GUEST COLUMN from TERRY BERKSON
Not that they ever left. They just take a long winter nap while their heartbeat slows from 80 to an incredible five beats per minute and their body temperature drops from 99 to 37 degrees.
Punxsutawney Phil projects a good productive image with his weather predictions but Digger Dan, the name I give to the critter whose been tunneling into my barn every year, is another story.
One morning last spring, I was carrying a bale of hay before the light of sunrise and stepped in a hole that swallowed my leg up to my knee. I dropped the bale and limped out to the wood pile to secure a piece of 4-by-4 to pound into the hole – knowing well that The Digger would soon find another entry into my space.
The battle has been going on for several years. A friend lent me a trap that I set up by an outside hole, but the wary animal never goes near it.
One time I dropped a woodchuck bomb into the hole in the barn floor and covered it with a Frisbee that I held in place with my foot. Surprisingly, the Frisbee blew off the hole with considerable force.
I was puzzled because woodchucks usually have at least two entrances which would vent the pressure created by the bomb. Maybe Digger Dan’s body blocked the tunnel like a cork in a bottle creating enough pressure to blow the Frisbee and my foot off the hole.
Anyway, Digger didn’t perish and I didn’t try a bomb again for fear I’d burn the barn down. Of course, I had my 22 loaded and ready to rid myself of the trouble maker, but this woodchuck is a strategist and always positions himself in hard to shoot places.
One time I was gun-less and rounding a corner of the barn with a bucket of water when I ran right into him. We were both startled and to my surprise the wise guy whistled at me.
It was a harassing whistle that made me angry – the first note of the notorious three-noted wolf call that guys in Brooklyn use when they see a nice-looking girl. It’s not very macho to be whistled at by a woodchuck.
I duplicated the sound on the piano. The note is a “D,” the first letter of two words I’ve been
using to describe the enemy.
For several years an Amish farmer was taking hay off of our place. I often worried that one of his horses would step in a woodchuck hole like I did – and break a leg. So, I put sticks with flags on them to mark where the holes were.
When the farmer saw my markers he laughed and assured me that even when covered with cut hay, the horses could sense where the holes were.
I found this hard to believe but, luckily, on our farm no horse ever broke a leg pulling a hay wagon.
My friend George Gardner who has the same invasion problem sicked his very willing Jack Russell terrier on a woodchuck and the dog followed the varmint into a hole – so far that he got stuck and George had to dig the dog out with a back hoe.
So, the war goes on. Besides filling holes, I’ve plugged some of Digger’s relatives while on their way to my vegetable garden but shots at him are always taken from an awkward position and he just about gives me the razz before heading underground.
Recently, a lucky shot surely creased the hair on Digger’s head. Now, he must be taking me seriously because, lately, he ain’t whistling.
Terry Berkson, who has an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College, lives on a farm outside Richfield Springs.
His articles have appeared in
New York magazine, the
New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, Automobile and other publications.