— William E. “Bill” Vaughn
American Author (1915-1977)
Seems like every town whose Chamber of Commerce strives to become “the” town is getting its own soothsayer groundhog.
I know what you’re thinking.
Groundhog? It’s nowhere near February. We’ve still got Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, among a few other notable occasions I may have forgotten, before we get anywhere near the 2012 homage to meteorological guesswork by way of fur.
So what’s up? We’re just coming off the Fourth of July, for crying out loud.
I understand your confusion. This kind of forward thinking can stir visions of rodent chaos in a heartbeat, but hang with me on this one. All will become clear.
It started with this Sunday column two weeks ago in Part I of that twin testament to a dying opossum. Actually, he was already a goner. Morbidly dead, in fact. So it became more of a eulogy, an ode if you will to the stinky remains of a misguided marsupial whose clandestine sojourn into the crawlspace beneath our home became his final resting place.
It wasn’t pretty. Nor was his removal and subsequent interment. But in life, as in its aftermath, we do what must be done.
In that opening piece, I mentioned the myriad of wildlife that frequents our backyard. Like many Bradley County residents who share property lines with the forest, we have frequent four-legged visitors. Some are welcome. Others are not.
Daily sightings would include the standard blue-collar foragers like squirrels, rabbits and more species of birds than Noah could have counted using hands and feet. Less frequent passersby are deer, bobcats, sizably spooky owls, raccoons, snakes and skunks — the latter two my wife and I agree might find greater comfort and a warmer reception in neighborhoods elsewhere. We have no preordained prejudices against snakes and skunks. We just find them ... inconvenient.
In that listing two weeks ago, I mentioned seeing a “mystery animal” from a distance at the back edge of our backyard. I didn’t get a good look because once he spied me he scampered off into the wooded distance. I tried not to take it personally.
Judging from the furry creature’s dimensions — low to the ground and covered in hair yet strangely cute with an inchworm jaunt — I pondered beaver, otter or gopher. I know Bradley County has its own beaver population and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has otters — perhaps my wilderness ghost was an escapee — but I wasn’t certain about gophers.
For those who might have been alarmed when I previously projected mountain lion, you can relax. I was only fooling with you. I haven’t seen one of those in months.
Sometime after reading the Editorial Page account of this “mystery animal,” a co-worker from another department, who lives in the same neighborhood, stepped over to my office bearing photograph in hand.
Holding it before me, she asked, “Is this your mystery animal?”
Squinting, I took the picture in hand.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “I think that’s it! Do you know him?”
“Is he dangerous?” I continued. “I mean, was he in my backyard looking for his next meal? Should we call in the National Guard or National Geographic? Or Wild Kingdom perhaps? Jim Fowler’s bound to be back in camp by now.”
“It’s a groundhog,” my co-worker explained. “We have a family of them in our backyard.”
We reside on parallel streets, separated mostly by unused property covered in trees and natural vegetation; hence, anything that enjoys frolicking in her backyard might eventually spill into mine.
We can now add groundhogs to our growing wilderness zoo.
In the interest of keeping up with all those tourist-happy Joneses who deify groundhogs of their own with people names, I’ll do the same. We live in the Kile Lake area; therefore, I today christen our newest varmint Kile Lake Karl. I hope he’s smart.
Of course, what if he’s a girl? My co-worker didn’t specify.
Then it’s Kile Lake Carol.
But do they let lady groundhogs forecast weather?
That’s healthy debate for another day.