June 18th, 2010

Burning Down the House


The woodchucks found their way under the fence and into the farm last week.  A whole family was picnicking out in a patch of sunlit mesclun and kale.  Your meclun and kale!  How dare they, and with such insolence!

So I went after them, wielding a hoe like Mr. McGregor on a rage against Peter Rabbit, only to watch them slip under the fence into a large woodpile.  A pile that, by sheer happenstance, I was about to burn the next morning.


The Hadahart trap, ignored as usual, despite crispy greens inside. Why crowd into the bodega when surrounded by a Whole Foods mega store?

At first light the following day, I lit up the pile like a pyre along the Ganges, sending the chucks off to visit Vishnu in a blaze of gory.  My PETA sympathies apparently up in smoke as well.  But there they were the next morning, not put out for a moment.  Either the burn pile was a Summer rental (Fire Island. Three Months. Cheap. Free Veggies), and they were in town for the work week, or these are new crits on the block.

When I first moved out of the city, where anything four-legged and furry that’s not a leash is a plague, the site of scurrying woodchucks was startling.  I was told they had do be dealt with swiftly and without mercy, otherwise huge destructive, orgiastic colonies would form beneath the house, turning foundation walls into love grottos and wiring into dental floss.

Wanting to show my ready-for-rural mettle, I devised plan A:  Set the Havahart (or in this case, Hadahart) trap, then drown the critter in a garbage can.  Plan A, Part 1 worked fine.  Chuck went in the trap, the doors slammed shut.  Part 2, however, resulted in a the trap sitting a third of the way out of the can, and the critter perched on high getting only a tail bath.  Sort of a bidet for varmints.  So the accused was instead lowered into a dark, brick-lined cistern on the property, where he swam about for a half hour before finally expiring.

Hearing him scratch against the cistern walls, trying to gain a last purchase on life was like something out of Poe. The sound haunted my psyche for weeks. And I swore - country bona fides on the line or not – I could no longer be a merciless, cistern-wielding angel of doom.

Where do we draw the line when deciding to dispatch with the small, unwelcome souls among us?  Is a mouse or a vole any less deserving of a full life of scurrying than its exponentially larger cousins?  The line drawn is at best arbitrary. A scratch in sand, smoothed by a random tide.  It seems ambiguity is the only certainty.


Chickens snacking on rose petals.  They’re productive and beautiful, so all’s forgiven.  Where do you think they get those fancy plumes anyway?

For years after, we’d catch woodchuck, skunk, possum, and coon in the Havahart and take them in the truck across the river to the Metro-North station parking lot, where they were released.  We figured with a mile-and-a-half of river between us, they’d just as soon take a train into Manhattan where they could grab dinner and show than slog it back across the tide to Stonegate.

So my recent relapse into mercilessness came as a shock to me.  But maybe I’m now trying to earn my agriculturalcreds, and like any farmer worth his salt or salsify, I have to manage with new prerogatives.  Perhaps they really did survive the blaze?  My humanity hopes so.  -Mb

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