Ground Hog Day Signals Spring?

While I will be glued to the TV set next Wednesday awaiting the weather prognostications of that most famous of all woodchucks, Punxsutawney Phil, my own herd of marmots will have to dig through an additional two feet of snow before they can see the light of day. Chubby Chuck and his kin hang out around the compost pile during the growing season, eating the discarded remnants of such exotic delights as watermelon, bananas, and mangoes, in addition to the usual fare.

They're a tough lot, though. Years ago, Chubby's predecessor grew so ancient that he had cataracts in both eyes but continued to hobble to the apple tree every day, fill his tummy, and carry one or two small apples back to his burrow. Although I was certain he wouldn't make it through the winter, there he was the next spring, ensconced in an above-ground hollow he dug out beneath the propane tank.

Last summer, one unfortunate soul had a run-in with either a car or the neighbor's fox terrier that resulted in a broken leg, but he managed. He left the shelter of the berm only long enough to eat some bugs and weeds in the lawn. Over time, his gait improved and he fattened up enough to survive the winter.

Woodchucks can be pretty ornery and are vicious if cornered (although they'd rather run away) so scan the horizon before letting your dog outside.

Most of my gardening friends are horrified that I provide a safe harbor for an animal that they consider an absolute villain. Ground hogs are interesting animals to watch and, at least at our house, prefer whatever else is growing in the lawn to my flowers. They will also eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails, clover, dandelions, some nuts, berries, twigs and, of course, garden vegetables. The solution is to install a good fence, partly under ground, or to plant "enough." We've maintained this equilibrium for over 30 years now, without the need to hunt or use other methods of control.

Phil and our regional ground hog, Stonewall Jackson, will get all the media attention on February 2nd , but my personal troop will leave footprints in the snow to announce the arrival of spring.

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