The air was cool this morning when I reached over and turned on the light. It was a little after four, and with the windows and screen door wide open the room had cooled overnight from the day’s heat. I woke thinking of the woodchuck I’d seen in my garden the day before, a long flashing swatch of him running alongside my onion bed. Earlier that day, from the balcony, I’d seen the woodchuck on the huge rock pile across the small field. The animal lay on his variation of a rock balcony–my neighbor across the buckwheat–preening itself. I could see the lushness of its pelt, brown and russet and red, before it turned, amazingly quick despite its size, and disappeared down the rock pile.
The creature’s been in my hoop house, eating tomatoes, these luscious beauties on my forty or so plants finally ripening after a late planting and a summer of rain. As I lay there, I imagined this impressively large animal gnawing away at my fruit, strewing the paths with partially chewed golden and red tomatoes, its head swiveling around, a little jumpy for the sound of my footfalls, its dark eyes shining in the early light.
While I lay there, the Dutch novel I’d been reading, The Twin, got mixed up in my thinking of the woodchuck, so I was riding along the dykes and looking through a window on a Dutch dairy farm. In and out of this spell loomed the wild creature with its glistening white teeth and shaggy pelt–the fur that, on some fearful level, I longed to touch. In the end, I picked up my book and read for a while before getting up to work.
My tomatoes? Or the woodchuck’s tomatoes? A year ago, the fierce gardener in me would have risen up in rake-welding fury. Now, I’m thinking to pick what I can, and perhaps not so bitterly begrudge this rampaging feast. Likely, the woodchuck wishes I would pull up stakes and head out for new territory. As I wish for him.
There’s one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form.I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they’d all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.
–– Maxine Kumin “Woodchucks”