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Connections

Me vs. the Woodchuck

The battlefield: my garden. The spoils: tomatoes, zucchini, and Brussels sprouts. May the smartest creature win.

Illustration by Gracia Lam

DEAR CHUCK:

Last summer, when you glared at me from the top of the morning glory trellis, I shook you out like a bird from a tree. You hit the ground, flattening like a water balloon, then bounced up and ran for the fence. Now, I’m writing to let you know I feel badly about how it ended between us.

At the time, I was angry. You had eaten every bloom off my tower of blue blossoms. You ravaged all my ripe tomatoes. And when those were gone, you sunk your teeth into the green tomatoes. My zucchinis disappeared before they reached the size of a thumb. By that time, we’d spent several years together, battling for dominance over the same patch of earth. Like soldiers in opposing trenches, we learned to respect each other, even as we tried to destroy each other’s way of life.

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When you first began eating my garden, I was optimistic. The gardening books stress that groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) can both dig and climb. The solution is to plant a wire fence 1½ feet deep in the ground to prevent the animal from burrowing under it. Then, bend the top of the fence down slightly to discourage climbing — like the barbed wire around a prison yard.

Do you remember watching from your hiding place under the prickly bushes while my son, home on spring break, dug the trench for the fence? I paid him $100. My job of folding down the top of the fence was easier. But not as easy as it was for you to climb it. My snap-pea seedlings were gone in the morning.

Next, I turned to products: pepper and garlic spray ($16.95) and soap spray ($12.99). I refused to buy the bottled coyote urine, which I feared was gathered in an inhumane way that I didn’t want to contemplate. The noxious-smelling garlic and pepper products did their work. Slowly, my tomatoes ripened, growing bigger and more expensive with each new bottle of spray. Then the rain washed off the spray. My tomatoes and zucchinis didn’t survive the night. You left the bell peppers untouched. I sprayed again. It rained again. The parsley and cilantro disappeared.

It was too much. I succumbed and bought a spray bottle of coyote urine. I resented you for forcing me to do it, but it worked. Soon, it rained and, like the garlic and pepper spray, the coyote urine washed off.

By that time, my Brussels sprouts were almost ripe, and I was tense. What I did next is illegal, I know. And once you were gone, I wondered whether you would try to find your way back. Late in the summer, you’ll remember, I baited a Havahart trap with cantaloupe, as recommended on a garden website. The next morning, the melon was gone, the trap empty. How did you manage it? I changed my strategy. I set the trap during the day. After work, in my skirt and heels, I approached the trap. You were in it. We looked into each other’s eyes. Then I put you in the back of my old Subaru and transported you — against the law — to the woods, a couple of miles away. The following winter was cold. Did you find a place to hibernate?

I worked hard this spring tilling the soil, adding compost, planting seedlings. I’m pleased to say the tomatoes are looking good. But today, for the first time this summer, I spy teeth marks in a zucchini. The basil has been chewed. In the gardening catalog, an electrified fence that delivers an unpleasant but harmless shock is available for $191.89. Dear Chuck, consider this fair warning.

Kay Cahill is a Boston-area writer. Send comments to connections@globe.com.Tell your story. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.
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