Tuesday, June 25, 2013

groundhog watch

Write something.

This was the last text I received from Jonathan tonight, before he fell asleep, three states away, where he is taking a course toward certification in Library Science.  Jonathan has been a college student, teacher, lawyer, teacher again and now technology integrator for teachers in the years that I have known him.  He has landed in a career that he loves, that blends many of his past experiences, and that allows him the time to be with his family in the way that he desires.

During our time together I have been a college student, a graduate student, a child psychologist, a mother, and now...well, whatever it is that I am now.

We have come a long way from what we were, the children we were, when we first met years ago at the College on a Hill.  We have circled around heading down one path, regrouping, and choosing differently.  Today's adventure in the garden reminded me again of how much my path has changed.

I remember when I was a Junior in college, during a visit with my parents at a restaurant after a choir concert, that my mother told me the story of my father's battle with a groundhog, who was eating everything in their vegetable garden that year.  I think I smiled and listened, but in my library studying, saving the world by reading one cannon novel at a time while singing my way through four years of intellectual inquiry, it was a story that felt so far away from the world I was in.  Amused, but not connected.

I thought my mother was joking about my father hiding in the raspberry patch with a box...and a stick...and a string...hoping to catch the burglar.  But now?  I'm not sure it was a joke.  In fact, now I try to reach back into my memory to remember exactly what my father did about this rodent situation.  And to recall anything else I have learned since then about groundhogs.

On our honeymoon, we spent a few days in Seattle including an evening in a park to see Cheryl Wheeler and her friends perform.  One of the things I remember about that concert (in addition to the itching I was doing for the terrible rash I had developed from a bad reaction to a sunscreen) was that the performers took suggestions from the audience.  All four folk musicians were asked to sing songs about whatever topic was drawn from a hat.  The word that was drawn from the hat that night was groundhog.  

Wheeler stole the show when she was able to come up with a song that sort of mentioned this animal in her Potato song, to the tune of the mexican hat dance.  Though she had to stretch it a bit, she made her lyric about the ground to also be about the hog...and the rest was hilarious fast singing about spuds.

Upon moving to Maine seven years ago, the kids and I began frequenting the Audubon center near our home.  It did not take many visits to realize that they had a groundhog situation there.  Jonathan and I can still collapse into giggles about the Saturday we were there for a walk when we came upon two women, groundhog watchers, in camouflage clothing and fancy running shoes, carrying binoculars and notebooks, who seemed to be stalking the groundhogs, silently and stealthily searching for them, running from tree to tree, in efforts to not be seen like odd Navy Seals.  I still look for these women each time I visit there, hoping to see them one more time.  Because no one believes us when we try to describe it.  I want to take a picture.  Maybe they have developed better camouflage.

Groundhogs, famed for standing on their hind legs and glancing about along the Maine Turnpike, are not new to me, a child who travelled eight hours each way to visit her family's camp on Northern Maine.

But groundhogs in my garden?  That is something new.  And it is certainly something new to the man standing next to me, Jonathan, the boy I met on the back row of the risers on stage in college.  The boy from Scarsdale, New York.  The boy who knew the grocery store to be the source of all food.

Last year, our first year in this house with this hard-won garden, I engaged in a battle with a rodent much more intelligent than I.  One day I saw an entire row of beans disappear.  Then peas.  Then the vines of cucumbers and pumpkins.  Whatever was eating my crops was moving down the rows, one plant type at a time, carefully eating away my plants when I turned my back.

I stalked this creature, watching from the upstairs windows to see if I could spy what animal was chomping away at my garden so deliberately.  I wrote emails to family about what they thought was happening.  I was told it sounded like I had a groundhog.  And that I should be sure that the fence that surrounded the garden was at least three feet underground as well.  This was funny.  We had just completed building a fence around the garden two weeks prior.

See, Jonathan, of Scarsdale NY?  He does not know how to build a fence.  He does not see birds or animals on the side of the highway as we drive north until the kids and I point them out to him.  He did not know the difference between a flat head and phillips head screwdriver until he met me...well, until he met my father.  My father has quietly and thoughtfully continued to educate him, creating a tool stash for Jonathan, gifting him tools that he thinks he needs each Christmas.

But Jonathan had built me a lovely fence.  A fence that was likely to stay standing.  If you did not lean on it.  A fence of best intentions and spousal support for this woman he married years ago who seemed like one person then and is now quite another.  But it certainly did not run three feet underground.  I came up with a solution to the point of entry, borrowed from the design of our fencing around the chicken coop.

And I am grateful for the fence, and for the adaptability and support that Jonathan has given me, represented by this fence...because really, as my father told him when he asked permission to marry me...I am quite a handful.  He actually said that.

I am sure that when Jonathan arrived home from work a few nights ago he was exhausted and was ready to have a quiet evening.

He was not prepared for Groundhog Watch: 2013.

But that is what we were up to here, as I had spied a groundhog in the pea patch a bit before he arrived home, the groundhog running and hiding under the garden shed when I tried to corner it with a section of fencing.

He sighed.  Put down his messenger bag.  And he and Nicholas headed off to the hardware store to rent a groundhog trap.  Again.  He did not receive the same comments as he walked about the hardware store that I had when I did this last year, employees and customers offering unsolicited advice such as directing me to a gun store, suggesting ways to terminate it instead of relocating it.  Laughing at my insistence on having a Have-A-Heart trap.  One man openly mocked me and wished me good luck with that as I walked out the door into the sunshine carrying my large metal box.

Last year, ROUS, rodents of unusual sizes, were new to us. We googled everything.  Lifelong learners we are...just not of the topics we majored in in college:

  • What was this creature -- before we saw it.
  • How to deter it.
  • We sprinkled spicy pepper powder on the disappearing plants.  No luck.
  • We googled where to rent a trap.
  • We texted family about what to do with a rodent of unusual size in a box.
  • We were told of groundhogs' tendency to relieve themselves once a car starts moving.  And to put down a tarp. 

Once we snared it, we took a hilarious drive into the country to relocate it, with it squeaking and making a very unusual sound all the way, finding an isolated spot to release it finally, only to have to run to the car and drive away fast when a public utility truck appeared suddenly on a path we had not noticed.  If you have Nicholas tell you the story, we were in danger of being arrested for transporting rodents across town lines.




This year, we were wiser.  So All Family Groundhog Watch ensued.  It was a calmer, more curious, and less dramatic and frantic event this year than last.  Jonathan did google bait for groundhog traps and came out of the house with a lovely salad of cantaloupe, strawberries, peas, and vanilla extract.  The cage was placed in the garden.  Near the garden shed.  With fencing to help guide the groundhog into it instead of around it, as this cunning creature did the first few times it emerged.

Miraculously, it worked.  




Once caught, Groundhog Watch morphed into Groundhog Relocation Service.  Dinner, nearly ready when the trap was sprung, moved from the table to be eaten in the car.  

We have done this before.  And had asked the advice of Audubon about where best to relocate garden snatchers.   We all felt a little less criminal in knowing we could tell the rodent police that we had been told to release rodents in the places we would try -- by order of a far higher authority than the police.  By the woman at the desk at the Audubon center.  Groundhog Central.





This first suggested release site seemed a bit...busy.  We giggled at the sign on auditorium of the school.  Casco Bay Movers was having a dance recital that evening.  Movers of a different sort.


But a bit farther up the road was another recommended spot.  And here is where our pea snatcher was released.






I am not sure Jonathan knew what he was getting himself into on this journey we are taking together.  I wish him a good night's sleep, three states away.  In a house without animal dependents and laundry on the line and a wife who has a constant list of things to noodle over together.  And for him to do, often when it is dark and late at night.

Tonight, he needs his sleep.

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