woodchuck 1

I am watching a woodchuck through the kitchen window as it forages in the black raspberry patch out back. Its fat body fits easily between the canes, as if they had no thorns at all — the pale dead, and the reddish purple arches of the year-old canes, their heads buried in the dirt. The slope is stubbled with nubbins of grass, violets, dandelion, dame’s-rocket. The woodchuck’s jowls wobble as it gobbles the tender greens.

woodchuck 2

I am watching its progress in the small screen on the back of my camera, which I hold a foot from my face. First I see the animal as if in a stained-glass window, its body and the ground around it framed and fragmented by the raspberry stems: ground hog. Then I zoom in on face and fur, shining in the strong sunlight: so much color where until now I’d only noticed brown and gray! How much wood, even freshly split, could you say the same about?

woodchuck 3

But now I’m getting a reflection from the inside. I pull a yellow bottle from the windowsill and it spots the movement, freezes. Dark eyes bore into the camera. Then a waterfall of fur is spilling downslope. A moment later I feel a bump, bump, bump against what I am used to thinking of as a floor. I crouch down and press one palm against the wood.

Previously on Via Negativa: Marmota monax.
See also my mother’s essay, Mad Marmots.

15 Replies to “Woodchuck”

  1. Assuming Chuck could actually chuck wood, I think we’d be more interested in how much. Still I doubt the end result would be as colorful as Chuck himself. Perhaps a bit less skittish though. (grin) Thank you for the wonderful vignette and great furry photos. We here in close packed suburbia must be satisfied only with the wood pile itself. Now I did get a blurry shot of a languorous possum last year, but the sightings are rare.

  2. Great pics! It’s not often we get to “spy” on these guys up close.

    Its fat body fits easily between the canes, as if they had no thorns at all

    I imagine a little sign: “You must have fur at least |this| thick to browse here….”

  3. Thanks for the comments. I should mention that if you click on the third photo, then click the magnifying-glass icon at the top (“all sizes”), you can a better idea of just how many colors are in its coat. (Yes, I hit “contrast” in Photoshop, but just a little.)

    Joan – I’m still working on a good possum shot (my mother could’ve used an extra illustration for her latest column). The trouble there is that possums tend not to be out when the light is good.

    David – According to the Wikipedia article on woodchucks, they actually have two distinct layers of fur: “Suited to their temperate habitat, groundhogs are covered with two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guard hairs that gives the groundhog its distinctive ‘frosted’ appearance.” I guess I’d quibble with the “grey” part.

  4. Thanks for the close up of the fur, do you think it is coarse to the touch? kinda looks that way. Or maybe it is like a beaver, I have felt a beaver pelt, but don’t reckon I ever have a ground hog.
    (S)he looks like a mature critter , perhaps their color “silvers” as they mature?

  5. I’m not sure their coat gets coarser or more silver with age. It is fairly coarse to the touch, though, yes. (I have felt plenty of dead ones over the years.)

    Thanks for visiting. It’s always nice to see another Appalachian blogger.

  6. I think Woodchucks are also called Whistlepigs because of their high pitched calls. One chased my husband half way across our back yard when he accidently blocked its path.

  7. Wow. Yeah, they can be aggressive – though I’ve never been chased myself. I’ve seen them hold their ground against dogs. As for the whistling part, believe it or not, I’ve never actually heard them do that, though it’s supposed to be common. Either our chucks are unusually mute, or I’m deaf in the upper register.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  8. There’s a fascinating quality to this account of you watching yourself watching, which provides a deeper dimension than mere observation. I wish we had the odd woodchuck here in North Hertfordshire. The best I can offer is a regular morning thrush & a pair of clouded yellow butterflies checking out the broom & wondering why it’s not in flower yet.

  9. Don’t you have badgers there, though? I wsih we had those. They don’t range this far east, unfortunately. Badgers are cool (though I freely admit I’ve been influenced by The Wind in the Willows).

  10. I thought that the undercoat/guard-hair structure was what distinguishes “fur” from mere “hair”?

    I used to own a rabbit, with the classic “rabbit grey” coloration — that is, he looked like a wild rabbit, albeit twice the size. Both his outer fur and undercoat had multicolored hairs, so that blowing into his fur revealed an impressive “bulls-eye” of (iirc) 4 colors.

  11. Well, according to PETA, “fur is dead,” so I’m not sure what you call an animal’s coat when it is still in use by the original animal – pelt? Pelage? (And what are we to make of that slogan? That we should be squeamish toward death?)

    If you’re into pet rabbits, BTW, you should read Somewhere in NJ for the weekly bunny fix. (Well, there are lots of other reasons to read it, too.)

  12. Given that I find PETA to be generally offensive and manipulative, I wouldn’t look to them for linguistic correctness. As far as I’m concerned, “fur” works perfectly well when it’s still on the critter.

    While my Vorpal Rabbit was certainly sweet and I loved him dearly, he was also incredibly destructive — A multi-year War Of The Wires, not to mention clothes, bookshelves and other furniture, bedclothes and pillows. Over six years later,I still have various possessions bearing the Mark Of The Bunny, not to mention the carpet damage. I don’t think I’ll be getting another bunny too soon….

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