Kate versus the Woodchuck

Note, dear readers, that this is not a column for the tenderhearted. It is not to be read by children, or by those whose love of nature is all embracing enough to include the tick and poison ivy. It is not intended to be a column about craft, but no writer ever sits down to write about anything without a subtext. Today’s subtext, and perhaps today’s entire text, is about a mild-mannered person’s capacity for violence.

It all began, of course, on that frequently mentioned farm in Union, Maine. Back then, gardens meant, as my mother always put it, food for the “long cold winter.” I don’t do that kind of gardening anymore. I’ve been allotted poor soil, ledge, and darkness. Out of this, I toil and struggle to bring forth a profusion of flowers.

Enter the woodchuck. In Union, Maine, back in the day, there was a handy dandy anti-woodchuck device known as the .22. My mother also had a woodchuck loving dog named Miss Badger, who would take off after those critters and let them know that they were unwelcome. My nature-observing mother once tied a rope to a road-killed woodchuck and dragged into the field outside her kitchen window so vultures would come and she could get a better chance to observe them. The moral of the story was simple–the only good woodchuck was a dead woodchuck. I believe my mother once cooked one that my brother had shot, and yes, the only good woodchuck is dead woodchuck which is not in the family stewpot.

Woodchucks can climb trees to escape from predators. I can climb trees, too.

Back to the woodchuck. Yesterday, sore from digging and weeding and mulching, and pruning, I went out to check the one garden that gets some sun and produces nice flowers, and found a woodchuck treating it like a salad bar. The fat little beast was so brazen he didn’t even move when he saw me coming, like he thought maybe we’d have a chat and he could suggest I plant more phlox and asters and coneflowers, because he found those especially tasty. Then, when I made an improper gesture, he scuttled underneath the rosebush and sat looking at me, like he was saying, “Jeez, lady, what’s wrong with you. I’m a cute little furry guy who just wants to get along.”

I didn’t have an implement of destruction in my hand, so I just ran at him, yelling, and he bounded off into the underbrush.

Today, I will borrow my neighbor’s have-a-heart trap. But I must be truthful. I don’t have heart when it comes to woodchucks. A neighbor–a sweet, kind, generous neighbor who cherishes her gardens, once told me that she’d caught a woodchuck in a have-a-heart trap, then dug a hole, filled it with water, and drowned the beast. I understand how that could have happened. I have been dreaming of revenge. I have been plumbing my character and wondering if I have it in me to do something similar. If he were to come poking out when I have a shovel in my hand, would I attack him?

Tomorrow, when the rain stops, I’m going to buy a pack of cigarettes and make a nicotine spray for the plants he likes best. Nicotine was a common poison in mystery novels in the past. It may deter my herbivorous pest. It may not. I may still be faced with the dilemma all bad guys face: whether to commit the ultimate bad act. As we writers often say when we talk about creating villains, they believe they really aren’t bad when they commit that bad act (killing the woodchuck). They are simply driven to it by circumstances. They simply have to do it. There is no other choice.

I imagine, like Mr. Macgregor, homicide in the garden.

This entry was posted in Kate's Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Kate versus the Woodchuck

  1. John Clark says:

    Oh, for the days of Miss Badger, Mom’s trusty woodchuck-killing dog. We came home yesterday after a family gathering to find half the set plants I put in the day before chewed to ground level. Woodchucks? Crows? Can’t tell, but the Hartland war of 2013 has begun. City limits be damned.

  2. Barb Ross says:

    So funny. We just had a long discussion about woodchucks at our retreat this weekend at Old Orchard Beach. Edith Maxwell, Quaker, pacifist, author of the organic farming mystery A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, and a former organic farmer herself, described a woodchuck murder that would make Sweeney Todd blanch.

    So good luck in your mission Kate.

  3. MCWriTers says:

    We had a sweet, fat, woodchuck who lived quietly under our lilac bushes and sunned himself on the ramp leading up to our porch and dined on our purple crocuses in the spring. (Not the yellow ones. Only the purples.) We co-existed. (I had given up gardening before his arrival.) Unfortunately for him, my neighbors had not. One evening I heard a couple of rifle shots, uncomfortably close to my kitchen window. I did not see the deed done. But their garden thrived, and my friendly woodchuck visited no more. ‘Twas a sad tale … Lea

  4. Pamela Oberg says:

    Growing up in Maine, I can relate to this tale of woe. My father recently shot out my parents’ cable while trying to deter squirrels from chewing their log cabin to ruin; nothing else has worked. (He’s quite a good shot; however, he forgot about the cable in his enthusiasm to “deter” the squirrel.) Woodchucks were always an issue. We had a woodchuck at our house in NH–until my German Shepherd reached maturity, and her full size. The woodchuck has moved on to safer pastures, apparently. No murder/mayhem required!

  5. MCWriTers says:

    I guess we all have our woodchuck stories, don’t we.

    And I have no .22.

    Years ago, though, I got these bombs from the hardware store and put one down the hole. I don’t know if they still sell those things…probably these days they don’t, but it worked. I no longer have bombs. Don’t know where he lives. But if I did…and if I did….


  6. Brian Thiem says:

    Wonderful, funny post. However, you made the biggest mistake of killers–talking about the murder either before or after they do it. I suggest you buy some .22 ammo out of state and say no more. If a neighbor discovers a dead woodchuck, act surprised and deny-deny-deny. I’ll present expert testimony, if necessary, that a column of your sort could inspire someone else to commit such an act.

  7. John Clark says:

    I know a slightly devious fellow, borderline rapscallion and purveyor of suspect goods, who might be able to lay hands on some of those incredibly effective bombs, should you desire same.

  8. sandy gardner says:

    I loved this post. Good work, Ms. Macgregor. (my favorite line was– I imagine, like Mr. Macgregor, homicide in the garden…..) ps. did nicotine really work as a poison? how was it done— just strip a couple of cigarettes and put the innards into something?
    why don’t people (in murder mysteries) use it anymore? too much trouble? nobody smokes anymore?
    sandy gardner

  9. MCWriTers says:

    Sandy, I haven’t gotten down to the corner store for that pack of cigarettes yet, but what i usually do is shred a couple into warm water, soak, strain, mix in some Neem oil, and spray. And it is labor intensive but tends to work pretty well.


Leave a Reply