Why We Have a Snow Shovel

Until recently, I’d never understood why we keep a snow shovel in our tool shed.

I know why we have a pitchfork.  Ditto the rake and post hole digger.  But even if we lived in a place that got lots of snow, our driveway doesn’t lend itself to being
shoveled.  It’s a messy combination of gravel and weeds and, during the wet months, mud.  If and when snow covers it, we just shove the truck into four-wheel-drive and go.

All of which is said, dear reader, to lead you back to my Groundhog Day column from last week.  In it I hinted that by this time next year, we might not be able to celebrate that wacky holiday here in Putnam County.

Here’s why.  My dogs are working hard to wipe out the entire population of Punxsutawney Phil’s kinfolk.

Sophie and Iniesta were mere adolescents when they first discovered the joys of groundhog hunting.  In the middle of our horse pasture is a huge brush pile, made up of privet clippings and rotten fence rails and what’s left of our giant dead oak tree.

The perfect environment, it turns out, for a groundhog recreation hall.

Other critters hang out there, too.  Birds.  Rabbits.  An occasional skunk.  Which makes the brush pile irresistibly attractive to dogs. Noses to the ground, they plow around and around it, desperately hoping to scare out something to chase.

One day last summer, they hit the jackpot.

A half-grown groundhog had ventured out of the brush pile and was making his way to the pond when the dogs discovered him.  What to do?  When it comes to being brave, neither Sophie nor Iniesta has ever won any prizes.  Had just one of them encountered Mr. Groundhog, things might have turned out differently.  But even a dog knows there’s strength in numbers.  They lit into that
groundhog like there was no tomorrow.

It was horrible.

The groundhog screamed and hollered and fought those pups tooth and nail, while George and I screamed and hollered at them to leave him alone.  To
no avail.  When the carnage was complete, I managed to corral the dogs while George, unwilling to wait for the buzzards to do their job, buried the carcass.  We
couldn’t take a chance that Sophie and Iniesta might perfume themselves in Eau
de Groundhog the next time they were let out for a romp.

A similar scene repeated itself three more times that summer.  Each time, George was at home and willing, albeit unenthusiastically, to dispose of the remains.

Summer turned to fall.  Groundhogs the world over, including those right here on the east side of Cookeville, began gorging themselves on whatever they could find to fatten up for their long winter nap.  On a sunny late September morning, the dogs and I set off to circle the pond when yet another groundhog made a poorly-timed appearance.  This one was a big boy—twenty pounds if he was an ounce.

Sadly, he suffered the same fate as his brethren.

Just as sadly, George wasn’t home to deal with him.  So, not being
particularly brave myself, I called upon our son James to do it.  I had the pitchfork ready as he arrived in his pickup truck, looking less than thrilled at the task that lay ahead.  He scooped the groundhog up but managed to take only a few steps before it slid off the fork and plopped onto the ground.  He scooped it up again.  It fell off again.  Three, four, five times. Finally, James managed to toss the hapless creature into the truck bed and haul it off to a faraway ditch where, we hoped, no dogs would find it.

“Pitchfork?” George said when I recounted the story to him that evening.  “You don’t move a dead groundhog with a pitchfork.  That’s why we have a snow shovel.”

So now I know.

(February 12, 2012)

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