Last evening I was sitting with Mom around the little firepit in the backyard. As I went to fetch more wood from the plastic barrel we keep it in, I happened to notice a pile of loose dirt next to the foundation of the house. There was a largish hole next to the pile. I knew, of course, what it was.
Groundhog. Woodchuck. Whistle pig. (Really. Wikipedia lists whistle pig as a name for this critter. Must be a southern thang.) The scientific name, I learned, is Marmota monax. That sounds like the name of an actress in some sci-fi porno movie. Whatever.
The Internet also tells me a groundhog (what we call it here in central Minnesota) is a member of the squirrel family. I like squirrels, despite their propensity to empty the bird feeder in a single visit. Squirrels have fluffy tails and little hands that hold on to nuts and corn cobs and peanuts like a tiny person. They have fat cheeks and sparkly eyes. They hang upside down by their toes (again, to empty the bird feeder, but it’s still cute).
This creature doesn’t look like a squirrel to me. It looks like a prairie dog or a really, really big rat. Wikipedia offers this alarming factoid: “In areas with fewer natural predators and large amounts of alfalfa, groundhogs can grow up to 31 lbs.” Guess I won’t be starting that alfalfa farm, then.
I’m beginning to have visions of that classic 1972 horror film, “Night of the Lepus.” Okay, that was about giant killer bunnies. But still.
Thoroughly alarmed by this invader, I visit one of the gardening Facebook pages I follow. I post my predicament and am immediately inundated with dire predictions of imminent doom.
“It will burrow under your foundation! The house will collapse!”
“One chewed and dug his way into my basement and died there.”
“HE WILL DECIMATE!”
One helpful soul suggested I introduce a blacksnake to take care of my problem. Um … pretty sure I’d then have a BIGGER problem, namely homelessness, because I can’t live on a property that has a blacksnake on it.
The Humane Society website, not surprisingly, offers an opposing view – essentially, “live and let live.” This is normally my modus operandi. I don’t kill things. Even little, horrible things like spiders. Every spring I spend hours gently picking sawfly larva off the rose bushes and dropping them on the ground a few yards away from the bushes, because really, they deserve a fighting chance.
I actually forked over good money to the National Wildlife Federation a few years ago to have my backyard designated an official wildlife habitat (I paid extra for a little metal sign proclaiming that status; it is displayed proudly on the door of the shed where I keep my toxic lawn chemicals). Even though the designation is entirely meaningless, I can’t help worrying that if I (ahem) “terminate” my groundhog problem, a grim representative from the NWF will appear at my door with Official Papers Revoking My Habitat Status. I would hate that; I actually paid quite a lot for the sign.
Honestly, if it were only about the foundation of the house falling in, I’d tolerate the fellow. This old shack is crumbling already. But I have invested much time, money and heartache (those roses!) in my gardens. Dig up my dahlias? Consume my coreopsis? Not on my watch, buster. This yard ain’t big enough for the both of us.
The garden group has suggested a wide variety of folk remedies reputed to dislodge my unwelcome tenants: mothballs, garlic, Irish Spring soap and used kitty litter dumped into the holes.
Of these, soap seems the least objectionable – and therefore, almost certainly the most ineffective. I’ll try it anyway. If that doesn’t work, used kitty litter, which I accumulate in vast quantities, will be the next course of treatment. I’ll keep you updated.
The war is ON.