That old chicken coop, or rabbit hutch, or whatever it used to be is long overdue for demolition, I tell myself for the umpteenth time, as I look outside my second-floor, office window. It’s an eyesore, even if it is somebody’s home.
Lately, I’ve noticed a groundhog has borrowed it. That’s my way of putting it anyway. The groundhog itself would regard it as a long-term residence as long as I leave her or him alone.
A couple of years ago as I was about to cultivate and plant that ground in front of it, I took a bunch of old, broken windows and some other junk out of there. While I was at it I even tried to fill in what I took to be the entrance inside to the industrious critter’s main, underground home. Silly me, who did I think I was? A groundhog, one of nature’s pre-eminent excavators, may move as much as several tonnes of soil to dig its burrow below the frost-line, for a comfortable, long-winter hibernation.
As decrepit as it is, the little building serves as an extra barrier of protection for the always wary animal. If danger shows up in the form of a predator wolf, coyote, eagle or dog, the groundhog prefers to run for cover in its burrow. But if cornered it will put up a nasty fight and likely do some serious damage to someone’s inexperienced pet, however big.
I try to take a live-and-let live approach to the apparently increasingly plentiful wildlife around me. But groundhogs like to eat vegetables; and so, for that matter do deer, as I found out last spring and summer when I noticed something was nibbling my sprouting beans and peas. After a night rain, the deer tracks in the wet ground gave them away.
Groundhogs are rodents, of the ground squirrel, or marmot, genus. They are very common throughout much of North America, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Georgia. If you look at a map of their range, you will see the Bruce Peninsula and therefore little Hope Ness right in the middle of it.
I’m no expert, as I often say about so many things, but it seems to me there’s more of them around. I attribute that to bounty-encouraged, over-hunting of coyotes upsetting the balance of nature.
At any event, I can’t abide that groundhog living so close to my vegetable garden, so what’s left of the shed is going to come down ASAP. And I hope all the commotion above ground will encourage it to look somewhere else for new digs, so to speak.
As for the deer, there’s no point in putting up a fence. I was on my way south down the county highway to town the other day, when I saw a group of at least eight deer out on the pavement or at the side of the road. They made a beeline for the woods, but first they had to jump a fence about two meters high. The smallest of them made it look easy. Indeed, the fluid gracefulness of their movement was a wonder to behold. What beautiful animals, the white-tailed deer are.
But I’ll have to do something; otherwise, there’s little point in planting beans and peas, which are pretty high up there among my staple crops. I also love growing sweet corn, though it’s kind of a short season up here, and potatoes, always potatoes – don’t get me started about potatoes. I usually have them planted by now, but that cold spell a couple of weeks ago got in the way. But this week for sure, they’re going in.
I’m thinking I’ll probably try a solar-powered electric fence around the garden to keep the deer out. But, come to think of it, who’s to say they won’t just jump over that?
Maybe I should call a meeting, just me and the wildlife, to talk it over.
I can see it now, as the various species gather in a sort of truce atmosphere, and then settle down for a confab:
“I suppose you’re wondering why I brought you here,” I would start off by saying, with a touch of humour, just to set everybody at ease.
“I think you know, I’m trying to grow a garden here, to supplement my meagre income. So, I was hoping we could come to some sort of friendly accommodation of our mutual needs. I know you guys have to eat. But I’d appreciate if you could see your way clear to giving me a break.”
I could see the looks, oh yes I could. I could see the winks and nods, and that shrill chorus of whistles the groundhogs started up, in derisive fashion, was certainly obvious. But the deer though, as always gentle and graceful, they were okay, and heaven knows they have less cause than any to do one of us a favour.
The unsportsmanlike practice of baiting an area ahead of the official “deer season” with apples is especially reprehensible. I’ve had hunters ask if they can pick up fallen apples around the old trees here at the farm. I always say a firm “no” and tell them why, politely enough, I think. An angry, confrontational approach doesn’t change anything for the better, It only makes things worse. Still, it’s the only time my attitude is less than welcoming.
Maybe the deer are aware of that. Nothing would surprise me when it comes to the sensitivity and intelligence of animals. At any event, they would try to help me out, the deer said, in their way, during the imagined meeting between me and the wildlife.
One doe even came over to me as the meeting broke up, and took me aside to give me a little friendly advice.
“Phil,” she said, “you need to get out more often.”