Winter thoughts; ground hogs beware

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Dennis Clay

Gardening? What gardening? The only gardening taking place this week is when looking through a gardening catalog. OK, so there is a chance of putting fingers in dirt if a gardener is planting seeds inside the house.

Spring doesn’t begin until next Wednesday, March 20. In years past, the Columbia Basin Herald started the Gardening column on the first Thursday of March, which would be last Thursday, March 7.

There may normally be freezing temperatures at this time of year, but the snow is usually no longer visible. Well, this year is different.

Not only is snow visible, but snow is still two- or three-feet deep on the lawn, in the garden and on top of Columbia Basin Lakes.

The only blessing is the temperatures are beginning to reach the 40-degree mark, yesterday and for the next four days, ascending upward into the 59-degree range by March 21, a week from tomorrow.

Still, I’m upset about the little weasel, well, OK, the groundhog. On one side, he says winter will be ending sooner than usual. Then he dumps several more days of hard-winter weather on us.

On the other hand, would winter be extended even more into spring if he hadn’t spit forth his original forecast? No matter, makes me want to head out into groundhog territory and drop a few.

Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks. Remember the rhyme: “How much wood, could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

There was a commercial showing a woodchuck chucking wood a few years ago. Loved the commercial, but can’t remember what it was advertising.

There is an interesting fact about groundhogs, also known as yellow-bellied marmots. They are a member of the squirrel family and weigh between seven and 14 pounds.

Other names include a chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig,[4][5] whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk and red monk.

Groundhogs hibernate from October to March, and sometimes April, which measures six to seven months.

A search of the Internet says the body temperatures at this time drops to a low of 35 degrees. The heart beats four to 10 times per minute and a breathing rate of one breath every six minutes is realized.

These facts have allowed me to respect this rodent a bit more than would be normal for me. Plus, the fact they are most seen in and around rocks.

This spring, when passing a row of rocks stacked alongside a farm field, look for the marmots sunning themselves. Several may be visible.

They have resisted the sting of my .22 rifles because it wouldn’t be safe to shoot when they are amongst the rocks.

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