Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chucking Woodchucks and Kosher Dills in Guilford, Connecticut

OUR PASTORAL CONNECTICUT LIFE.

I've mentioned Connecticut in earlier posts.  We lived for a time in the beautiful and historic village of Guilford, established in 1639.


GUILFORD'S VILLAGE GREEN AND CIVIL WAR MEMORIAL.

We bought a charming house in the country, our very own money pit.  Everything in the house needed to be repaired or replaced.  By the time we sold it in 1993, it was in essence a brand new house.  The architectural style was called Expanded Cape.  From the front, it looked like a charming Cape Cod cottage.  From the back, it was a complete surprise.  It opened into two stories (three if you counted the walkout basement), with a shed dormer across the entire second floor.  There were four bedrooms and two baths upstairs, a fifth bedroom and bathroom, formal entry, sunken living room, family room, kitchen, and dining room down.  Jerry and I have finally learned our lesson.  We do not need a lot of space.  We had so much unneeded space in this house that we referred to the downstairs bedroom as "the phone room," because all we had in there was a tiny bookcase, a rocking chair, and a telephone.  We used the living room just about twice a year, Christmas and New Year's Eve, when we lit a fire in the fireplace and admired the Christmas tree.  We basically lived in two upstairs bedrooms, the family room, and the kitchen.  We did make great use of the outdoors.  We had a huge deck that wrapped the back of the house, lawns and gardens,  a creek, and a large pool, all surrounded by our own woods.  We barbecued most nights, enjoying fresh swordfish and tuna steaks from our incredible local fish market.

EARLY SPRING.

I tell you all this because our friend Marga in Sevilla has asked about places we've lived.  But the real point of this post is to tell you the saga of the woodchucks, an animal that Marga is unfamiliar with.  A woodchuck, for those who wonder, is another name for a groundhog.

A WONDERFUL PLACE FOR THE WOODCHUCKS TO PLAY.

When Jerry and I moved in, we immediately went to work refinishing the oak floors; stripping wallpaper (some of the most hideous wallpaper I have ever seen); painting; replacing the roof; building a new, larger deck; replacing the water heater, and then the water tank; re-siding the pool house and replacing the filter and pump; planting new gardens everywhere; and upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms.  It was a labor of love and it meant we spent a number of years searching sofa cushions and elsewhere for loose change to help us make it through each month.

CUTTING THE PERFECT TREE.  A REASON TO VISIT OUR LIVING ROOM.

But, back to the woodchucks.

A WOODCHUCK WOULD CLEARLY CHUCK ALL THE WOOD HE COULD.

One morning, Jerry and I stood at our newly installed French doors, looking out on the lush green lawn rolling down to the beautiful flower gardens we had planted around the pool.  We spotted a mother woodchuck and her three babies "frolicking" in the sun on the patio.  We were so proud.  They were so adorable.  We stood hugging each other, soaking up the serenity and joy of the country home we had created (for us and the woodchucks).

BEAVER.  MUCH BETTER, I ASSUME, AT CHUCKING WOOD.

The next morning, we decided to check the progress of the 108 marigolds we had planted in our large rock garden toward the side of the house.  We found none.  Not one marigold.  All 108 marigolds had been chewed down to mulch level.  We then headed down to the pool and found that many of our flowering plants had been chewed down to stubs as well.  We monitored things for the rest of the weekend and discovered that our sweet woodchucks were feasting on our gardens.

Jerry and I began to carefully monitor the woodchucks' eating habits.  We stopped planting the flowers they seemed to enjoy and planted only what they ignored.  Then, they started eating those.  It turns out, woodchucks don't only eat plants they like, they also bite the stems on others just to mark their territory.  "This tastes like crap, but, I just thought I'd let you know I was here."

ON HIS WAY TO THE SISTERS OF MERCY.

Early on, we realized we needed a live trap.  Over the course of three years, we caught nine woodchucks.  Each time we caught one, we would load the trap in the car and drive to a wooded area at the edge of a monastery six miles north of our house where we would then free the woodchuck. We figured that was far enough so they wouldn't find their way back to our house.  Jerry said we were taking our woodchucks to the Sisters of Mercy.  I just checked (finally) and, in fact, it was the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace, an order of Dominican Nuns.

After trapping Woodchuck #9, Jerry had it all figured out.  On the drive home, he said he knew for certain they were living under the pool house (maybe Woodchuck #9 confessed).  According to Jerry, now that we had caught the last (?) woodchuck, he was going to get cinder blocks to fill in the hole they had been using for access and that would be the end of our woodchuck problem.  I had my doubts.

We pulled the car into the driveway and headed around back to place the cage on a large rock to air out.  When we turned the corner we found two fat woodchucks munching grass in the middle of the backyard.  They looked up at us momentarily and then, unconcerned, went back to munching.

The woodchucks had won.

CAN CAN
In addition to our successes as renovators, gardeners and woodchuck hunters, Jerry and I entered our canning in the Guilford Agricultural Fair and took home blue ribbons and purple rosettes (for best-in-show) every year for our peaches, kosher dills, and — my favorite — blueberry lime jam. 

This is a perfect example of our very foreign upbringings.  Jerry had grown up on "canning."  I had not.  As a matter of fact, until I met Jerry, I didn't even know people actually still did this (and then I didn't understand why it was called CANNING when JARS were used; jarring?).

THE MASTER CANNER WITH THAT YEAR'S PURPLE ROSETTE.

The first time we canned together in Connecticut, we made strawberry jam.  Before it went into the jars for processing, Jerry had me taste some of what we had mixed up.

"Oh my God!" I said.  "This tastes just like strawberry jam."

Jerry rolled his eyes and asked, "And what is it supposed to taste like?"

I laughed.

I immediately phoned my mother in New York.  I said, "You're not going to believe what we just made!"

She said, "What?"

I said, "Strawberry jam."

And my mother asked excitedly, "From what?"

As they say in canning, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.


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3 comments:

  1. I can (get it?) relate to the woodchuck problem. We now have moles. Taupes, in French. Our once grassy yard now looks like range of miniature volcanoes. And we find our cat hunting in the neighbors' yard. The neighbors' yard!

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  2. In our upstate retreat we have deer; it doesn't matter who is eating your gardening; sometimes you love nature just a tiny bit less!

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  3. @wcs: Groan :) Your wit bears an "uncanny" resemblance to mine, poor boy!

    @arlene: Yep. We also were so excited to see deer stroll out of the woods one morning. Then we learned to spray our shrubs with something that smelled like urine! The great outdoors.

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