Speaking of Nature: Be careful what you wish for

  • The woodchuck (aka groundhog) is a large rodent that lives in open areas like fields and forest edges. How do you feel about woodchucks? FOR THE RECORDER/BILL DANIELSON


Monday, February 05, 2018

Many, many years ago, I wrote a column in which I expressed my interest in having a woodchuck take up residence in my yard. This, I thought, would be a charming animal to add to the menagerie that lives within the confines of the little patch of earth that I think of as “mine.” I would also like to count a porcupine, a moose and a herd of caribou among the animals that live in my yard, but I’m still waiting for approval from my beautiful wife, Susan.

Why not start small? A woodchuck would be an “easy” addition to the crowd. I could sit on my deck and look out across the hillside that gently slopes down toward my meadow and there, basking in the warmth of the summer sun, would be a woodchuck grazing on the fresh green grass. What could be more idyllic?

Some of you had an answer to that question. My email account lit up with messages from near and far with messages that repeated two basic themes over and over: First, was simply, “Do you want my woodchucks?” Second, was bluntly, “Are you crazy?” I must confess to being somewhat confused by the emphatic nature of these questions. What could all the fuss be about? Ah, to be so young and naïve again.

Over a decade later, I understand the vehement feelings of those readers all too well. I got my wish and I ended up with woodchucks in my yard. I saw the sights I hoped to see, I felt the warmth I hoped to feel, and then things took a bit of a left turn. In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly. I mean that really got out of hand fast.”

The woodchucks didn’t seem to understand their role in my bucolic fantasy. They came closer to the house, closer to the garage, and when they found soft, sandy soil, they started to dig. This might not have turned into the total disaster that eventually unfolded without the help of Hurricane Irene. A downspout from the gutters on my garage was overwhelmed with rainwater, the pipe at the bottom of the gutter drain came loose, and the deluge produced what was, in effect, a hydro-drill that bored into the ground.

The digging of the woodchucks offered a venue for water intrusion and then erosion took over. I first noticed the “problem” sometime in 2014, when a hairline crack appeared in the floor of my garage. As the seasons past, and summer storms came and went, I noticed that the hairline crack expanded to something that could more accurately be described as a geologic fault line. Alarmed, I headed under the deck to investigate, and what I discovered there made my blood run cold.

There was a cavernous void under my garage and the fault had appeared because there was nothing supporting the weight of the cement or the cars that pulled in and out of the garage on a daily basis. When, I wondered, would the garage floor give way and how much damage would be done to the car that went with it?

Last summer, I had the problem fixed. It cost thousands of dollars and it has definitely changed my attitude toward woodchucks. I still think they are fun to watch, but only from a distance. They need to stay away from my garage, from my leach field and from anything else that I own and have to pay for. I have made my wishes clear, but they don’t seem to read the memos that I send out.

Last Friday was Groundhog Day. I don’t think there was any chance that the woodchucks in our area even thought of poking their heads up out of the ground, but if the ones at my house did, I hope it happened to coincide with a ray of sunshine that chased them back underground. The time machine I ordered hasn’t arrived yet, and I need a few more weeks sans woodchucks so I can travel back and tell my younger self to be careful what I wish for.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 20 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics. Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.