Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The new woodchuck

There's a wild cherry tree behind our house that always produces a lot of fruit. The same woodchuck used come every summer to snarf up the cherries. He was a big, fat guy, and it was touching to see him get a little slower as each year passed. All the sources I've checked say that 5 years is the average lifespan for a woodchuck. If so, our chubby friend was exceptionally long-lived, because I watched him for at least 4 summers, and he was no cub when he first appeared.

Chuck went missing a couple of years ago. We were having a terrible drought at the time, and it may have been too much for an elderly woodchuck. Or he may have fallen less peacefully, to the coyotes or our gardening, gun-loving neighbors. I've missed him, so I was very happy a few weeks ago when I saw a cat come flying out of the brush under the treeline, pursued by an angry woodchuck. Kitty was probably after the woodchuck's babies. This new Marmota monax is a much more petite specimen than her predecessor, but she scared the shit out of that cat.

I've seen her several times since then. She's currently out there every day, getting her fill of cherries, so I feel as if we've definitely got a replacement groundhog-in-residence. I just hope she steers clear of coyotes and armed humans.

Maxine Kumin wrote a very fine poem about woodchucks. You can listen to her read it here. I should warn you, it's a sad poem. The hungry heart of the woodchuck is no match for human selfishness.

Groundhog photo by April M. King from Wikimedia Commons

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