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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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The agony of defeat
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Friday, April 19, 2013


Okay, I admit it.

I have been busy this week and when I sat at the computer to write a column, my little brain was all over the place, unable to find a place to linger for any length of time.

And the pressure was mounting to finish a column.

Fortunately, the thought of gardening made a brief appearance in my mind and when I think of gardening, I think of groundhogs.

Also fortunately, I had written a column about groundhogs and gardens several years ago, so here it is again.

Ahhhh! Gardening. What a wonderful time of year.

What a time for being outdoors, working in the garden, watching those beautiful little plants that were only seeds a couple of short weeks ago poke their sprouts out of the ground toward the sun.

The cells divide so quickly, you can almost see the plants grow. It's a great feeling.

Trouble is, groundhogs seem to share the same enthusiasm.

Case in point.

A few years ago, I was about as proud of my garden as a man, or woman, could be. The tomato plants were thick and thriving, as was everything else, from the cucumbers to the corn. But the prettiest plants, without a doubt, were the green beans.

Spaced apart just right in several rows, the plants were perfect, already about eight inches tall and all with healthy, full leaves.

After giving my garden a good soaking on a Friday evening, I went out of town and returned on Sunday, quickly making my way behind the house and up a small hill to see how much growth had taken place over the days I was gone.

At first glance, everything looked okay. Until I saw the green beans, or what was left of them.

Rather than the healthy, growing plants I had left, I had rows of green bean plant stubs. The only thing left of those plants were small stems that had been chewed all the way to the ground.

All that work, all that tender loving care, all gone.

Although I had not seen a groundhog at all, I knew it was the work of those nasty critters. I had grown up with them in West Virginia and knew that all those ways to keep them out of the garden, such as placing human hair or moth balls around the perimeter, did not work.

As my Uncle Larney used to say, "The only cure for a groundhog is a lead ball."

I scouted the woods near the garden and finally found a hole they were using. Armed with my trusty .22-caliber single-shot Winchester, the most accurate little rifle I have ever owned, I staked out the garden, watching every morning before I went to work and every minute I could spare in the evening. But to no avail.

In fact, I planted more green beans and they were eaten, too. It was like the groundhog(s) waited until the coast was clear to invade my garden. Probably were in cahoots with the crows, who served as lookouts.

When the tomatoes started coming in, I was disheartened to see many of them half-eaten on the vine. And at that point, I couldn't stand it any longer. The groundhogs had to go!

A man, as most women probably know, is not always a rational creature. Maybe it's the testosterone, or it could be an ego problem. I don't know. But I do know there are times when men do very stupid things.

For me, this was one of those times.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what I was thinking but I decided to "smoke" the groundhogs out of their hole. Well, "blow" them out of their underground burrow is a better description.

Logic told me the groundhogs used two holes that must be connected. Since I had found two holes within about 50 feet of each other, it made sense. But the logic of a groundhog is not exactly the same logic used my men, or at least men who do stupid things.

The idea was to pour a little gasoline into one hole, let it soak in a little and light it. The ensuing flames and smoke, I figured, would surely result in a quick exit by the groundhogs. If I couldn't kill them, maybe I could run them off.

So I poured a little gasoline into the hole, then decided it wasn't enough. So I poured a little more, then a little more, until the gallon can was empty. I wanted to make sure the groundhogs knew I meant business.

I left just a tad of gasoline to create a small line of the liquid leading from the hole to use as a fuse.

I backed off a few feet from the hole, proudly lit a match and plopped it on that stream of gasoline. A small flame raced into the hole.

The first thing I thought about after picking myself up off the ground about 10 feet down the hill from the hole was that I was still alive. The second thing I thought about was that I didn't think I had any eyebrows left.

And the third thing that crossed my mind was that maybe, just maybe, that hole was both the entrance and the exit.

At the very least, I figured, judging by the power of the blast, the groundhogs were probably blown to kingdom come.

The next morning was Saturday, and I was anxious to get started hoeing a groundhog-free garden.

As I topped the hill, though, without the gun I thought I would no longer need, two groundhogs were feasting on my tomatoes and scampered away when they saw me, straight toward their burned-out hole.

I could've sworn I heard them snicker.

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