We’ve all had our fights with pests. The family of deer who live in the woods behind our house eat all of Amy’s rose bushes. Mowing brings up comparisons with the dust bowl when mounds from mole holes explode into a mini dust storm.
Those with gardens try just about everything to stop the animals who see the nice, neat rows of vegetables as an endless buffet. Fred and Ann First over on Goose Creek built a garden shelter with Gestapo-like security to try and keep out the varmits.
But Joyce Walder’s story, titled Peter Rabbit Must Die, in the New York Times had us laughing until we cried:
The homeowner, a city-boy artist and illustrator who had moved to rural Pennsylvania, never wanted to kill the woodchucks. Sure, they were ruining the garden and digging up the foundations of outbuildings, but it was a moral issue: the artist, who is still so uncomfortable about what transpired — and so concerned about how his New York clients would feel about it that he is not willing to be identified — did not want to take a life.
Given the size of the property — a 12-acre former horse farm — fencing was out of the question. He bought a Havahart live animal trap but did not catch a thing. And he worried that releasing woodchucks down the road would only be dumping the problem on a neighbor. So he moved on to that tried-and-true landlord’s tactic: harassment. He attached a hose to the exhaust pipe of his old pickup truck and stuffed it into a burrow — not to kill the woodchucks, just to encourage them to move on. That didn’t work, either.
Finally, the artist decided he would have to shoot the animals. First, though, he went to each hole and made an announcement.
“I said: ‘I intend to kill you. You have 24 hours to get out,’ ” he recalls. “I wanted to give them fair warning. I said, ‘If I were you, I would find another place to live.’ I also promised them I would not take a shot unless I knew it would be fatal.”
He is making this into a funny story, he says, but when he killed his first woodchuck he “literally felt sick.”
“I went outside and knelt down to it and said a little prayer to whatever the powers that be that when my turn comes, I will do it as gracefully and uncomplainingly.”
Eventually, though, he embraced his mission, and grew so obsessed with it that an aunt began to call him Woodchuck Johnny. How many did he kill that summer?
“I stopped at 19,” he says. “One was a suicide. It realized its days were numbered and ran in front of a car.”