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Ground hogs 

"Good eatin', mighty good eatin'," said the plant vendor at the Carrboro Farmers' Market one Saturday morning. She was an older woman, which only means I thought she was older than I. White wiry chin hairs stood out like antennae, and being that we stood close together allowing room for the crowds buying cedar chests, goat soap and sunflowers on long stems, each exhalation sprayed me as if I were in the mist tent at the Festival for the Eno. Though I doubted that she remembered me, I was explaining why I was purchasing my third set of four-to-a-pack cucumber seedlings.

A mother groundhog and her babies had taken up residence in my backyard. Initially, I had been thrilled watching them from my kitchen window as they dined on clover tops and dandelion flowers. Part of my pleasure came from the fact that at least three generations of this groundhog family had lived in a burrow under a fallen but still surviving tree in my next-door neighbor's yard. He referred to them as his groundhogs, even though they frequently went out for dinner and chowed down on my clover. There was more to choose from on my side of the property line, as I did not so religiously mow my yard every Friday afternoon. When the rodent presented him with two offspring, he named the entire family: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. I let it go but thought he should at least acknowledge joint custody.

Groundhogs have a life expectancy of about five years. We took it as a sign of the continuing life cycle when there was no sign of Shadrach this spring. However, in her place, Meshach had taken over the den; her brother Abednego had dug himself a cozy burrow in the hill across the street. Soon there were four bunny-sized babies cavorting between our yards.

Having raised three sons myself, I understood how motherhood of multiples can make you pine for an adults-only retreat. So I was not surprised when I spotted her busily digging a hole between two artfully placed boulders that marked the rear corner of my yard. I had visualized it as just the sort of place to sit and think great thoughts while reflecting on my life so far. Within a few days, however, the den was enlarged to accommodate little ones.

Aren't they cute, I thought, as I watched the young'uns stand up on their rear legs to accept a nose-to-nose nuzzle from mom as she leaned over the granite ledge. That was before the great cucumber buffet extravaganza. First to go were the blossoms. Not far behind were the tender leaves. After the first set was devoured, I encircled my modest garden with a low, wire fence. The second set never made it into the garden. I had set them near the hose bib to water them until I had a few minutes to put them in the ground later in the day. A couple of hours later four skinny stems were reaching skyward.

Now, this is serious business. Here is the list of what have not yet become delicacies: bell peppers, tomatoes, basil and marigolds. This is the final planting of cucumbers. They are encircled by the frame of an old broken beach umbrella (I always knew I'd find some use for that) covered with two layers of meshing held down around the perimeter by bricks. Take that, you hog!

It didn't slow them down at all. I'm trying to live in peace with these critters. So tonight I put in the third line of defense--a two-foot-high barrier of chicken wire. I draw the line at concertina wire.

Then I remembered, whatever happens, they're mighty good eatin'!

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