This year, for the first time since I planted her, we had no late spring cold blast after the flowering. No struggling to cover the delicate flowers with sheets or plastic overnight while not knocking off or crushing blossoms. I’d pruned her (and the peach and pear) way back and they all responded to the care. Conditions for peach, apricot, pear, berries, tomatoes, fruits of all sort this year seemed to be ideal. There were easily 300 apricots that steadily grew from grape-sized to ping-pong ball to proper-sized apricot. As I waited out their ripening to sweetness, regrettably, I started noticing a brown rot at the base of some. Within a short few weeks over half were infected. The only remedy I found was to remove the infected fruits and discard them. The bountiful harvest was steadily shrinking.
I hoped I might gain a few dozen, just a small basket. I noticed pokes and bite marks in some of the fallen fruit and accepted this; birds and squirrels occasionally want a taste too. But then one day as I was wistfully watching the fruit on the tree diminish, I noticed the local (large) groundhog hanging out at the trunk. He’d been around for months, putting on poundage apparently by munching on everything easily accessible that was not behind my little fenced in garden plots. I recall thinking, if there’s such a thing as an obese groundhog, I now have met him.
One morning, as I opened my back door, we both were startled: he was hanging four feet up in the branches of the apricot tree, fleshy fruit in mouth! For a split second, he cocked his head and looked at me like the kid with his hand in the cookie jar—except the look was more like your neighbor’s kid was in your house in your cookie jar—and then in a flash he scrambled down. I laughed aloud watching his “love handles” jostle as he raced across the lawn, looking for all the world like a mini-Jackie Gleason in a fur coat. Well that explained the girth; he’d been filling up regularly at the local dessert stop, enjoying the view from the balcony seating. I chalked it up to the perils of being an urban gardener.
The pear tree fruits later. It also had a plethora of blossoms, and a few hundred fruit. Recent rains seemed to enhance their svelt but swelling pear forms. And then, a couple weeks ago I looked out my 2nd floor back studio window and there he was again!—in the pear tree, fruit in mouth! He has skills—he did not drop it when I shouted, nor when he clambered down to head for his den in the neighbor’s brambles. I’d had enough. I pulled out the Have-a-Heart trap, loaded a pear in it, and waited for a different harvest. Fortunately I was working near my home and could check on it. At lunch I found the trap empty and tripped shut, on its side, as if he’d tried to knock the fruit loose without entry. Or maybe he resented trying to squeeze his extra-large frame in it. I reset it, blocked it in place better, and went back to work. When I returned that evening, he was inside. I collected the cage, and drove to the nearby city park near woods bordering the river to give him a fresh start (illegal, I know—but so is theft).
However, when I satisfactorily carried my precious cargo to a shady spot in the grass under a tree, and opened the gate flaps, he just lay there...I jiggled the cage to no effect. For a minute I thought, oh for fuck’s sake! My Have-a-Heart trap had given him a heart attack! I dumped his fat limp bod onto the grass (BTW he did NOT smell like apricot blossoms). Although a sometime namesake, I decidedly was NOT up for CPR. But fortunately I noticed he was still breathing. I left him in peace, and when I checked a bit later he’d moved on to the woods.
And, I am very pleased to report, I did not see any more groundhogs the last few weeks. My guess is Big Hoss had scared all the others away. A seldom seen brown thrasher did peck into several of the pears, and possibly some skunk and/or squirrel snacking occurred. Nonetheless, today I joyfully collected about 25 pounds of pears and look forward to indulging in their sweet and juicy fruits, and sharing the harvest with a few human friends for a change.