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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

MESMERIC INFLUENCES/GROUNDHOG DAY

Those of you who've read King-Cat for awhile know how I love them groundhogs.  So I love Groundhog Day, in principle at least. I like that there is a day devoted to this lovable creature, but I dislike that it involves some dude in a 19th Century suit, with a top hat and cigar, man-handling some poor, overfed, scared-to-death whistle pig.




You may also know that one of my biggest heroes is Henry David Thoreau.  I was delighted to find that he also loved himself a good woodchuck (and no, the myth that he caught and ate one, raw, is just that-- a myth).  Here's a (long) selection from his remarkable Journal, dated April 16, 1852.  It's worth the read.
"As I turned round the corner of Hubbard's Grove, saw a woodchuck, the first of the season, in the middle of the field, six or seven rods from the fence which bounds the wood, and twenty rods distant.  I ran along the fence and cut him off, or rather overtook him, though he started at the same time.  When I was only a rod and a half off, he stopped, and I did the same;  then he ran again, and I ran up within three feet of him, when he stopped again, the fence being between us.  I squatted down and surveyed him at my leisure.  His eyes were dull black and rather inobvious, with a faint chestnut (?) iris, but with little expression and that more of resignation than anger.  The general aspect was a coarse grayish brown, a sort of grisel (?).  A lighter brown next the skin, then black or very dark brown, and darker still or black on the tip of the nose.  The whiskers black, two inches long.  The ears very small and roundish, set far back and nearly buried in the fur.  Black feet, with long and slender claws for digging.  It appeared to tremble, or perchance shivered with cold.  When I moved, it gritted its teeth quite loud, sometimes striking the under jaw against the other chatteringly, sometimes grinding one jaw on the other, yet as if more from instinct than anger.  Whichever way I turned, that way it headed.  I took a twig a foot long and touched its snout, at which it started forward and bit the stick, lessening the distance between us to two feet, and still it held all the ground it gained.  I played with it tenderly awhile with the stick, trying to open its gritting jaws.  Ever its long incisors, two above and two below, were presented.  But I thought it would go to sleep if I stayed long enough.  It did not sit upright as sometimes, but standing on its fore feet with its head down, i.e. half sitting, half standing.  We sat looking at one another about half an hour, till we began to feel mesmeric influences.  When I was tired, I moved away, wishing to see him run, but I could not start him.  He would not stir as long as I was looking at him or could see him.  I walked round him;  he turned as fast and fronted me still.  I sat down by his side within a foot.  I talked to him quasi forest lingo, baby-talk, at any rate in a conciliatory tone, and thought that I had some influence on him.  He gritted his teeth less.  I chewed checkerberry leaves and presented them to his nose at last without a grit;  though I saw that by so much gritting of the teeth he had worn them rapidly and they were covered with a fine white powder, which, if you measured it thus, would have made his anger terrible.  He did not mind any noise I might make.  With a little stick I lifted one of his paws to examine it, and held it up with pleasure.  I turned him over to see what color he was beneath (darker or more purely brown), though he turned himself back again sooner than I could have wished.  His tail was also all brown, though not very dark, rat-tail like, with loose hairs standing out on all sides like a caterpillar brush.  He had a rather mild look.  I spoke kindly to him.  I reached checkerberry leaves to his mouth.  I stretched my hands over him, though he turned up his head and still gritted a little.  I laid my hand on him, but immediately took it off again, instinct not being wholly overcome.  If I had had a few fresh bean leaves, thus in advance of the season, I am sure I should have tamed him completely.  It was a frizzly tail.  His is a humble, terrestrial color like the partridge's, well concealed where dead wiry grass rises above darker brown or chestnut dead leaves, -- a modest color.  If I had had some food, I should have ended with stroking him at my leisure.  Could easily have wrapped him up in my hankerchief.  He was not fat nor particularly lean.  I finally had to leave him without seeing him move from the place.  A large, clumsy, burrowing squirrel.  Arctomys, bear-mouse.  I respect him as one of the natives.  He lies there, by his color and habits so naturalized amid the dry leaves, the withered grass, and the bushes.  A sound nap, too, he has enjoyed in his native fields, the past winter.  I think I might learn some wisdom of him.  His ancestors have lived here longer than mine."
Almost all of Thoreau's writings are available for free online, as PDFs, from the Walden Institute.  Just knowing that this man once walked our Earth makes me feel better.

Happy Groundhog Day!

3 comments:

  1. GROUNDHOGS DAY!!! Also, first commenter on the new blog. Woot! It's going to be a great day. Excellent HDT find -- I love the image of him rollicking around with some 'hogs.

    It's snowy in Chicago. Hope you're well and know we're all super excited about all the new JP/KC ventures.

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  2. i cannot tell you how much i love that you embedded a "hinterland who's who" video. my son (who is 3) LOVES "hww" - they are still making new PSA videos about canada's flora and fauna. they have sped up the theme music though!

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