Vermont Country Journal~Woodchuck Chuck

 

~Portrait of Henry~

Ah Summer!  When all of the spring and early summer shoots and sprouts are still supple and tender, they attract a multitude of the local population. We're not talking about two-leggers, mind you-but just about everything else shows up to see what tasty morsels there are to eat. The birds and butterflies are wonders to behold, but the scourge of any farmer or gardener who lives in a rural setting has got to be the deer, the rabbits, and…the woodchucks.There is nothing more discouraging than awakening in the morning, anticipating a relaxing day of gardening, and discovering that during the night your pampered plants were a midnight snack for varmits. That is when cute Bambi and Thumper become the enemy.

We got to Vermont last year. The growing season was well under way. We decided to cast aspirsions aside and went ahead planting about two dozen tomato plants and many cucumbers. We got a big pot of basil for the front porch. It seemed kind of quaint that at any given time, one could see at least 10-20 rabbits hopping and chomping different parts of the property. This being a concern, we debated weather to fence in our small vegetable garden. It had been rumored that because of the scent, tomato plants were not the vegetable of choice for furry gnawers. I asked the young gal who sold us the plants if rabbits would eat tomato plants? She answered "Well, I guess if they're hungry!" Welcome to Vermont sensibility. We put them in anyway.

Plants do well in Vermont's rich soil. Our's were looking like they were making up for lost time, when one morning I went out- hoping to admire how much they had grown during the night and found them all gone. " Pesky wabbits!!"-I thought (trying to contain that I was madder than hell). The plants were not just nibbled-they were chomped to the ground. A friend, who stopped over to offer condolences, informed us that it looked like it was not the work of killer rabbits, but that of the dreaded woodchuck.

M first noticed Henry the Woodchuck while mowing the two and a half mowable acres on the property. Henry was big and fat and appeared to have been around for a few years. He would watch M mowing back & forth from the edge of the green and would follow M from one side to the other. I first met him when I went out to the woodshed and saw the tail end of what I thought was a big cat jumping down behind the logs when I approached. Big ol' fat rear with a big ol' bushy tail colored a bit like a calico or a raccoon. Henry became a sort of mascot. We'd watch him from the front porch while he watched us from across the lawn. Turned out he lived under the barn that is the woodshed. Fall and winter came and we hoped that Henry had burrowed in, or did whatever woodchucks do during the cold. In spring, it was a nice surprise the first time we saw Henry stretching out after a long winter's sleep. It was hard to tell if he felt the same way about seeing us.

About mid-spring, we began noticing the bunnies coming back. And little baby woodchucks. It dawned on us that Old Henry wasn't Henry at all– but Henrietta. Henrietta, who spawned lots of little Henriettes. Cute little things, until we discovered they were worse than a hoard of locusts. This year, we have a larger vegetable garden that is indeed, fenced in, but those rotten little rodents have eaten all of the seedlings and the dahlia sprouts, petunias, roses, and 'you-name-its'. Something had to be done. Spray stuff didn't work, nor did putting Bodhi's shorn hair around war them off. Shotguns were ruled out, so we borrowed a friends 'Have-a-Heart' trap.

Have-a-Heart Trap 

She showed us how to set it and said to quarter a Granny Smith apple to use for bait. She lives over in New York State, so we decided to use a Macintosh apple since we are in Vermont. It didn't take long before we rounded up four of the infernal little beasts. Auntie Gee asked us if we were going to bring them up to her pond to teach them how to breath under water like many old farmers do. We declined and opted to take them over to Bennington College's liberal campus. One might find this rather peculiar, but after taking a closer look at them, we saw that they were wearing tiny little Birkenstocks and had hairy legs. We knew where they belonged. If they couldn't be at Smith, they were home at Bennington.

 

Epiphilium in bloom

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