Last summer my garden was ravaged by woodchucks. I patched holes in the fence, used chicken wire and cinder blocks to fortify weak spots, and worked my way around the perimeter to made it varmint-proof. It didn’t work. Somehow, they were getting in. By midsummer, the tomatoes and winter squash and other plants were so big and dense that I couldn’t see where the fucking things were escaping when I’d spot them out my office window, jump into my shorts (What. I generally find pants to be an unnecessary encumbrance when writing during the warmer months) and sprint outside to try to see their escape route, which, logic dictated, would also be their entrance. They’re such prey, with commensurately sharp paranoia-fueled hearing and peripheral vision, that they would bolt at the sound of the front door opening. It drove me mad. We got no broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, carrots, fennel, radicchio, endive, or parsnips last year, except for a few stunted roots since they only eat the greens. Then the hurricane took the willow tree down, and there went all the peppers and eggplants and half the tomatoes. It was ever so bucolic.
Finally, I saw one of them dart through a section of the back fence, which is inch and a half by four inch welded wire. It never occurred to me that they’d be able to squeeze their fat, bulky bodies through such a small opening. But they can, especially once they’ve gotten a hit of that sweet, sweet broccoli. If you have a garden, do whatever you can to keep them from getting that first taste. Once they get it, they’re like crackheads. They will not be denied. They’ll go through or under any but the most diligently maintained fences.
My solution, since trenching the perimeter and burying a foot or more of poultry netting was too grisly to contemplate, was to use the netting (in four foot rolls) in a flange sort of configuration: I tied the top edge of it about 30″ up from the ground and let the remaining 18″ lie flat. The lawn all grew up through the mesh in no time, so it’s invisible. It dissuades burrowing superbly. Thus, the entirety of this summer so far had been blessedly woodchuck free until the other day. One of the younger ones got in somehow, but when I chased it around it couldn’t find its way out. I poked it with a big stake—the ones I make for tomatoes by ripping an eight foot 2×4 in half—to goad it around the interior so it would show me the hole. It couldn’t find it, so I opened the gate and chased it out.
Then, the next day, the big daddy was in there. I had the shovel this time. I could have killed him, but I wanted to see where the hole was. He used it, and I patched it. But they had gotten a taste of the broccoli now, so they were demons possessed. The next morning, they had dug a tunnel under the one place where I didn’t do the flange thing last year because of the lavender planted hard by the outside of the fence. So I retrofitted a version of the solution there and weighed it down with big rocks. Problem solved, or so I thought.
Today, I was in my office writing an article and I took a little break to look out the window. There were two of them, nosing around the outside trying to get in. The little one was pretty lazy about it, revisiting the site of the tunnel several times to see if it had magically gotten unblocked, but the big guy was manic: hurling himself against the fence and gnawing at the chicken wire to try and make a hole he could get through like a drunken John Goodman outside an Arby’s at 2 AM. I didn’t think it would work, but all of a sudden he was inside. I dashed downstairs, grabbing some jeans on the way (which actually matters later on) and then the shovel.
When I closed the gate behind me, he bolted for the opening, but he couldn’t find it. I had him cornered up against that part of the fence, and he chattered at me with a mixture of terror and fury, fixing me with his little beady black eyes and gnashing his nasty choppers. Besides his visible fear, he looked seriously pissed off that I had the temerity to defend my produce against his depredations. His sense of entitlement, which was such that one close encounter with my shovel had not deterred him, was his undoing. I wound up, swung, and bashed him in the head as hard as I could.
He flipped over, limbs flung wide and twitching, and I brought it down again hard on his neck to be sure he was dead. Then I looked up to see a young woman walking across the lawn towards me, smiling and waving. It was someone who used to babysit for us, who is absolutely gorgeous, and whom I hadn’t seen in four years or so. She’s canvassing for an environmental organization this summer.
She stood there smiling, holding a clipboard, wearing sexy librarian glasses, looking like a very literate and idealistic supermodel, an expectant expression on her face as she readied herself to weave her pitch into the requisite catching-up banter.
I stood there, unshaven, dripping sweat, clutching a bloody shovel, my hair in a full Jewfro from the humidity, watching crimson bubbles pop on the creature’s nose, and said “It’s so nice to see you! Why don’t you go inside and make yourself at home; I just finished bludgeoning a woodchuck and I need to dispose of him.”
But I was wearing pants, so it wasn’t weird.
Then I scooped him up and catapulted him over the fence into the meadow. I did deliberate for a minute, imagining the totally awesome Caddyshack-meets-Game-of-Thrones blog post I could have written about gutting, skinning, cooking and eating him with a ragout of broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, carrots, fennel, radicchio, endive, and parsnips, complete with lots of photos that would have put my pig-killing post to shame and probably earned me some juicy hate mail on account of the fuzziness quotient of the beast in question. But I opted to compost him instead.
Hank will probably call me a pussy, but I’m OK with that. There’s no question that when you kill something with a shovel, you have crossed a Redneck Rubicon of sorts. There’s no going fully back to the erstwhile effete you used to be. It is equally indisputable, however, that if you eat the thing you killed with a shovel, you have voyaged quite a ways (sorry, “a piece”) farther down the road toward full hillbilly status. And I’m just not ready to go there yet. I have too many teeth.
I think the beautiful young woman was an emissary, an angel sent from the muse of civilization to arrest my descent into feral rural savagery. She was living proof that pausing to pull on some trousers before committing murder with garden implements is not a needless waste of time. Pants are a socializing counterweight to our wild instincts, the wearing of which can prevent attractive people from fleeing, and which therefore can influence one’s decision-making process as it relates to, say, hoisting a freshly-killed groundhog aloft by a rear leg and saying “Wanna stay for dinner?”
I don’t regret killing the woodchuck. I’ll do the same for any others that break in from now on; since our neighbor’s dog died there has been a major proliferation in the neighborhood. Everyone is having problems with them. I work hard in my garden and am not willing to have wild animals help themselves to entire beds of my plants. It’s bad enough that the deer browse my landscaping like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.
There will be plenty of time to learn how to eat roadkill when the apocalypse comes. Although, as I think back, I’m already regretting not leaving him in the garden for a few minutes and butchering him later on. He was so fat, and had seasoned himself so thoroughly from within by eating all those vegetables, that he might just have been the best-tasting woodchuck in the county. They supposedly taste a lot like rabbit, but rabbits have no fat. I could have made woodchuck prosciutto, delicately carrot-sweet, with his big back legs. Groundhog pancetta, rolled up with fennel pollen, would be just the thing for flavoring slow-cooked collard greens. His skin would have made an awesome pot holder, or even a jaunty hat.
I’m going to take my pants off and go cut a hole in the garden fence.