Hey!” I slid our screen door open, stepped onto the sunny deck, and yelled, “Get out of there!”
The beagle from the farm down the road whimpered at my feet. He’d scampered on the deck for his daily investigation of what my husband, Spence, and I were up to.
“Not you, Spot.” I bent and scratched behind his ears. “I want that groundhog out of our vegetable garden.”
My mom snickered under her floppy hat. Reclining in a lounge chair, she was reading a Maeve Binchy novel and enjoying her annual visit to our Western Pennsylvania homestead. “Get Spence’s shotgun, Jan-Jan. That fatty would make a hearty stew.”
Spence joined us on the deck. He peered over the railing at the garden, stomped down the ramp, and grumbled. “It’s in the beans.”
“Go with Spence.” I patted the beagle’s fanny. “Chase the groundhog.”
Whether Spot understood my words or not, he raced after my husband.
As he strode closer to the garden, Spence called over his shoulder. “It’s trapped inside the bean fence, Janet. Bring your camera.”
Perfect! For years I’d wanted a decent photo of a woodchuck. You see, I’m a devout observer of Groundhog Day. On February 2, I step outside to search for shadows then compare my results with Punxsutawney Phil’s and Buckeye Chuck’s predictions. In the evening, I watch Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. I also send greetings to friends in England who share my enthusiasm for February 2, their Candlemas. Since they don’t have groundhogs, a photograph of one in my garden would delight them. But the critters don’t stick around like wood turtles when I aim the camera. My groundhog photos always looked like blurry brown clumps of dirt.
I grabbed the Sony Cyber-shot, dashed down the ramp, and hustled across the grass.
As I joined the fellas, the groundhog stuck its head between two squash plants. “How’d it get in?” I raised the camera and peered at the LCD screen. The closeup view revealed a plump, tubular body covered with reddish-brown and black fur. Its black eyes radiated disgust.
Excited, Spot let loose a string of squeaky barks as he ran around the outside of the fence.
“There aren’t any gaps at the bottom,” Spence said, pulling an end of his mustache. “It must have climbed over.”
Spence hoisted Spot over the fence. The beagle put his nose to the ground and charged the woodchuck.
Startled, the critter sprinted.
Spot raced behind with his nose practically stuck to the groundhog’s butt. They trampled beans and scrambled under squash leaves.
I swung the camera and pressed the shutter release—click—keeping the LCD screen— click —focused on the— click —zigzagging pair. Memory Full flashed across the screen. Drat. I shoved the camera into a pocket. “How do we get it out?”
Spence bent over a short side of the fence and placed a stone to hold it down. “The groundhog can exit here.”
The critter approached the new exit. But instead of crossing the downed wire, it swerved and halted nose-to-nose with the beagle.
Spot’s tail straightened. His nostrils quivered.
The groundhog planted its paws and hissed.
“Time to cool down, fellas,” Spence said. He reached in, picked up the beagle, and put him back down outside the fence. “We don’t want you getting hurt.”
Spot paced the perimeter, and the groundhog plowed through more plants.
“It’s not very smart,” I said. “It could escape.” In hopes of moving the woodchuck in the right direction, I gathered some pebbles and tossed them at its hindquarters. The pebbles hit the target, but the groundhog didn’t cooperate. It scuttled around the enclosure then stopped, turned, and bared its long, chisel-like incisors. At me!
I stepped back.
The critter shifted its gaze to Spence, who removed the stone, unfastened the chicken wire, and dragged that entire side of the fence away. The new ten-foot opening was wide enough for a semi-truck.
Spot ran in and began chasing the critter to the opening. The groundhog looped back to a closed end with Spot at its rear. It stopped there and glared at the beagle.
I stepped inside the fence to help Spot, wishing I’d worn leather hip boots instead of sneakers. I half-inched toward the critter.
It shot a withering glare in my direction.
My spine melted to the consistency of strawberry jam.
Spence handed me a four-foot branch. “Use this.”
I held the very end, flicked my wrist, and tapped the groundhog’s back with the branch.
It dug its pointy front claws into the dirt.
I brushed the critter’s side with the branch.
I tickled its back paw with the tip of the branch.
The groundhog jumped, swirled in midair, and exploded out of the patch. Stalks and vines bounced in crazy directions.
Spot pressed his nose against the critter’s tail. They zoomed across the yard and disappeared into our wildflower garden. The pair then exited the far end of that garden and sped out of sight, Spot baying his doggie yodel. He’d probably chase the woodchuck to its burrow then come back so we could pet him all over and tell him what a great job he’d done.
Spence studied the vegetable patch and squatted. The squash appeared intact. The beans weren’t so lucky.
“Is there much damage?” I asked.
Spence fingered several ripped bean leaves and pulled up plants with broken stems.
“Some might recover.”
“Spence,” I said, “Let’s strengthen that fence.”
My husband looked at me, smiled, and gave a fake military salute. “Operation No Mo’ Woodchuck. I’m all for it.”
That afternoon, Spence and I went to town and bought lots more stakes and fencing. Two days later, our garden barrier was twice as tall and thrice as stout.
I sure hoped it’d work because, much as I like Groundhog Day, now that I’d had one of my own, I had no desire to pull a Bill Murray and repeat it.
Not even once. ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #136.