When a homeowner has pesky rodents cohabiting his property, watching their destructive work makes one feel that he is Bill Murray, living the same day, over and over, no end in sight.
The first spring that I lived in Port Hope, I dug up the back yard and created a vegetable garden. It would be the best garden spot I have ever had. Almost immediately, rabbits were a problem. And, almost immediately, the problem was solved when a member said that he had just inherited some fence and posts, having no need for them. Will you believe me when I tell you that there was enough to go around the spot I had rototilled, short only seven feet, but with the three long lengths of fence were two gate-sized ones, which covered the final feet? Believe me, because it happened just like that.
You are expecting me to tell you how the deer ravaged my garden. They did, eventually, prompting the seven-foot-high fence that replaced the four-foot-high one that had kept the rabbits out. Oddly, I never saw a deer in the back yard the first five years in Port Hope, and it was not for a couple of years after that before they got into the garden. Once they found the garden, they were harder to get rid of than Randy Quaid’s character in Christmas Vacation.
This story is about neither rabbits nor deer. This is groundhog day.
I first noticed the big hole, where the yard met the woods, a few years into my thirteen in the best parsonage in the world. I was not sure what animal had dug it. I never saw the varment.
Until the day I saw the groundhog run like the dickens for the hole.
In his years of stealth, he must have been living under some pact with the deer, which the rabbits had either not been invited to sign or refused to participate. (Rabbits are notorious for despising detente.)
I never saw any sign that he was getting into the garden.
And then I saw the sign he was getting into the garden.
The fence was high enough. The fence was not low enough.
Julie bought a gun.
Yes, we lived in town, on the edge of the village of fewer than three hundred souls. The sight out our back window was all country. The gun was a .22. Fourth of July fireworks made more noise. We were happy to become lawbreakers.
In 2012, we found out that “he” was a “she.” Julie named her “Dubya,” for W, as in woodchuck, which, I finally learned, is the same thing as a groundhog. (How much wood can a groundhog chuck? Doesn’t work, does it.)
In learning that woodchucks are ground hogs, I learned that females give birth to a scurry of kits. Dubya had given birth to a scurry of kits. She had knit nine kits, which sure looked like a scurry as, by mid June, we were watching those kitten-sized furballs scurry across the back yard.
And toward the garden.
Ah, but those nine kits were not knit with nine lives, as they were soon to learn.
The evening of June 19, I had to lead a Scripture and prayer service at Ramsey Funeral Home. I arrived home to have Julie tell me of the first attempt on the garden and her exploits with a shovel. My hero saw the member of the scurry hurry toward the veggies, easily wedgie itself through the fence, and into the paradise created at the sweat of my brow.
Kits do not move quickly. Give the edge to the human.
Julie spied the burglar, proceeded to the garage, armed herself with the aforementioned shovel and walked to the garden. She only needed one whack to flatten the would-be-thief.
One down, eight to go.
The next day was hot. At midday, I found two dead in the yard. Apparently, they got too far from home, overheated, and were done in. I flung their carcasses into the woods. Two more down, six to go.
Soon, I was dressing for the funeral. Our bedroom window overlooked the back yard. I saw three of them entering the garden. Folks were arriving for the funeral, it was hot, and I needed to get to church, but those invaders needed to be dealt with.
In my dress clothes, I headed out, Julie’s method on my mind. I grabbed a shovel and headed for the garden. They scurried, but, at their size, I was faster. Whap! Whap! Quickly, two down. The other headed another direction. No problem. Whap! Success by the pastor-turned-grim-reaper.
Nine kits had been reduced to three.
No funerals for them, but I had to dispose of the evidence. Fling! Fling! Fling! Into the woods. All done. No one in sight who was arriving for the funeral.
Not so fast. As I turned for the house, there was the funeral director, Ryan Ramsey, standing by the church, laughing his head off. As so often happens, I inadvertently provided comic relief.
Over the next few days, two more kits were baked in the sun. We were able to account for eight of the nine. If the ninth were still alive, it did not stand a chance after Julie once again greeted me with big news when I got home from work. Remember, she was the proud owner of a .22.
She had finally spied Dubya in the garden. Her office, off the kitchen, faced the right direction. She grabbed her weapon, surreptitiously slid open the window, and took aim. She admitted that she had shot horribly, but Dubya could not escape quick enough before she found her mark.
Julie had brought down the beast, and the calendar finally turned from Groundhog Day.