What is that??!!
I was watching birds out my window, when I caught sight of something dark and furry moving in my snow-covered garden. Grabbing my binoculars, I searched till I saw it again-- a woodchuck? But they go into a deep, true hibernation all winter. How could one be out now, and WHY would it be in my garden, where all is white and cold?
(Click on photos to see them larger.)
I headed down to the bottom of the yard and looked over the fence to see a young, obviously confused and very cold woodchuck. He looked at me and held up first one front paw, then the other, as if telling me he was cold and miserable and needed help. After doing a few very quick sketches, I tried to herd him out through an opening in the fence, but he kept skittering past it. Finally cornering him, I pulled off my jacket (and yes, it was indeed cold!), threw it over him, and scooped him up. I dropped him over the fence, and, without looking back, he hurried off in the direction of a nearby brush pile. I hoped he had a den there, though I couldn't imagine why he had emerged in such unseasonable weather.
I thought I had seen the last of the woodchuck for a few months, but four days later I found him wandering in my driveway. I got out of my car for a closer look, and he came right toward me! Alarmed, I jumped back in my car and consulted with the county health department rabies expert, who said that sounded liked aberrant behavior and could be rabies, but, since I thought his coat looked healthy and he didn't actually seem aggressive when he approached, maybe it was actually an escaped or released pet looking for help. He cautioned me to avoid exposing myself to a bite at all costs, but said I could consider capturing it.
I grabbed a couple of towels and a small dog crate and headed back out. I put the crate on the ground, whereupon the woodchuck immediately investigated it-- it looked as though a crate was not something new to him. He approached me, and when he was right in front of me, I dropped the towels over him and bundled him, towels and all, right into the crate. He won me over completely when I held a finger near the front of the crate, and he tried to reach his cute little paw out to touch my finger.
Now Charlie Brown is comfortable ensconced in a larger crate, eagerly eating kale, apples, carrot peelings, and guinea pig food. In exchange for food and lodging, he poses for sketching sessions.