The Hudson Valley is Infested with Woodchucks.
Pulling up to the beautiful country house that will be our home, the first thing I see is a large metal trap, with door open showcasing a bright orange carrot. I pause at the cage for a moment then quickly forget about it in anticipation of hugging my kids I havent seen for over a week. Later in the day, as we sit around the dinner table, my son begins explaining the process of catching a woodchuck. He tells me “The woodchucks eat Papa’s orchard, so we trap them and move them far, far away. You have to be REALLY careful though. Papa says they’re mean little guys.” Q checks the trap about every half hour and comes back sullen and disappointed every time that he will not get relocate one of these menacing vermin. I think how compassionate Papa (Grampa H) must be to deal with the woodchucks so humanely, especially when they damage his land and eat his apples. These thoughts are interrupted when papa comes in the door commenting on the trap, “I think I’m just gonna gas them in their holes in the winter. That way, they will all be sleeping.” He notices my horror and I try to cover it up and try to not act the part of the townie that’s been on the farm about 20 seconds. The kids have gone outside and the rest of the family begins to tell Papa and woodchuck stories, all involving some sort of awful end to a “mean little guy”. Papa talks of taking a large female away one day and killing it, only to come back and find a baby woodchuck crying and running around disoriented looking for it’s mama. The words “I felt so bad for it, I just had to run it over with my car. It wouldn’t have made it out there alone.” come out of his mouth and I can’t hide my horror. His face drops and there’s a genuine reflection and sorrow for the baby. He quickly recovers and I have a realization as we all sit around the dinner table and laugh at the morbid reality of farmer versus furry things that eat all their food — I have a lot to learn.
I have romanticized the farm life; living simple, chickens, one with the land- Wendall Berry descriptions and cute organic farmers. I dream of sending my children out to collect eggs and milk cows while I happily can homegrown tomatoes in my sparkling country kitchen. A week here, and I know the dream has become a lot more involved. The land we are living on is magical, 150+ acres of rolling fields, steams, ponds, and woods. It is open, free and mostly used for Haying. There are no cows, chickens, ducks, goats, ect. Just the wild birds, white tail deer, and hundreds and hundreds of woodchucks. Papa has a small biodynamic apple orchard that is more of a hobby than livelihood. He and his wife live here part time and there is a feeling of unfinished projects every where. There is so much possibility. I am overwhelmed when look out the windows of every room and only see miles of lush green. We have been given a gift of this land, but I don’t know what to do with it.
M tilled a garden space in the orchard with the hopes I would magically make vegetables appear for the rest of the summer. The heat lets up and T and head out to the plot with our sad, left over starts from the farm store and get to work. We throw out as many big rocks as we can from the gravely soil and start pushing the crunchy dirt into rows. When it is time to plant, my four-year old becomes reverent and talks to each plant as she places it in the dirt, “Grow baby plant. We love you.” We pat them down, and I am confident her mantras of love and growth will do the job. The morning becomes hotter and she abandons plant whispering for running naked in the irrigation hoses her auntie is using to water apples. Her laughter combined with my hands in the dirt are an affirmation that this is right. I form questions and my mind spins with the simplicity of the answers. You grow a farm like a plant; plant a seed, keep it warm and nourished, wait, work, wait, work and it will nourish you. My reflection is interrupted by Papa bringing me hay for the garden. “I’ll ask you how you feel about woodchucks when they start pulling out your vegetables.” I love him. Woodchucks, that’s right. Might be what makes or breaks this patient farm thing.
Q and his cousin have caught a woodchuck. We all go out to look at the poor thing that’s life has just been devastated because of its weakness for a carrot. They load it in the truck and wait for Papa to finish his nap so they can release it to the “special woodchuck place” he talks about. The kids spend 20 minutes watching it in its trap until they get tired of its spastic hissing and chattering. It is gigantic. A cross between a beaver and gopher, with buck teeth and pointy nose. It’s making biting motions and sporadically throws its head against the cage. I feel helpless and sad knowing how scared this really gross, hairy animal is feeling. I send him love and try to tell his he’s actually lucky. If the grand kids weren’t here, Papa’s “special woodchuck place” would not just be a drop off on the other end of the property.
As we set down our temporary roots (they are very short) questions of who we are can be defined as “would you be able to run over a baby woodchuck with your car?” Maybe. If they start eating our homegrown tomatoes.