Woodchuck. Whistle-pig. Land beaver. Call them what you will: my grandfather declared war on the marmots with every shotgun and stick of dynamite in his arsenal. The battle was sparked on his farm at Moose Hill, a chunk of topography where moose were rather absent. My grandfather probably drove the beasts out of the county. Much to his chagrin, smaller critters were far more evasive.
There was Earl in the bathroom mirror, tending to a forest of stubble with a razor and a slathering of shaving cream. His suspenders hung loosely over his trousers. This is the standard of the Nova Scotia gentleman and a morning tradition that my grandfather has never broken.
Without warning, an alert from downstairs shattered his tranquility. “Earl! The woodchuck is back on the hill!”
Earl cursed loudly, and every angel in Heaven trembled. He stomped downstairs, shaving cream and all, and reached for his trusty shotgun. Then he barged into the driveway and scanned the hillside for that small, furry marauder. The little bugger had been here before and flaunted his position on the high ground. Spotting the fat rodent skipping across his farmland, my grandfather heaved his cannon and nearly started World War Three. The eruption around Moose Hill must have been tremendous. This is known in northern lexicons as a Canadian debate.
I shall not speculate on the range of period firearms, the dispersal pattern of shot or the effectiveness of powder under ambient conditions. I shall not comment on his accuracy, except to say that Rage + Shotgun ÷ 100 yards, using a woodchuck as a variable, must equate to a probable miss and a truckload of expletives. The fat dirt-monger ducked out of harm’s way before Earl could reload. Thus ended the Battle of Moose Hill. A technical draw by military standards but a mark that would wear upon my grandfather for years to come.
He has since become a combat engineer in anti-rodent weaponry, particularly around bird feeders. He takes delight in watching squirrels and chipmunks fall to ruin. His little dog Jake was trained to bark at tiny intruders as they went to feast at the bird feeder. Water hoses, sheet metal, plastic salad bowls and low-voltage electricity were just some of Earl’s improvements in the art of rodent warfare. He now resides with my mother, who seems to have picked up some of his technical artistry. (Her bird feeder is encased in a box made of sheet metal that prevents squirrels from reaching their buffet.)
My Canadian grandfather speaks very little of his exploits, and most of his adventures are recounted by my mom. As a writer, I am forced to invoke artistic license in the narrative. But he grew up in a Nova Scotia house without running water. He went to work on cross-country skis. He comes from that enduring, hardy, scotch-sipping stock that is quite simply larger than life. That’s what makes his stories so wonderful.