Milton Bass Wise words on woodchucks



In the course of our lifetimes we ingest many spirits into our systems, some good and some bad. Every once in a while I wonder who might be inhabiting my brain, influencing my decisions, increasing or decreasing my enjoyment of life, pointing me in this direction or that.

Mostly it is the artistic geniuses who occupy my thoughts, notably writers, although there are small circles of musicians and sports greats who give me incentive for what I want to say or do. Sometimes I have not been aware of how much these people meant to me until they are suddenly gone. Then for a while there is a hole in my fabric until someone new moves into the picture and I am either the better or worse for it.

Such was the case recently with Maxine Kumin, the 88-year-old poet from Warner, N.H. I came onto Ms. Kumin late in life for both of us, but she has left her imprint for whatever time is left to come. Reading her poems changed me as a person and I devoutly hope it was for the better.

Our family has always been fierce vegetable gardeners, seeking specific things from fruits and vegetables and disregarding price and hard labor. We do not save money by growing our own crops. What we want are freshness, certain flavors and a variety of tastes. There are things we want to keep on our palates permanently so we order the same seeds every year. There are also a few new things in the catalogues every year, new developments that offer new variety of flavors, so we give them a whirl or two.

Over the years this has been sufficient to our needs and desires so our garden has been a happy place to commune with nature and enjoy its abundance, Our gardens are up near the woods, which means up near the wildlife, which means we have accordingly been raided by woodchucks, skunks, rabbits, deer and raccoons. But woodchucks and raccoons have been the most destructive over the years, wiping out complete stands of vegetables the night before we had them slated for our own depletion of resources.


The most wrenching moment came when we went up to harvest a sugar baby watermelon we had been assiduously monitoring for weeks. There it was, patiently awaiting our pleasure. We venerated in silence for a few moments, I then cut the vine and lifted.

It turned out to be a higher lift than I expected because some little bugger had gone in from a bottom hole and eaten the inside dry.

We went up the next morning and found only devastation, twisted, broken plants, half eaten vegetables, seemingly aimless digging. To put it mildly, I went nuts, running through the wreckage and screaming that there would be no more Mr. Nice Guy. From there on it was me or them. My wife, of firm farm stock, bought me a beautiful little Browning automatic rifle and I started to cut a path through those critters. It felt pretty natural and I puffed up a bit. "You want war. I’ll give you war."

And then I came across Maxine Kumin’s poem, "Woodchucks," wherein she tells of killing the mother woodchuck and two pups but was not up to nailing the wily father who haunts her dreams each night. And she ends with the lines, "If only they’d all consented to die unseen gassed underneath the quiet Nazi way."

My rifle went into immediate storage in a safe place and hasn’t been seen since, with the child lock in another safe place and the bullets in another hidden spot.

Maxine Kumin, gone at 88 after a lifetime of creation. How lucky we are to be able to cross paths with humans like this every once in a while.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle


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