Remember the tongue twister, How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Well, no one bothered to tell me when I was little that a woodchuck was actually a groundhog. And a ground hog was also a whistle pig. I think that the tongue twister guy had a hard time with How much wood could a ground hog chuck….. so he gave the critter a new name.
But, then again, although it does live in the ground, it is not a hog. And I don’t even know what the hell a woodchuck would be. They don’t eat wood and they don’t chuck…which is the same as “upchuck”, right. And that was just a phrase given to the first kid who ever threw up many years ago…”It’s ok, Chuck, just get it up..Chuck…” Upchuck. (I made that up.)
In some parts of the country, the ground hog is called a “land beaver”, which makes sense until you look at a beaver’ s tail. A ground
hog actually belongs to the group of large ground squirrels called marmots. Think about it. On the cartoon, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Rocky was supposed to be a squirrel. But look at the picture. Rocky is as big as Boris. Squirrels aren’t that big. I’m thinking that Rocky was either a beaver or a groundhog. This is a very important discovery.
Ground beavers (my new term..use it. Embrace it) usually live only 2-3 years, sometimes up to 6 years in the wild. There was one in captivity that lived for 22 years. It was probably one of the poor things that they used as Puxitawny Phil. The heaviest recorded ground beaver was 31 pounds, which is quite scary.
Although I hold a fascination for all animals, I learned about the ground beaver (See, getting used to that name, aren’t you?), at a very early age. I knew two things. It was bad if you were bitten by one of them, and they don’t come when you call them.
My grandfather used to live in a stone home at the edge of a pine forest. It reminded me of a fairy tale cottage. I loved visiting that house. My grandfather had a small fruit orchard and on one side of the house was a patio with square cut pieces of colored slate and a bird bath in the middle of it. My grandmother used to get so pissed at Grandpa because when I would visit, he would cut some of the flowers in her flower garden and decorate the pine tree with them. But, the main attraction, was the ground beaver hole on the edge of the patio.
Grandma wanted to put a hose in the hole and drown the poor creature. Grandpa wouldn’t let
her. It was his buddy. He named it Gus, which is funny, because in Pennsylvania, it is the character’s name of the “second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania” for the Pennsylvania lottery. When those commercials would come on, it always reminded me of my grandpa.
Anywho, I would sit for a very long time, calling for Gus. I had a sweet voice, I don’t know why the hell he wouldn’t come out of his hole. I worried about Gus. Was he getting enough food? Was he lonely? Could he see down there? My grandpa patiently answered all my questions. It wasn’t the same, however, when I got home. My mom didn’t see things the same way.
I had asked my dad if I could use his fishing pole. My thought was that I would put a piece of lettuce or apple on a string and lower it down Gus’s hole. And just like a fish, I would reel Gus in when I felt a nibble. I went fishing with my dad enough to know what I was doing. It made so much sense.
“Vickie, who is Gus?……………Grandpa has a pet groundhog?……………..You’ve seen it?……………Vickie, stay away from it. Do you understand me?…….Because if you get bit by a groundhog, you will have to have shots in your stomach for rabies and they will cut the head of the groundhog off and send it away to make sure it doesn’t have rabies……………..How do you know it doesn’t have rabies?…………….It is a wild animal, Vickie………….A hamster doesn’t count…..Because it doesn’t count………………..Because it doesn’t………..You know what? Just go to your room.”
That’s how it always ended. Except that day I stopped and got the Letter “G” from the World Book Encyclopedia to learn all about groundhogs…(I mean, ground beavers.) This creature would not bite me.
Well, I never got to fish for the ground beaver. My mom must have phoned my grandfather.
“Vickie, your mom doesnt want you near Gus, so we can’t go outside when Gus is walking around out there. But, we can watch from
the window.” He said this in front of my Grandmother, who then walked back into the kitchen. I cried. “But Grandpa, I love Gus.”
Over the next year, I was able to get closer and closer to Gus. Grandpa and I made a secret pact. We would tell no one that we were playing with Gus. I sure loved my Grandpa. I never got bitten and I didn’t need a fishing pole. We just put food up at the top by his hole and would look out later to see if it was gone.
So, on this Ground Beaver Day, I would like to pay homage to Gus and then to Mrs. Daegle, White Hall Willie, Miss Piggy and all the other groundhogs that have dug holes on my property. My husband knew before we built a house in the country that he was never allowed to kill a groundhog. I even made him pinky swear.
So, whatever you call them, just know, they don’t really answer to you. But, they will answer to a whistle. They will stand up and look around.
I need to re-think this ground beaver moniker. Perhaps a whistle beaver is more fitting.