baby woodchucks are cute.  I mean, really cute in a kitten kind of way. Jake the dog managed to grab 2--and I felt awful about it--but the rest were free to roam the property, even running in very close to Kevin, who was under the porch with saws, hammers, and drills. Each day these babies would venture a few feet further out into the front yard. They feared nothing. 

Lately, I've had a front and center view of the critter through my kitchen window while washing dishes. Sitting up on its hind legs, it will nimbly pull the young plants and shrubs to mouth level and munch. This year they seem to like the "chicks & hens," pulling them out by the root, holding the dirt ball and eating. They also love tulip bulbs. First they eat the green leaves, then they come back and dig up the bulb. They decimated a small patch of crocuses which were just starting to show some color. The nerve. What a nuisance. We've got to do something!

No more hired guns, though, just humane traps set by our local pest-management service. Seeing the little furry red-bellied beasts up close, feeding from the tenderest spring growth, their black noses touching in groundhog greeting, we honor their over-breeding, their insatiable but gastronomically upperclass appetites, and their spunk. Once again, I'm conflicted. So I'll save a woodchuck. But just one.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wave, Everyone!

wave |wāv| verb : move one's hand to and fro in greeting or as a signal

Anyone who has spent time on our porch notices the same thing about the people who pass by: Everyone waves. It's a simple gesture, warm and comforting, and an affirmation of presence that deeply touches me and those who tell me about it. It says "Hey, I see you there and I'm happy about it." Or, "Sorry I can't stop and talk, but hello nonetheless!" Or, "Hi, neighbor!" 

Horseback riders, walkers, truck drivers, Amish, and children all have their own style of wave. From a small, almost unnoticeable tip of the hat to a great wide arm flailing motion. From a buggy comes a tilt forward and a couple of fingers up, with maybe a slight side to side action, or a vigorous, shaky full hand. From behind the wheel of a large farm combine, it may be just a couple fingers raised off the steering wheel, or a salute to the brim of a hat, or a lift of the arm from the elbow. Sometimes it's a raised arm and a shake! 
What confounds me is that a wave always prompts me to stop what I am doing and wave back, without even thinking about it. You may be a stranger, but you are now part of my day, and I yours. Isn't that a lovely thought? Wave, everyone!