The groundhog is a solitary creature. They largely live alone, keeping tabs on each other but mostly doing their own thing. The females are very territorial and get aggressive when others encroach on their turf. The males are players and visit many females in the area, spreading that groundhog love around in early March before the females have had just about enough of him and tell him to take a hike for another year. Groundhogs are also known as marmots, woodchucks. No, they don’t chuck wood, that’s just a tongue-twister gone really, really bad, but if they did they’d be our greatest adversary. Groundhogs are most closely related to squirrels and can easily climb trees, making them a super-sized version of a chipmunk. Have I mentioned that I’m not a fan of chipmunks?
A groundhog moved into the yard under a line of lilacs I have planted on the property line with my neighbor. I’m told they can burrow up to to 1.5 meters down and their den can be the length of a bowling lane. Google it, you’ll see just how extensive these things are. Their den should be on one of those home improvement shows – they include a bathroom and a nest for hibernating and a place to store food. Sounds a bit like my own house. Which was here first, thank you. Maybe your great-great grandmother was here before me, but I’m not quite ready to move just yet. Which means we have a turf war too. You know what I don’t need in my yard? Tunnels, that’s what.
I see the groundhog through the window, and I know it sees me because it stares right back at me. When I walk to the door it carefully tracks my progress, and as soon I grab that door handle it scrambles away. Look, I just wanted to talk, that’s all. Talk about the big entry hole you dug under the azaleas that lined the row of lilacs. Talk about the tomatoes you raid just as they grow ripe, eating half and leaving half, like that makes you a good neighbor or something. Talk about this new, choice groundhog neighborhood I’ve heard about that would be just perfect for you. I really do think you’d love a change of scenery…
Attempts at the perfect yard are folly when you coexist with nature at the edge of the woods. I try to keep the chipmunk population in check, but otherwise I leave most of the wild neighbors to themselves. At the moment I’m giving the groundhog a bit of space to roam, but the party’s over when it starts undermining my pool deck or brick patio. I’m keeping an eye on you buddy. You saw what happened to the chipmunks when they dug under the brick patio, didn’t you? I have my limits, friend. Do not test me.
2020 has felt like Groundhog Day, so it’s only fitting that one should establish itself in my yard. Like you, I don’t spend all that much time thinking about marmots, but I’m learning more about this one. The average lifespan of a groundhog is 2-3 years, and they can live up to six years. I’ve seen this one for a couple of years now, so maybe I’ll wait it out. Or maybe the one I saw last year isn’t the one I’m seeing this year. Maybe they’re handing me off generation after generation, leaving notes about my early morning habits and best time to raid the garden. About all my bold talk about chipmunks, mostly talk, and passing on knowledge about “how to manage the homeowner amongst us”. Maybe it’s a waiting game with groundhogs. Or maybe they’re gaming me.