The sun goddess dances down on rays of light, baking the dry earth. The sky is a heady blue, and the squash blossoms on my upper deck hold thirsty throats up to the sky.
The deck-plants suck in the light greenly. Pea-pods are beginning. Flowers open on leggy tomato plants, eggplant, peppers. The geranium looks better, but not the roses, which hate pots but would probably hate being eaten by deer even more.
My in-the-ground bed, alas, looks saddened. Horseradish and comfrey still tower proudly, along with mint, savory, purple-flowering sage, chives. A few borage plants, some squash vines. But the rest — chard, kale, cilantro, all the green leafy things I love — have been unceremoniously mowed down by a groundhog.
Or so I think. It’s a ninja groundhog, you see — or rather, you don’t. Because we’ve never seen it, although we have seen one about a mile and a half away. But it must be, since the deer would have eaten the squash vines, horseradish and comfrey. Groundhogs, as it happens, have more discriminating tastes. I hear they’re good at wine pairings.
In times like these, I ask: “What would my ancestors do?” Well, they’d take Old Bessie, scout out the garden at all hours, shoot the raider, turn its fur into a hat and put the rest in the cookpot. Groundhogs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, say the ancestors. They, too, are food — and fingerlicking good, if you’re into greasy meat.
But I’m not my ancestors. I’ve never touched a gun in my life, much less fired one. I laugh at the irony of the situation.
What would my ancestors do? Well, if they were serious about farming, they wouldn’t have built their house in the middle of an oak wood, although they’d keep said wood on an extended lot. They’d have used their leaves for tanning leather — as it happens, the true reason this oak wood was planted 80 years ago. They’d have prepared and eaten the acorns — or, more likely, fed them to their pigs as high-quality fodder.
They would have shot the deer that populate this forest so thickly, and given thanks to God or Gods or their own skill. They’d have snared the fox, the coyote, the otters, the weasel — all of which I’ve seen here, even if the groundhog is a ninja.
They would have taken the wild out of the wood.
To modern sensibilities, this seems like sacrilege. We’re so distant from the true exigencies of living off the land — which takes more than cunning and mechanical ability, but also the willingness to kill, gut and skin, to suck the marrow from bones, to smoke the groundhog out of the hole. Not that killing is necessarily done with relish or joy, but it’s done. The groundhog’s holes can hobble the cattle. The fox, weasel and coyote kill the chickens — which, in turn, we kill.
I’ve never held a gun, although I do have a groundhog trap. My solution: plant mint, sage, the fragrant herbs they won’t touch, and keep my food plants above, while planning a more permanent solution — a true cage for the garden — to be implemented next year. Because I can. Because gardening is a luxury and not a need. Because I am not my ancestors.