Our first summer in Jolicure (in 1973) we had a fat groundhog take up residence in our basement when part of the wall of the foundation collapsed inwards and we had a wide open hole to the outside. Our century old farmhouse was just barely sitting on a century old foundation made of massive blocks of stone, and the basement was literally just a big square hole in the ground. (and when the rocks fell inward they crushed our water pump – so no water for a while til that got repaired too)
So I guess the groundhog figured this big hole in the basement wall was an invitation to move in – and he did. It may be that he caused the collapse by digging in in the first place… we’ll never know.
It was a family crisis. What were we going to do with a groundhog in our basement? We couldn’t let a wild animal live down there – we had to be able to have access to the basement after all, and we stored our root vegetables down there.
My father considered shooting the animal, but the rest of us prevailed. Instead my mother went down there with pots and pans and made a tremendous noise until the poor intruder moved out. He found a very nice piece of real estate in our backyard by an old tree stump and stayed there for many years.
In the summer you’d see my father sitting in his lawn chair in the backyard sunning himself, and alongside him on the smooth wide top of the tree stump, surrounded by mallow flowers, would lie the groundhog doing the same.
One summer evening I was all alone at home – the light was a soft golden color and as I sat in my bedroom window looking out past the lilac trees in front of my bedroom window to the field directly opposite the front of our house, I saw a beautiful lithe red fox hunting. He was jumping and leaping into the air over the old tilled remains of the field, now covered with thick grasses and wildflowers. It looked so joyful and lyrical, it made me happy inside.
There was also a wonderful porcupine who would lumber out in the evenings from the forest to the big long field by our house and nibble on the grass there. Because he was so prickly he never was fearful of us and we could walk right up to him and have a visit. Mind you, we would never try to touch him, and luckily our dog was well trained enough that we never had her get into a mess with the animal.
We always had a giant great horned owl that lived in the row of tall pines behind our house. In summer evenings with the windows open you could actually hear the near silent swoosh of his wings and see him in the dusk hunting back and forth for rodents.
We’d find his pellets containing the tiny bones of his dinner under his perch. And if you looked carefully during the day he was there high up in his pine tree.
Needless to say there were frogs – and in the summer especially, there were huge loud choruses of them along the lake edge where there were lots of lily pads and other plant growth. The marshy areas were thick with frogs too and even the mucky wet areas of ditches and the forest were homes to them. In the spring there’d be big masses of frog eggs in the shallower water – shiny and slick with little black spots in them. Then as time progressed hundreds of tadpoles of all sizes would hatch and you could watch them develop into full sized frogs.
We had a weasel for a few years that lived under our kitchen shed. It turned pure white with a black tip on its tail in the winter. It was so sleek and elegant and fast. We saw its tracks more often then we saw the animal – it was very wary of us and our pets.
And for the entire time we lived there, there was a pair of loons on our lake – they’d return in the spring to nest and stay til just before winter came. They had such a beautiful haunting call. We’d see them out there with their babies every year – the mother bird would carry her crew on her back when they were tiny little fluffy puffs and not able to swim yet. When we went out on the lake with our canoe, the loons would repeatedly pop up right next to our canoe and then dive down into the deep tea colored water. It was a wonderful gift to be able to be so close to such beautiful wild creatures like that.
Being in the middle of such wilderness there were many more wild things that we encountered over the years – fish hawks, sparrow hawks, rabbits, bats, mice, shrews, swallows and more… all to be discovered, appreciated and left alone by us.
There was one tragic siting that I will also never forget though – something so disturbing I am still racked with a sick guilt and sorrow. My mother and I and the dog were hiking through the forest when we came upon a raccoon stuck in a horrible trap
– its rusted metal jaws were clamped shut on the poor animal’s leg and the raccoon was so frantic that it allowed us to try and release it. But we were unable to help; the trap was too strong (it looked like a bear trap – it was big and heavy and powerful – a very dangerous thing that I or my dog could have just as easily been caught in).
My mother as brave as she was, couldn’t bring herself to kill the racoon and put it out of its misery – and I was near hysterical. We went home to get my father to take him back and shoot it. But he refused. He didn’t want to get into a war with any local trappers. All I could imagine was the suffering of that little helpless animal alone out there in the forest… I wish I’d had the strength to go back there myself and end his misery – but I failed.
And I will carry that with me to the end of my days.