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John P. has a PATREON. / King-Cat 82 is OUT.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Hal the Groundhog

So, if you've read King-Cat for awhile, you know that the Groundhog, AKA the North American Woodchuck (Marmota monax), is sort of my totem animal.  I've been canoodling with them ever since my family moved out to the wilds of Hoffman Estates in 1979.  And for all those years, I held within a deep wish-- to touch a groundhog.

Thoreau famously sat with one until it felt comfortable enough to let him touch it, but the closest I ever got to a groundhog in recent years was probably ten feet or so.

So it was much to my delight when Stephanie told me that the Big Run Wolf Ranch in Lockport, IL was holding an upcoming open house, at which their very own Hal the Groundhog was scheduled to make his first Winter Prognostication.

We drove in towards the city, picked up my pal Ray, and headed down to Scenic, Historic Lockport.  (Lockport was headquarters to the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which I wrote about in King-Cat #60.)  We pulled in at the Wolf Ranch and walked around, over the stream and past the weird ducks and chickens.  We met Charlie the Cougar and Khan the Siberian Tiger, and a bunch of lovely wolves.  Two delightful porcupines, and a skunk named Kirby (!).

The porcupine's nose was very charming.

Kirby the Skunk

He put his cheek against mine!

JP, Kirby, and Ray Rehayem; with volunteer.

Hal wasn't scheduled to make his appearance until 1 PM, so we got back in the car, drove downtown, and had a great lunch at the local raw, organic, gluten-free cafe (!!!).  It was so good we had Key Lime Pie for dessert and had to hustle back to the Ranch for Hal's appearance.

When we got there, Hal was in his Pet Carrier, and the volunteers were explaining the habits of this wily creature, including a brief history of the lore behind the only major* holiday named for a rodent.  Finally they opened the cage, and coaxed Kirby out onto the tabletop...  did he see his shadow?  I don't know, but he did leap off the table and hustle across the yard, past the barbecue, and into the open garage.  Presently they rounded him up again and brought him back out for all the kids to see.

Hal enjoying some string cheese.

He was just a little guy, about 10 months old, a Minnesotan by birth.  He was very cute, and seemed nonplussed by all the goo-gooing children.  After some time with the kids, he went back inside to relax, and then... the main attraction:

A month or so before out visit, Stephanie had gotten in touch with the Ranch Manager, Renee, and had arranged for me to have a bit of private time with Hal afterwards.  We huddled in the cold garage while Renee went back and brought him out.  He was adorable.  We fed him some string cheese to calm him down a bit and Renee picked him up.  I got to pet him a little, stroking his neck and ears.  He was soft.  I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to actually hold him, but she held him up for me and I picked him up.

He was lighter than I expected, and felt just like a big squirrel-- soft, loose fur, and a warm muscular body beneath.  He trembled a bit like a squirrel.  His nails felt long and quite sharp, as he held on to my jacket and squirmed.  It was all happening so fast!  Renee took him from me again to calm him down, and then I got to hold him one more time.  This time he felt a little more settled and I got to look down at him and really try to remember the moment.

She took him from me once again and brought him back inside.  He'd had a long day.  And so had we...

We said our thank yous and got back in the car for the ride home.  A dream of mine, come true.

*If I say it's major, it's major.

All photos by Stephanie Dorman
Special thanks to Stephanie, Hal, and Renee

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