Meet Dandy, our resident groundhog that has been living on our property for the past several years. When we first saw her munching away on the dandelions and clover in our yard, we couldn’t help but become enamored; she was so adorable! Her rust-colored fur shining in the sun, big brown eyes, and chubby cheeks were reminiscent of a movie star getting ready for their close-up. My son gave her the name Dandy after observing her eating what appeared to be her favorite food, dandelions. He often would do this, name all the wildlife that ventured into our yard. Phillip, the house wren greets us each morning with a song. Fred, Frita, and Frito, the rat snakes sun themselves on the rocks in the perennial garden. Minerva, the wild turkey struts across the lawn with her brood of nine chicks, each named after Harry Potter characters. Once given a moniker, they instantly feel like part of the family, and Dandy was no exception. We would all rush to the window anytime one of us had a Dandy sighting so that we could watch her stroll across the lawn, selecting delectable leaves and shoots on which to dine. We felt privileged to have such a beautiful creature in our lives.
Now, as a gardener, seeing a groundhog in my yard did bring to mind some concerns. However, Dandy and I seemed to have an understanding those first two years; she could have as many dandelions and clover as she could eat as long as she left my vegetable garden alone. We worked happily alongside one another, her filling her little rodent cheeks full of sweet clover on the outside of the fence while I diligently cared for the vegetable garden on the inside of the fence. All was copacetic, and our pact remained intact and favorable to us both until Dandy became a mother.
At first, I was equally taken by the adorable kits, little balls of fur waddling alongside their mother. They followed her lead, learning to steer clear of my fenced vegetable garden. But, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they would become rebellious teenagers straying from their mother to find their path.
The first thing to go was my lettuce. The kits, being smaller in stature, were able to squeeze their way under the fence and helped themselves to a lettuce feast. I happened to notice from my kitchen window three small, round forms moving under the row cover. Springing into action, I immediately proceeded to run down to the garden, yelling all the way. But alas, it was too late; the damage was done. The entire lettuce crop was now either in the kit’s bellies or trampled beyond redemption. I swore I heard laughter as those rebellious teenage groundhogs hopped away to rejoin their mother. She looked up at me, seemingly weary from motherhood, and perhaps I imagined a nearly imperceptible sigh and a shrug of her shoulders.
I went to work shoring up the fence, fixing and adding additional wire where needed. Painstakingly checking each post and every inch of fencing for weaknesses determined that this violation of our pact would not happen again.
The next to go were the Brussels sprouts and tomatoes, chewed down to leafless stalks merely inches from the ground. Weeks of devoted pampering gone in a few bites. I became more determined, adding even more fencing materials and heavy stones along the perimeter of the fence. “This violation stops here!” I shouted as I wielded my hammer and nails. All the while, the teenage groundhogs made faces at me from afar. I went to bed that night feeling confident that I had succeeded in finding a way to keep the harmony between us.
The next victims were the zucchini and strawberries, with one or two bites taken from each fruit. It was as if the kits had attended a wine tasting, sampling each offering in turn before moving on to the next. “This one has earthy undertones,” I imagined one of the kits musing. “This one is quite aromatic with a fruity finish,” another would add. My garden was becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet!
As the weeks went by, the kits started growing larger from eating so well, which made it more difficult for them to dine at their favorite restaurant. I had made several more attempts at fixing the fence, and their afternoon raids became less frequent. More pampering helped my tomatoes recover, and by the end of the season, they boasted vines over six feet in height, heavily laden with fruit. The zucchini and strawberries also soon recovered and began to yield a continual harvest. A new lettuce crop flourished when planted once the kits were old enough to move on and find territories of their own. My Brussels sprouts didn’t fare so well; they became an unfortunate casualty in the war between a woman and three teenage rodents.
Once again, it was just Dandy and me, content in our amiable companionship. We both seemed weary and relieved that the kits had grown up and moved on to lives of their own. She happily munched on dandelions outside the fence while I tended to my vegetable garden within. As I watched her, I had to chuckle to myself. If nothing else, her rebellious kits had taught me how to be persistent, to never give up, to find solutions to my problems, and to learn to compromise, traits that I could carry over outside of the garden and into my own life. For this, I will be forever grateful. At least until this coming growing season, when a new set of rebellious teenage groundhogs visit my garden for an all-you-can-eat buffet.