One spring morning Uncle David came into the house and remarked, "A troublesome ground-hog has been visiting our vegetable garden and eating most of the early planting of peas."
"That must be our Polly Woodchuck," began Anne calmly. "She likes vegetables—especially peas. I saw her this morning when I went out to see the sun come up. Polly was eating her breakfast of young pea vines." Then Anne's voice trembled a little. "I thought I'd tell you," she said, "that Polly can have my share and I'll go without green peas this summer."
Dick looked at his uncle's face. There was almost a frown in his forehead and almost a smile at the corners of his mouth. "We'll chase Polly over to the hill, Uncle David, where she will not damage the garden any more!" he said quickly.
Polly had three holes opening from her tunnel. One was quite near the end of the peas in the garden. Two were under stone piles in the hedgerow between the garden and the meadow. The children had been watching the woodchuck for several days and knew where she ran when Sandy chased her.
It took the cousins all the morning to move the stones away from Polly's holes in the hedgerow. They carried a lot of the small stones to the garden and rolled them into the opening that was near the peas. Then they plugged the end of one of the other holes. The third one they left open so that Polly could come out easily without digging a new hole.
Polly stayed in her tunnel nearly all day. The noises near her doorways had frightened her. But late in the afternoon as all seemed quiet, she came out of her one free hole and stood up and looked out. She rested one paw against the trunk of a tree and let the other droop. She turned her head and listened with her short ears. After a while she gave a long churr‑rr‑rr‑ing whistle.
Dick, who was sitting on a branch of a big apple-tree near the hedgerow, heard her. He thought it was a lonesome sounding whistle. Then from far up the meadow he heard another woodchuck calling. Polly heard the sound, too, and trotted along the meadow toward the hill.
Dick climbed down the tree and packed little stones into the remaining doorway of Polly's dugout. "Of course she can dig other holes if she wishes to do it," he thought, "but maybe she will not care to come back. She hasn't had a very pleasant day here."
That evening at supper time, Uncle David asked, "What's the latest news of Polly?"
"Oh," said Dick cheerfully, "Whistling Wejack met her in the meadow and I think he invited her over to the hill."
Dick's guess was right. Polly did not come back to the garden. Instead she helped Wejack improve his home. They dug several more branches to his tunnel so as to have more doorways when they wished to go in or out. They made three or four little dugout chambers or dens in widened places in the tunnel. In these they spread comfortable beds of dry stubble and leaves. They found their bedding in the meadow and on the hill and they carried it home in their mouths. Sometimes they rested in one chamber and sometimes in another. They kept them all fresh and clean.
The Rocks of Holiday Hill
It was on a pleasant day in early summer, while Anne was sitting at the foot of the hill not far from one of Wejack's holes, that she saw seven little animals come out to play among the rocks.
They had fluffy bodies and very short legs. Their ears were little and their mouths drooped at the corners. They resembled Polly and Wejack but they were prettier and very small. They were lively little woodchucks and tumbled and rolled about on the ground, biting and hugging and tussling with one another in joyful frolic.
One of Polly and Wejack's children.
During their play they ran quite near to Anne. She kept very still. One of her hands was resting on the ground and in it was a half-eaten chocolate candy. Two of the young woodchucks stopped near her and sniffed. Next they crept to her hand and tasted the candy. Then, quick as a flash, one of them pulled it out of her hand and went off with it.
Anne chuckled. "You darlings!" she said.
Wejack, all this time, had been sunning himself on his favorite rock. When Anne spoke, he looked at her and whistled softly. He did not seem very much worried. After all these weeks of seeing Anne frequently he was rather used to her. Besides, it did not seem to be his task to take care of his seven sons and daughters. Polly liked to do that.
Polly took care of them now. She stood up near a rock, resting her paws on top of it. When she saw Anne, she whistled a long shrill command. Her seven children understood what she said to them and ran pell-mell for their nearest hole.
After that Dick and Anne came nearly every pleasant day to see the young woodchucks. They brought crackers soaked in milk, and cookies and chocolate candy. After placing these dainties near Wejack's door they sat down not far away and "froze" while they waited for the little woodchucks to come out for their treat. At first the youngsters did not seem at all timid. They had not learned to be afraid of people. But Polly attended to their education and the more she whistled to them when Dick and Anne were near the more shy they became.
Mr. and Mrs. Wejack and the seven young Wejacks were very busy during the late summer and fall. They were getting food enough to last them all winter. They did not gather extra food and store it away as squirrels and muskrats and beavers and certain other of their relatives do. They prepared for winter as bears and raccoons do,—by eating as much as they could of the best tasting food they found and becoming very very fat indeed.
Early in the season the woodchucks had enjoyed eating dandelion blossoms, but of course they did not find many of these flowers in the fall. There were plenty of other kinds, however. The late blossoms of red clover tasted good to them and they liked these even after the flowers went to seed. Indeed they ate the seeds of various plants including some grain. Seeds are fattening, you know, so the diet they chose naturally was the best sort for them.
Wejack sometimes found his way to the cornfield.
By the time really cold weather came, the nine woodchucks were all so fat that their plump bodies were rather heavy for such short legs to carry. They seemed lazy in their motions. There came an extra chilly day, indeed, when they were too lazy to make any motions at all. They just lay curled up in the warm beds in their dens with their noses tucked under their round stomachs and slept.
Exactly how long they stayed there, I cannot tell you. There is a legend, as perhaps you know, that woodchucks always waken the second day of February and come out to test the weather. If the sun is shining, as it does on a snappy clear cold day, so the legend goes, the woodchucks see their shadows and return to their dens for another nap of six weeks.
Legends are most interesting though they cannot be taken for fact. This much, however, is certain,—these animals have that one day in the year named for them and February 2nd is known in our calendar as Ground-hog Day.
This marmot is a western relative of the eastern woodchuck.