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Said & Done: A garden of earthy delights

  • Woodchucks were one of the many critters that used Charlie Weeks’ garden as a cafeteria. Courtesy photo/Creative Commons

  • SEAMANS Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ



Friday, August 10, 2018

Edgeworth tobacco cans weren’t the only debris that filled Charlie Weeks’ kitchen over the shut-in portion of New Hampshire’s long winter. Weeks had a sweet tooth that pampered him by way of those small packed pies — apple, blueberry, cherry.

Weeks saved all the metal foil plates those bite-size sweets came in, and after he planted his garden, he hung them up in an irregular way to clink and clank to ward off animal trespassers.

All this was a hoax. Weeks really didn’t mean it. If those noisy plates had any effect, Weeks would have to take them down. Along with the plates, he hung up six or seven pin-hole rusted tea kettles. A mellow and comporting sound emanated from this band of homemade instruments as they touched and rubbed on each other over a summer’s evening.

A scarecrow dressed in bib overalls lorded it over the various band members. It was a somewhat dispassionate leader, with a stiff-armed formal approach to its task, but now and again by some passing breeze, it occasionally got up rhythms that were truly original and catchy.

Nobody laughed at Weeks despite his quixotic side. He had been there too long, and his net worth to the community had so long been established that he was simply accepted as old Charlie Weeks. But there were some who used him in an indirect way.

Weeks’ garden was laid out on a slope where the bottom end graded sharply down to a stone wall with woods on the far side, out of sight from the dirt road and Weeks’ house.

The town’s hunters knew that on most evenings, and any moonlit night, they could get a good idea about the next winter’s deer season by laying low near Weeks’ garden and watching deer come off the neighboring hills to feed.

It was inevitable that one such observer should cheat on the game. The town suffered at least one regular poacher who, if not condoned, was tacitly allowed his mischief on account of his poverty. I knew him well and admired him for his single-shot hornet ready with one of Weaver’s first ’scopes. Weeks may have known that he was helping furnish the man’s meat, but if he did, he never let on.

Be all that as it may, despite the pie plates and tea kettles, the scarecrow and the poachers, Weeks’ garden was a very good meeting place for hungry animals of all sizes and shapes up and down the food chain.

Varmint hunting had not yet become popular, and Weeks wouldn’t have allowed it anyway. Cussing out the little creatures was about as abusive as he ever got with his trespassers.

It’s true that from time to time, he took his Stevens Favorite rifle from the corner in a kind of menacing gesture. He may in fact have been annoyed when he discovered that his beans and lettuce rows were gone before they were grown. But Weeks was one of those fellows who aimed with his left eye while shooting right-handed. He knew he couldn’t hit a barn door from the inside when it was closed. So he popped away at cows and woodchucks, happy in his heart that nothing would come of it.

I wasn’t so lucky. All of which brings us to the nub of this story.

Weeks’ back road was an attractive place to hike. For one thing, it led a mile and a half to Sandy Pond where we went swimming. Typical post-card scenery was there left and right. We were often on that road.

On one such occasion, the family’s Cocker Spaniel made a sally into the brush and scared out a woodchuck, which promptly climbed a tree. No doubt it was one of Weeks garden-fed woodchucks. What other influence might have prompted that ground-dweller to shinny up a tree?

In a careless way, I threw a rock in the general direction of the creature. It was just something boys do. But as luck would have it, the stone caught the animal on the side inside its ear, and down it plummeted, dead.

Struck with remorse, I carried it home. We would eat it. That would make it right. I had skinned plenty of rabbits, so I had no trouble getting off the woodchuck’s outer garment. I even took pains removing the kernels from under the forelegs and the small of the back.

It was not “The Joy Of Cooking” that produced the recipe, mostly the sort of cookery mothers perfect over years of feeding a family.

We soaked and salted the carcass, and sliced and simmered its parts. We rinsed and repeated the salted cooking, then roasted it. We used mint leaves, oil and garlic. We spent a day at it.

And when we tried it we knew where Weeks’ onions, leeks, radishes and peppers had all gone. We were eating the creature that had singled out and consumed every spicy, racy, bitter, herby, tart plant Weeks had seeded into his garden. It was awful.

We ate crow and quit.

I have managed to obtain three recipes for cooking up a woodchuck. If ever the Great Depression lays us again on our backs, we shall try them. But, lacking any emergency, we shall give our dead woodchucks a decent burial and nothing more.

Paul Seamans is a permanent resident of the Charlene Manor nursing home. Some of his columns have been previously published.