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.
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.