They were staring at me through the basement window, steady in the eyes and sorrowful in the soul. Their gaze never left mine through the pane of glass. There was a silent request washed with resignation.
Why had these lives soured in the depths? Why weren’t my new friends scampering across the lawn? Would they have more tales to tell their loved ones, or was this the end?
I looked back, from the inside to the outside. Small kindred spirits stood motionless as they made my acquaintance. Was there something to do or should I turn away and proceed with my human endeavours?
I felt drawn to the world without walls. My apparatus sat still in the garage and I motioned it to my hand. Soon I was on the green grass at that very window. There was a squeezing and a lifting … and we were all free.
Just so you know, groundhogs are members in good standing of the rodent family. They average about 20 inches long and live throughout much of North America in grassy lowlands. They’re mostly vegetarian (smart critters, I’d say) but sometimes they have insects for dessert.
Jody and I moved from Lethbridge, Alberta to London, Ontario in 1990. After three years of Occupational Therapy studies at Western University, Jody was hired by Parkwood Hospital. In 1994, we moved to Union, creating a 35-minute drive to work. Our route took us past a huge grassy area near Parkwood, grounds that belonged to Victoria Hospital.
So began my love affair with groundhogs. They were all over that meadow, poking their hairy little heads out of their burrows. It wasn’t just an empty field full of long grass … there was life! Every morning, I looked forward to waddling brown beings. And most times they obliged, putting in an appearance before their adoring public. I was happy.
And then one day, one year, they were gone. And they never came back. Not in 1998. Not in 2008. Never. I was sad about losing my friends without even a goodbye. The rumour was that they were poisoned. I suppose the rumour was true.
Not once have I seen a groundhog since the disappearance. Until today. And it wasn’t at Parkwood. I was driving along Highbury Avenue north of London, on my way to St. Patrick’s School near Lucan. Off to my right was a rough lawn, with some bumps on it. And a groundhog was skittering along from one burrow to the next! Oh my. Thank you, Lord. Soon I was past the scene but I held that brown guy in my heart all the way to St. Pat’s, a little smile on my face.
I’m visiting my friends Cam and Ann in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto. Although most of the town seems to be dominated by huge, tall homes that fill nearly all of the lot, I’m sitting in an oasis of peace. Cam and Ann live in a small house that’s 150 years old. It’s part of a huge property that her uncle used to own. He’s donated a small lake, with its surrounding wooded slopes, to the Province of Ontario, with one stipulation: no people will be allowed in this newly created conservation area. Uncle holds the vision of a sanctuary for wildlife, untroubled by the purposeful activities of mankind. Ann and other family members will be allowed to walk on the land until they move away from the property. When they’re gone, no human beings will touch this earth … forever.
Yesterday afternoon, we went walking into another world. On the shoreline, we watched an owl fly silently across the lake, and a few minutes later heard its mournful hooting. Otherwise … silence. The lake was frozen and was decorated with tiny animal tracks going across. The trees were the tallest of guardians. Some of them were the most exquisite pines – tall trunks of vibrant red topped by small clumps of needles. Jody was there with me.
We walked to an old boathouse – a berth on the water topped by a large room with windows viewing the lake, topped by a rooftop patio. Ann told us about the parties she had enjoyed there as a young person. Looking down from the roof, I saw a dock extending into the lake, with two railings jutting out of the ice, and I was torn. I imagined happy swimmers hauling themselves out of the water, lots of laughing, and peaceful moments of companionship as twilight settled over the land.
All the history of humans will end soon. The birds will fly joyfully. The deer will bound up and down the slopes unhindered. A sanctuary for them, and not for us. I was happy. I was sad. Life showing me all its colours once more. Let both sides embrace you, Bruce.