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A groundhog, what some call a woodchuck or whistle pig, has been wreaking havoc in our yard and life this summer.
I was first alerted to his presence when Mom pointed out something had been chewing on pots of parsley and dill by her door. Our son, Joel, had brought her and me the herbal gifts for Mother’s Day.
Rabbits already had gotten into the garden and nibbled the tops of the first planting of green beans, as they did every summer, so I supposed they had become a little bolder.
But then another day I came home and found a tomato plant in a pot had been eaten down to the stump. And my window box planter of leafy cilantro was completely mowed down.
This was not the work of a bunny.
We spied the supposed culprit in our neighbor’s backyard one day, a brown groundhog who waddled slowly across the yard and disappeared under her concrete porch.
We borrowed a humane trap from someone at church and set it up to see if we could catch the fellow who was enjoying the fruits of my gardening labors. My husband put a handful of dry dog food on a paper plate and carefully set the mechanism so it would spring the escape door shut when the animal entered the wire box to grab the food.
But several days passed, and while the trap was sprung each night, no animal was inside.
We began to think that the groundhog was too long for the trap, that he was grabbing the food and backing out without getting caught.
Then, early one morning, we heard a screaming, banging racket outside our bedroom window. But it wasn’t our groundhog. Instead, we’d trapped a hapless raccoon. Before we could get to him, he had propelled himself and the cage across the concrete patio and had broken a flowerpot in his frenzy to be free.
How to release him? A black paw reached through the cage and clawed at my husband as he tried to pick the cage up. He finally took two hammers, picked the cage up by the claw ends, and lowered it into a plastic tub. Then he and my son released him in a rural part of Stephensburg.
We didn’t see our furry groundhog friend for a week or two. Perhaps he observed his fellow critter’s experience and thought he’d better lay low for awhile.
Then I saw leaves gnawed off an eggplant and a tomato plant in the garden. And I worried the groundhog would be snacking on tomatoes as they began to ripen.
A colleague at work suggested putting moth balls around the plants. So I bought a box and sprinkled them around. They did stink, and I thought that might solve our problem.
But in the summer’s heat, the moth balls quickly melted, along with their smell. Continually replenishing them ultimately would cost as much as fencing the garden.
One afternoon I looked out and saw the groundhog standing on his hind legs in the back yard. I opened the door to yell at him, and he high-tailed it under our deck.
Robert Frost wrote a poem about the groundhog, comparing the shy creature to his own reticence to love boldly: “All we who prefer to live/ Have a little whistle we give./ And flash, at the least alarm/ We dive down under the farm.” Apparently Frost had one stalking his garden as well.
So one more time, my husband, Chuck, set the trap; this time near the place the groundhog dove under the deck. He decided to change the bait as well, putting out the rinds of some juicy cantaloupe he had just cut. This time, he put the trap out in late afternoon instead of at night.
Within an hour, we had him. Unlike the raccoon, he sat quietly in his pen, looking forlornly up at us as we hooted at our victory. Chuck and my son took him off to another wooded area and released him.
We thought our adventure with wildlife was over. But not two weeks later, Chuck spotted a groundhog in our neighbor’s yard. There had been two of them getting into mischief. He cut up another cantaloupe – why mess with success? – and told Ruthie he would set up the trap on her porch.
The next morning, he checked, and sure enough, the trap and the cantaloupe had done their work again. At lunchtime last Tuesday, he loaded up the second groundhog and deposited it in yet another rural location near Elizabethtown.
So my trapper husband is feeling pretty good about being 3-0, the rabbits finally quit eating the third planting of green beans, the tomatoes are coming in and all’s right with the world.
Suzanne Darland teaches journalism classes and is director of the faculty advising center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.