A new animal has arrived.This follows a pattern. Two years ago, it wasmoles munching on cicadas underground; their tunnelingturned my postage-stamp front yard into a tiny Monster Truck rally course.
Last September,Nancy the Chicken clucked around here for several days then disappeared. And, of course, Nukuler Rat gave my family a real-life American Horror Story until it met an untimely demise (Thanks, Adam the Exterminator).
Over the weekend, Phil the Groundhog showed up.
It spentmost of the day Saturday munching in my backyard while standing on its hind legs. At first, I did not know what it was. Neither did my teenager. I did what any red-blooded American would do. I Googled it. Here's what I wrote in the box:"Large, grey burrowing rodent, Ohio, stands upright"
Yup, it was a groundhog. Teenager agreed, and wanted nothing more to do with the conversation or the management of the "problem."Growing up on a farm in the South, I sawall manner of wildlife. Never agroundhog, at least not in person.
A member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle holds Phil for a picture after he makes his weather prediction on Groundhog Day at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., on Feb. 2. The best way to keep those winter-time blues from getting you down is to stay active outside doing things you wouldn’t want to spend time doing during the hot growing season.(Photo: Margo Reed/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
Like mostly everyone else I knew, I did see a groundhogon TV every February fromPunxsutawney, Pa., where it's usually freezing cold.Some convivial gentleman in a top hat and tux hoistedthe famous Punxsutawney Phil, who is said to determine how much longer winter will last based on whether he sees his shadow.
Phil usually lookedclueless or maybe alarmed, as if he's thinkingwhy is giant penguinholding me way up here? Put me down, fool. I just woke up.Media from all over the world report this event.
Now, here he was before my eyes, the size of a house cat, in the middle of my back yard, standing up, eating a salad.
I opened the back door and went outside. He scampered,his head disappearing into a hole under my garage door. I had not noticed ahole!A few minutes later, he emerged to eat some more. We played this game for a while. Open door. Run tothe hole. Open door. Run to the hole.
Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo and botanical garden, told me that groundhogs are actually big squirrels who like to eat plants.They can climb trees, too. This made me feel no better.Perhaps they were attracted to seeds or feed in the garage, Thane said.Problem is, there is no feed or seed in there. Maybe they like motor oil?
Phildid not seem cuddly, nor was he cute. And he probably has rabies. And what if he was not a he, but a she with babies?! She surely had rabies and would not hesitate to bite my tibiaclean in two if she felt threatened by me.
But I had work to do and I needed to get into the garage. Google also told me that while lavender smells pleasant to humans, groundhogs hate it. As luck would have it, my preteen grows lavender in pots.
There was no sign of Phil when I raised the garage door to get the lawn mower. I mowed the lawn, returned the mower, plucked some of the preteen's lavender and scatteredit inside the length of the door.
I closed the doorandwalked back to toward the house.
Not 10 seconds later, I heardhigh-pitchedsqueals and banging behind the garage door.
Not one, but two groundhogssqueezed out andbolted like Secretariat, soundinglike pigs. Google also told that me that groundhogs are called "whistlepigs," because theyapparently squeal to alert the others of danger. One ran to the neighbor's yard,the other toward the street. I did not see them again.
Thankfully, Jill was not home and did not see them at all. However, sheis convinced they have returned, based on "displacedrocks" near the garage. She has had about of enough wildlife within the city limits.I can't saywhether seeing Phil and Phyliss, coupled with the stressors of COVID life, would have sent her overboard. But I know this: thehorror of Nukuler Rat nearly took her out.
Earlier that day, I sent Jilla text about the cat-sized animal in the backyard that I had never seen before. For all I knew, it could have been the legendary chupacabra.The textraised her blood pressure and heart rate unnecessarily.I am not proud that I sentit. (Partner lesson: sometimeshandle things and keep details to yourself.).
Google also told me groundhogs do not like cayenne pepper, basil,lemon balm, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.
So, now we know groundhogs would not enjoyItalian dining, either.
Suddenly, Jill wants to plant anherb garden. I'm 100 percent behind her.
Enquirer columnist Byron McCauley.(Photo: Amanda Rossmann/The Enquirer)
Byron McCauley is an Enquirer columnist. He writes about the intersection of politics, race, free enterprise, social justice and sometimes wildlife adventures. Email: email@example.com. Phone: (513) 504-8915.
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