“There it is!” my brother shouted from his secret observation post high atop the sofa in the living room. I rushed to the back window. There, in the garden, chewing on a cantaloupe I’d planned to have with my breakfast, was Marmota monax, the largest of the squirrel family, the creature more commonly known as the woodchuck, or, in some places, the whistling pig. This particular specimen was the largest woodchuck I’ve seen in a long while, weighing in at about forty pounds (half that is the norm for woodchucks). “Look at the size of that bastard,” my brother, hereinafter known as the Great White Hunter (GWH) or Bwana, yelled. My mother shouted at the beast to go away, but the gluttonous rodent, hereinafter known as the Elusive Beast, looked at us as though we were mad, and then went back mauling my mother’s cantaloupes. Then my brother made a fateful choice. “I’m going to shoot that thing in its big fat ass,” he announced, and ran up the stairs to fetch the BB gun.
That day and the days after it were days of terrible frustration for my brother. The Elusive Beast taunted him at every turn, mauling melons and making holes in tomatoes at every turn, launching raids on the radishes and assaults on the asparagus (Mom doesn’t actually grow asparagus, but I like the assonance there) whenever the brother was not about, and then fleeing back into his hole whenever he perceived that he was being watched. My brother found this all terribly frustrating, the more so since it was not at all a matter of killing the Elusive Beast, but rather educating the little bastard to stay away from the cantaloupes. “If I kill the Elusive Beast,” my brother explained, “then I’m going to have to get rid of its lousy flea-bitten carcass so he’s not stinking us out of house and home. No, I got to teach him not to come into the garden.”
The brother said this with an air of tremendous self-satisfaction, as if this were the easiest thing in the world to accomplish.
In reality, my brother was now embarked on one of the great scientific adventures of our time, an attempt to prove that the experiments carried out by Pavlov and Skinner could be carried out in a completely uncontrolled environment. The call went to behaviorists everywhere in the world, and they came in their hundreds and then in their thousands to see the results of this great experiment. In the end, they got too damn annoying for words and GWH began shooting them in the end instead, causing them to flee back to the ivory towers from which they emerged. Proving that this experiment would work with academics, however, is not the same as proving it would work with the Elusive Beast and his merry band of fruit thieves (yes, there were more than one of them; apparently this unfit parent recruited members of his family to help him with his depredations). No, indeed, they would prove a much more cunning foe.
So the Great White Hunter lay in wait in his stand by the back window overlooking the garden, kept alive by a Spartan diet of sour cream and onion flavored potato chips, Key lime pie, and Coca-Cola brought to him by underpaid native bearers from the nearest Wal-Mart. He waited and waited, hoping to catch the Elusive Beast as he broke cover and went for the cantaloupes, but over a week of waiting went by and nothing happened, not even a possible sighting, although he did see an opossum that looked vaguely like Elvis in profile. Did our hero despair? You bet your ass he did, but he kept at it, despite the laughter and none too gentle taunting of friends and family, waiting patiently for the Elusive Beast to reappear.
Then, just as he was about to give way to the counsels of despair, the Elusive Beast showed himself. The rotund rodent emerged from its burrow underneath the house next door and waddled across the line between our property and the neighbor’s, making a beeline for my mother’s small garden, or as much of a beeline that any wallowing woodchuck can muster. The obese Beast trundled towards the garden, its mind aflame with the possibilities of despoiling yet another cantaloupe, displaying in its every ponderous step a basic contempt towards all of humanity. The Great White Hunter carefully aimed the BB gun at the woodchuck’s hindquarters and gently squeezed the trigger.
He missed by a country mile. The Elusive Beast stopped and sniffed the air and then continued its march, evidently concluding that a low-flying aircraft had just flown overhead. The GWH swore under his breath and pumped the BB gun up to maximum pressure once again. This time he aimed carefully and then let fly.
The Elusive Beast stopped dead in its tracks and looked around, wondering where the bee that stung it had gone to. “I got him,” shouted the GWH, and rapidly pumped the weapon up again. He fired again, and struck the Beast yet again. The Beast, now realizing that he was in the open with a potential predator zeroed in on him, ran for cover, tripping time and time again over his pendulous belly. But the GWH had not done with him. Again and again the BBs flew, forcing the once Elusive and now abject and sniveling Beast to change course over and over again, driving him further away from the protection of his burrow. Yes, the BBs flew, clipping an ear here and a paw there, with one memorable shot clipping the Beast’s scrotum. The Beast howled and galumphed around the back yard, looking for some protection from the rain of stinging missiles that now harassed his every move. Finally, the GWH ran out of BBs and the Beast scurried back to his burrow, all thoughts of gorging on the delicious cantaloupes gone from its mind.
Since then the Beast has been back a few times, testing to see if the GWH awaited him, and each time the Beast bolted back to his burrow, followed by a veritable tornado of BBs. He sits there to this day, debating the meaning of it all with the wisest of woodchuck natural philosophers, some of whom hold that the BBs do not exist, while others hold that the Elusive Beast is the victim of an advanced Oedipal complex manifesting itself as BBs. In any case, the Elusive Beast is staying on his side of the property line, having learned, if nothing else, something about the sanctity of private property. And the cantaloupes are delicious. I thought you’d want to know.