The Unfairness of Woodchucks

This week brings up a question that has especially puzzled me since I began gardening in Ann Arbor: why do groundhogs get their own special day? I’m not aware of other holidays dedicated to clumsy thieves. Is it an attempt to lure them out of their burrows so they can be disposed of before gardening season starts? Tell me anyone around here really believes there is a choice on February 2nd other than six more weeks of winter.

The thing that bothers me most about woodchucks, aka groundhogs, is that when they waddle over to eat the blooms off the tops of my deerproof flowers, they smash everything else in their path. I get that they have to eat, but do they have to bash up all the other growing things while they do it? It’s true they dig such excellent tunnels that foxes will sometimes run them out and move in, and foxes kill mice, voles, and other crop-eaters. But this can hardly be counted as a direct benefit of groundhogs, since they will fight tooth and claw to prevent it.internet chuck

Right now my local woodchuck/groundhog is no doubt hunkered into her burrow for the winter, but is she sleeping? Or binge-watching Netflix?


It’s the color of girlhood, the flag of female babies, the shade of aspiring princesses and ballerinas, and for years I was prejudiced against it for the girly, ruffly, dismissability it carried with it. When the call came to knit pink pussyhats for the Women’s March, I wondered at my own pink-misogyny, and decided to reassess.

Being a writer, I looked into the derivation of the word. Words have back-stories as well as living, flexible presents, and the connections can be strange. Here I was Pinkmerrily on my way to a dissertation on garden flowers, the pinks I know best, when I was brought up short: the word “pink” originally meant a small coastal fishing vessel. Even the most stalwart scholars have had trouble figuring out how we got here from there – “derivation unclear,” they say – but in broad outlines it is, or might be, something like this: the boat was small; Pinquethe word began to stand in for any of the smallest things in a group, for instance your pinkie finger, or the smallest flowers in the garden; then to one specific small flower; then the color of that flower (and the shape of that flower’s ragged edge, “pinked”). It became the canonical female color when a little girl whose grandmother called her Pinky – smallest member of the family – commissioned a portrait of the girl wearing the color.

Several friends questioned the wearing of pink pussyhats for the Women’s March, since we don’t want to be cute and non-threatening. HatsBut why not reclaim the color for its assertiveness, its kinship to the powerful red, and the way it matches the inside of my cat’s mouth when she shows her fangs. She kills things with those fangs. Let’s reclaim the fighting side of pink for womanhood. Warning: do not mistake pointy ears and pinkness for submissiveness. I have never met a submissive cat.

While on the subject of the meanings of things, I paged past Imposture, Impertinence, and Implosive, to Inaugurate, with its root in Augury. Inauguration means: to take omens from the flights of birds, then install on the results of their omens; to invest a thing with sacred character. The next word I came to after that was Inauspicious. Like a flight of birds coming too close to a cat.

A Poem This Time

Another way of looking at the Paperwhites:

Winter, Love

Inside the window, paperwhites
lean jealously against the glass,
appraise the falling snow
for signs that it will not surpass
their raw ability to bring
glory to a winter hour.
But what do the narcissus know?
Saturated with delight
as the glass reflects their faces,
each ice crystal is a flower
to the viewer it displaces,
winter passionate as spring
fields of bloom on frozen lawn
harvest what they grow upon.

first published in Bluestem Magazine





We did get more snow, but the weather here has gotten cranky and they say the snow will be rained out and snowed back again before January is over. beautiful snow 3Something like that is going on outside right now – hard to say whether what’s falling is rain or snow. I saw footprints that looked suspiciously like the woodchuck, who should be asleep in her burrow until next month. She would not have seen her shadow this morning, but there’s nothing for her to eat so she’d be wise to go back to sleep. I wonder if she knows about Punxsutawney Phil. How did he end up getting all the woodchuck glory? Do you have to be a male woodchuck to get the job, and if so, how do we know Punxsutawney Phil qualifies? Did some foreign agency help him out? Are the deer behind this? I wouldn’t put anything past the deer.

The narcissus bulbs I potted up indoors after Christmas are starting to bloom, filling the space vacated by outgoing bells, holly, and red ribbons with snow-colored flowers and head-spinning scent. It’s said that their fragrance, rather than their appearance, is responsible for their name: Narcissus, intoxicating to the wood nymphs. In English, we call this variety, the one that’s too tender to be outdoors in northern climates, the paperwhite. paperwhites.jpgThis name is most agreeable to a writer; and maybe that’s what makes me put so many of them into saucers full of pebbles or pots of dirt, set them near my desk, water them, and hope. Other narcissi – big yellow jonquils, white, yellow, and even pink daffodils – are waiting patiently in their beds in the yard and garden, for spring. Because I nudge the paperwhites into bloom in January, they represent winter to me, not spring: winter as pure beauty. Winter to be appreciated for itself, not as a way-station to somewhere else. This is how I look at them, as a kind of indoor snow, but the paperwhites themselves lean against the window glass. They grow toward the slowly increasing hours of light.

Not Ready For Seed Catalogs

No sooner did the hysterical promises of extra-super-delivery-in-time-for-Christmas catalogs slack off, than the deluge of seed catalogs began.  I’m as into seed catalogs as the next person – well, okay, I’m way more into seed catalogs than the actual next person, since that’s Doug – but really, I need a break. I need to look out the window at the yard and garden and be at rest. At peace with the pilfering deer and marauding woodchuck, the weeds, the weather, the kinky hoses. If the seed catalogs come, can the garlic mustard be far behind?

Besides, I have some issues to work out before I go near the seed catalogs. Maybe some New Year’s resolutions would help. Resolved: to stop raising forty seven tomato plants from seed when I can squeeze out room in my garden for thirty at the most. Resolved: to limit myself to three kinds of cosmos and four of zinnias instead of getting carried away, which that is not, in case you wondered.

But I resolved long ago to make only resolutions I’m able to keep, and these aren’t them. Though I have turned their faces to the wall, the seed catalogs lurk. Red cheeks of tomato porn and promises of their happy and fruitful consummation with companion-planted marigolds gleam in the late-winter light as I sit by the window, trying to ignore them. The window’s not helping, because the snow is temporarily gone, and the lawn is strangely green.

Come back, snow, I need you. You’ll get your own time off again in April.