Reader's groundhog story ‘ interesting and remarkable'

Nature Talks
February 26. 2012 8:55PM

GROUNDHOG DAY has come and gone for 2012, and by now we are well headed toward the first day of spring. Of all the groundhog stories I have heard, none have been quite like this.

A Newport reader wrote: 'As a follower of your articles and a listener to your radio show in the 40's and 50's, we have shared mutual friends such as State Police Officer Chester Hartwell, and R.N.

Johnson. You spoke at Jack's 75th Anniversary of his being in business in Walpole, NH.'

(Chet Hartwell was an excellent member of the NH State Police for many years. The last I knew, he was well into his nineties, a reader of this column, and had retired in Vermont. From 1943-1966 I was Radio Farm Program Director for radio station WKNE, Keene, doing a daily farm program from my farm. During those years, Ralph N. 'Jack' Johnson sponsored those programs. Jack's John Deere farm machinery business is now headed by his grandson, Allan Johnson).

Our Newport reader continued: 'I would like to submit a story about Mr. Groundhog.

On February 2, in the mid'50's, I was driving a 1949 - 650 Brockway low-bed, owned by Carmen & Porter of Alstead.

On a trip from Alstead to Bridgewater, Vermont, to pick up heavy equipment, after going past Drewsvill store, on my right at the next farm I glanced out the large and low window and behold was there Mr. Groundhog sitting up as proud as a peacock.

'Thought you might be interested in this story as I haven't met many people who have seen 'Mr. Phil' on his special day in 77 years on this planet.'

I must confess, in all my 90 years, I have never heard of a woodchuck ever leaving his winter abode in New Hampshire as early as Feb. 2.

An interesting and remarkable story, indeed.

As a 'city' kid, educated from fifth grade on, in private schools, (Tilton and Vermont Academy) my first contact with a woodchuck came in the late 1930s. A Vermont farmer not wanting any harm to come to it, brought a baby woodchuck to our Mr. Mark Emerson, biology teacher at Vermont Academy. Since I was taking care of the animals in the laboratory, the little one was turned over to me to care for. At the time the baby chuck had not opened its eyes and his only interest was eating without biting. I began by feeding it milk from a teaspoon. The young chuck quickly learned how to grab the spoon with both front paws and slurp down the milk. It was a messy process, but effective. It wasn't long before it opened its eyes and then was able to drink from a small saucer. Its first solid food was lettuce leaves donate by the school's chef.

When school was out in June, I took the little fellow, nicknamed 'Chucky,' to my then home at Grandfather Cole's house. I was not sure if Gramp, having retired from farming over ten years before, would appreciate my doing so, but, thankfully, he and the young chuck took to each other right off. It was not long before a blossoming friendship developed. I learned that woodchucks were very clean and 'naturally' housebroken.

Gramp fixed up a 'cat' box and it was always utilized when Chucky was indoors.

All that summer I was busy with baseball or bird watching or some other distraction and Chucky 'imprinted' on Gramp. Indoors or out the developing woodchuck followed Gramp around wherever he went. He trailed along behind when Gramp mowed his lawn and even while hoeing in the garden.

Chucky quickly learned early on to keep out from under foot. This was especially necessary as Gramp always hoed his garden backwards.

He liked the looks of a wellhoed garden as hoeing in that manner showed no footprints.

Gramp would frequently note that weed seeds took longer to germinate by not being pressed into a solid contact with the soil. Chucky did nibble on a few vegetable plants but he was never complained of as his garden snacks were just 'tastings' so's to speak.

Gramp made sure that Chucky had plenty to eat at regular mealtimes.

Late that fall, Chucky disappeared one day. He had always come to us when called, but not this time. We guessed he had decided it was time to dig a hole and go to sleep for the winter. We hoped to see him again in the Spring. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

A Candia reader wrote on Jan. 15: 'I wanted to tell you that Red-bellied Woodpeckers (a male and a female) have showed up at my feeder for the frst time this year.

'Also, it was a good year for Bluebirds and they have kept coming back almost daily. A pair were at an old untended nest box this morning! It was 30/F at the time (10 a.m.) and low here in Candia was -8/F.

It appeared that the male was coaxing the female out of the nest box which I can only imagine was filled with old wasps nests, cobwebs, grass, etc. There are two others that the bluebirds and swallows nest in and a third new box.

The one they were hanging out at had not been used by any species for a year. Perhaps it was better with years of clutter inside.'

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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