Woodchucks were one of the few wild critters my wife Linda allowed me to shoot in the yard. Anything that got into her garden was fair game. One season I shot two fat woodchucks, but a smaller one eluded me. Our cats would chase it around but never catch it.

Then our friend Dona came through. One week when we were at camp, she captured the woodchuck in a live trap and, kind soul that she is, transported it far away where it could live in the forest without annoying any home gardener — at least that was the theory.

We had two blissful weeks of harvesting Linda’s prolific garden without competition, when I heard a knock on the door and opened it to find our young neighbor, Justin, and his beagle.

Always polite, Justin said, “Mr. Smith. I just saw a Bald eagle flying up the road with a woodchuck. The woodchuck was heavy and the eagle dropped it in the bushes just past your lawn.”

Great. We had eagles delivering woodchucks to us. Of course, the woodchuck did have a bad day and it might not have survived the ordeal, but Justin and I couldn’t find it in the bushes.

Whenever I encounter the “eat or be eaten” situation that exists in the wilds of Maine, I am reminded of conversations with Buzz Caverly, who often described Baxter Park as “nature at peace.

Nature is rarely at peace. It’s a killing field out there.

Daughter Rebekah was at our camp on the edge of Baxter Park one nigh when she heard screeching. Outside, she saw a huge great horned owl killing a rabbit on the lawn in front of camp. The owl flew up into a nearby tree and waited patiently for Becky to go back inside so he could enjoy his meal.

The next week, Linda and I found a baby bunny living in the woodpile beside our camp’s fire pit on the front lawn. The bunny would come out during the day and lay in the grass next to the woodpile. Linda laid out a scrumptious meal for the bunny one day, but he chose to ignore it. He appeared to be healthy.

The morning we were to leave for home, Linda looked out the camp’s front window and saw a large coyote sniffing around the woodpile, hoping for a breakfast bunny. We chased the coyote away, although he took his time and kept looking back wistfully in the direction of the woodpile. No doubt he was back soon after we left. That bunny didn’t have a chance. We never saw it again.

We accept this in the wilds. It’s only when the wild critters invade what we consider our space that we really take notice.

Mike Shaw, who was a legislator from Standish, told me one spring that a weasel had gotten into his hen house and killed 45 chicks in one night, hauling them under the floor. The tiny weasel is a killing machine.

One Thanksgiving morning during a blizzard, we looked out the front kitchen window of our Mount Vernon home just in time to see a sharp-shinned hawk knock a blue jay off the feeder and to the ground. The hawk pecked away rapidly at the jay, blue feathers flying in all directions.

Linda couldn’t watch. I, of course, was fascinated. Those blue feathers, flying up and into the cascading white snow, were kind of beautiful.

And then there was the time, in my workshop, a skunk blasted me right in the face.

Over the years I have witnessed astonishing carnage in the fields and forests of Maine and beyond. One day while golfing in Florida, I saw a largemouth bass come right out of the water to snare a small bird.

For years, I hated snapping turtles after seeing one take a baby duck off the surface of the pond behind our house. Sportsmen hate coyotes that haul down deer and start cruelly chewing on them while they’re still alive.

But I often enjoyed watching foxes “mousing” in the fields. They stalk quietly along in the tall grass, then jump high and pounce on the unsuspecting mouse.

Of course, while I enjoy the spectacle, it’s not so good for the mouse.

In Labrador, we fished with imitations of mice and voles, skittering them across the surface of the river until huge brook trout grabbed them. The trout up there eat a lot of voles that fall into the river.

One year, a woman in the Millinocket area captured on video a bear grabbing and lugging off a moose calf. All she could do was scream, “It’s killing the baby! It’s killing the baby!”

Ah, yes, but that’s nature at peace.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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