Groundhog war may require infantry

July 08, 1999

An update from the groundhog wars: It's not going well.

Not long ago I wrote a column about my struggle with a family of groundhogs who have graduated from digging holes in my yard to vandalizing my pick-up truck, chewing fuel lines and other wiring to the tune of $229.

I've gotten a ton of advice on how to get rid of them. Folks have recommended everything from poisoned apples to quick blasts from a shotgun. But the day the column appeared, a Herald-Mail retiree called and said he hated to think about me killing those little creatures. He'd cleared out a few unwanted guests of his own with a live trap. Would I like to borrow it?

Why not, I said. It's a galvanized wire cage which springs shut when the animal steps on a treadle inside. I cut in apple in half for bait and set up the trap. When I checked the next morning, I hadn't caught anything, so I went on to work.


When I got home, I noticed something in the bottom of the trap, something that wasn't moving. A young groundhog had sprung it, then expired in the heat. As I picked up the trap, a horde of flies that had been feasting on the corpse turned their attention to my bare legs. I dumped the body down a burrow hole.

This could still work, I thought. Next time I'll just have to put a little dish of water inside the trap and set up a beach umbrella to provide some shade. And then I began to realize how ridiculous that was; a week ago I was thinking about shotgun loads. And now I was going to set up a little backyard spa for these pests? Get a grip, Maginnis.

Maybe, I thought, the one body would show them I meant business, that it was time for them to leave.

Wrong. If anything, they redoubled their efforts. Old holes showed signs of new activity and new holes were surrounded by mounds of dirt higher than anything I'd ever seen before. Looking at these piles of earth, I imagined platoons of groundhogs lurking behind them, in World War I style trenches, wearing little doughboy helmets and passing tiny cigarettes back and forth as they plotted their next move.

I'd like to give up, to ignore them, if I could only believe that doing that wouldn't encourage some furry little version of Slobodan Milosevic to expand his territorial ambitions and begin preying on my neighbors, one of whom has a vegetable garden so well-tended it should be in the centerfold of a gardening magazine, if garden magazines had centerfolds, that is. Like the NATO allies, I'm afraid I'm facing an enemy which isn't going to yield to anything but brute force.

The groundhog skirmish was just one battle engaged in during my recent work-around-the house vacation. I always prepare for these by imagining the satisfaction I'll get by finishing all those household jobs I've been putting off. Only later does the truth bite me like a hungry mosquito; because every job takes twice the time I've estimated, I never finish the list.

Two examples: The old landscape timbers that enclosed our tomato bed have rotted away, so I decide to install new ones. I need (and buy) 10 timbers, but when I get home from the lumber yard, I realize I picked out only eight. The next morning I go back and explain that yes, I'm an idiot and I'd like two more timbers, please.

Next, I buy three window shades to replace some that are worn out. Once turns out to be a millimeter too short, so that when I pull it down, it falls out of the bracket. No problem, I think, I'll just add a little shim under the bracket.

I find small piece of hardwood, but the miter box (and the good saw) are missing, so I use an old dull saw to cut out the shim. Now I need some nails, which I have plenty of, in an assortment of trays, boxes and peanut butter jars. Every size but the right one, that is, so I decide to use one that might be a little too small, so when I drop it, and I do, it's like trying to find a single whisker on the floor of a barber shop.

This job doesn't go well, but over the years I've learned a valuable lesson. When you start talking to inanimate object (like nails and tools) as if they're conspiring against you, it's time to quit for the day. As I said before, you're never going to get finished anyway.

The scariest moment on my vacation came when my wife and I went to the bank at Valley Mall. We came out the side door, and there, parked next to the sidewalk was an old gray Camaro. Inside were a 2-year and, in the back seat, an infant. No adult was in sight, but one would pop up, I thought, at any second. The 2-year-old had a cigarette in his mouth and was preparing to push in the lighter.

I told him that would be a bad idea and suggested to my wife that we wait until a parent arrived.

"I'm going to tell them about the cigarette," I said.

"You'll only get the kid whacked," she said.

So we stood quietly and waited, for at least five minutes, during which any kidnapper or child molster might have snatched them both up. Finally, a tall woman in her 20s rushed out the door, clutching a small bag from the earring store. As she got in the car, she looked at us with what I'd like to imagine was a guilty look, but which was probably nothing of the sort. Good luck, kids.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

The Herald-Mail Articles