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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Groundhogs, Free-Loaders and Friends

Groundhogs, Free-Loaders and Friends

We have tenants, sort of...   They share our property, but pay no rent.   Still we are landlords for chickadees and crows, robins and ring-neck pheasants, blue jays and mallards, starlings and a family of groundhogs.
We live on a hillside in Riverview, in a house built and planted with trees six decades ago.  The slope of the yard provides drainage, important for animals that burrow.   A honeysuckle bush, on a three hundred square-foot mound beside the house, provides shelter and shade for the groundhogs' burrows and tunnels.
We could clear out the underbrush but we let it be.  This side yard, this tangle of honeysuckle, snow berry bushes, barberry bushes, lilac hedges, birches and maples provides home for the groundhogs and nesting areas for the birds.
But, there is a problem.  These free-loaders control our lives.  We’ve considered planting vegetables near that side yard.  It’s the only spot that receives enough sunlight to grow a vegetable garden.  The groundhogs would be pleased.  They’re vegetarians.  A garden would be their salad bar.  Yes, there are possibilities.  We could capture and re-locate them or we could bury protective wire beneath the garden plot and build wire fences.   But that's no guarantee that we would protect our garden from the short, powerful limbs and thick, curved claws of groundhogs or from the resourcefulness of the birds; also looking for lunch.
We’ve discussed a vegetable garden but...no....  My husband says that groundhogs and birds have a right to live here, that they’ve lived in this yard longer than we have.  It's true.  We've lived here seven years, seven years today.  However, I suspect my husband's motives.  I think his generosity might be based on a desire to avoid work, avoid weeding.  Anyway, we’ll relinquish claim to the side yard, leave it to the tenants and continue to buy produce from the Farmers' Markets.
A groundhog sighting is rare.  They are shy and spend most of their hours in the burrows.   Last week, we spotted one waddling across the lawn searching for food; it didn’t see us.  When it did notice us, it scurried off to hide in the honeysuckle bush.   It was huge; bigger than average.   At over 30 inches long, including a 6 inch tail, it must have weighed 30-35 pounds or more.  Urban areas like ours provide few natural predators and plentiful vegetation...and porky groundhogs.
In the evenings, we know when the groundhogs are out and where they are.  Our three cats are like motion sensors.  They sit in the windows, alert and watchful.  Three heads turn in unison.  Meowing and chirping to each other, their eyes and bodies turn to follow the waddling of the groundhogs.
We enjoy our trees and shrubs because they encourage and protect wildlife.   Though the birds and the groundhogs pay no rent, they have changed from free-loaders to friends.  The chance to see nature up-close is payment enough.

I think we'll renew their lease.

Photo is mine.


Maude Lynn said...

I would love to have those old trees!

Carol Steel said...

We feel fortunate to live here with dozens of old trees, though this week most of our free time is being spent raking old leaves. The downside! Thanks for the comment.