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Sweet and Sad – The Timing of Life

by Lucky Garvin

Had I arrived 60 seconds sooner or sixty seconds later, I would have missed one of the sweetest, saddest things that ever happen to me. This is the story of a groundhog, and I am well aware that, like me years ago, some of you are thinking, “So what?” Since that time, Sabrina and I have raised twenty or so of them; and our opinion has changed. Not long ago, a lady who has horses – and a dim view of g-hogs – volunteered to rehab with us. At the end of the day, she said thoughtfully, “I will never look at groundhogs the same way again.”

Get your rehab license, raise a few of these precious babies; then, we’ll talk.

Rehabbing is one of those endeavors you won’t practice long without injury; injuries of the heart, the spirit. Little did I expect it, but last night, I was to be badly injured. I took some food out to the groundhogs we had raised and released. They are not pets, but since they’re new to the wild – as with all our newly-freed critters – for a month or two we supplement their grazing with meals in the morning and at nightfall. Typically, they run from us, and come back later for their food.

As I neared their burrow, located under a raised cage, I was gladdened to see one coming up the hill. I had to pass behind a tree to get to the feed site; I lost sight of him for a second. When he again came into view, I was puzzled: he was moving slowly, picking his way; I couldn’t see his eyes, but then, my vision is not that good. I called out my usual greeting, “Where’s my baby?” His head turned and he started for me. He tripped over a ground-branch, and a cold wind blew down my neck. Groundhogs don’t trip. He couldn’t see. He was making his way up a steep hill, back to burrow on instinct alone. Hearing my voice, a voice he knew, he stopped, turned, and started towards me maybe ten feet away. Now it was clear – something had mauled him; his head, his face. Such are the frail dimensions of life in the wild

He was gaunt. He paused at the empty food bowl; I hurried to fill it. He grasped some kale, and began to eat. I needed one of two things: heavy gloves, or gloves plus Sabrina. Any attempt to bare-hand an injured, adult ground-hog – whether you raised him or not – has got ‘stupid’ written all over it; I’ve learned that the hard way. He’s now wild and injured But I was thirty yards from the house. Yelling for Sabrina would have spooked him; leave him and he might disappear forever into his tunnel. So I hoped he would keep eating while I got help.

But as I backed away, he dropped his kale and followed my sound. He followed my soft scuffing over gravel. I stopped and gave him more food. He stopped to eat. Then I moved; he dropped his food and came toward me. He wanted food; he needed me.   I walked backwards the remaining fifty feet to the house; he followed my sounds. At one point I stopped; he kept coming and butted into my ankles. He was truly blind. His head looked like termites had invaded it; holes; I’ve never seen anything like it.

He followed me into the ‘animal room’; the scents and sounds familiar to him. He seemed to relax, but only a bit. By then Sabrina had come checking on me – physical injuries to each of us are not infrequent – my evening feed having taken longer than usual. She knelt down with great trepidation; she braced for a bite; instead, he sniffed her, and climbed onto her lap. Pain-dazed, he weakly began to eat. We examined his wounds. A dog or coyote had gotten ahold of his head; I’ll spare you further details. But when had it happened? A day or two ago for sure; the wounds neither bled nor oozed. Perhaps concussed, could he have just now come to himself, and made his way back to his burrow by instinctive reckoning; back to his burrow to die. The grey hand of Death was upon him; he stood near that trembling membrane between being, and being no more.

We cleaned his wounds, and realized with sinking hearts they were past remedy. We bundled him in blankets, gave him some medicine for pain, and called our vet. She came, and within minutes we knew with a lip-biting sorrow, that his unrelenting pain was over.

It’s so regrettable that this anonymous little creature had to die. But this is nature, brutally impartial; a calculus which, like all other mathematics, is neither sympathetic nor fair. Nature always speaks the final word. Groundhogs protected, say, in a zoo, live twenty-some years; in the wild, eighteen months. Yet, if he had to die, better with us than a solitary, unmourned death exposed to predators on that hill or alone in his tunnel.

I thank my Father that I was at that special place at that specific moment. The little injured, blind guy followed me home; he followed me Home.

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.

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