The Colorful Tale Of a Homing Woodchuck

Scarce had the ink dried on my momentous and scholarly account of journalistic cats (published last spring), when a gracious lady in the verdant republic of Vermont got into the newspapers by spray-painting a cat. The cat, unwanted, trespassed into the lady's beautiful bower of blooming blossoms and scairt the sweet little birdies that made joyous songs for the gracious lady when the cat wasn't around. The lady, I gather, sprayed the cat because she seemed to have no other way to protest the intrusion.

The incident brings to our attention the fact that Vermont jurisprudence, like the slate pencil, raw milk, and St. Johnsbury crackers, is a fading memory. What, may we ask, has happened to the side judge? In the basic Vermont judicial system, a side judge was thoughtfully provided to counteract the evil influence of the law, and to keep the courts from looking foolish.

Lawyers and judges, ordinarily, deal in the legality and illegality of affairs. If it is the law, or if it is not the law, the decision is correct. Judges and lawyers are not obliged to consider human nature and whether something is good, honest, decent, respectable, worthy, and considerate.

Don't misunderstand me; I am not about to argue that spray-painting a cat is good and decent! I merely offer that a side judge was needed to sit on this instance and consider if a cat may walk alone into all places that are the same and get away with it.

I have no idea what a side judge might decide had one been provided, but I think he might well have taken into account the deep-running opinions not of the cat, but of the gracious lady with her lilting feathered songsters and the owner of said Thomas Cat. A side judge, I suppose, would have started his deliberations with, "What color?"

So what has happened to the side judge in Vermont jurisprudence?

I can't resist telling about Maine's purple woodchuck. My quaint and curious distant kin, Ralph, once spray-painted a woodchuck a vivid purple and got away with it. Ralph had a neighbor who, like the gracious lady in Vermont, had a lovely posy patch where the birds delighted the ear. He came over one morning to say to Ralph, "I got somethin' that's eating my marigolds. What would eat marigolds?"

Ralph said, "I've heard woodchucks will. Here, take my wire box trap and set it and we'll find out."

The next morning, the neighbor found a woodchuck in the trap, and as it was that time of year and the chuck was half-grown, Ralph guessed a litter was involved. It might take some time to rid the garden of woodchucks, one at a time. "What do I do with him?" the neighbor asked.

That kind of trap doesn't harm an animal, so Ralph told him to fetch the trap some distance away and let the woodchuck go. Which the neighbor did. Then he came back with the empty trap and set it again to see what the morrow would bring about.

On the morrow, there was a second woodchuck in the trap, which looked amazingly like the first, and this time the neighbor took the woodchuck twice as far and let it go. The next morning there was a third woodchuck.

"He looks just like the other two," said the neighbor, "Do you suppose he's homing like a pigeon?"

This gave Ralph an idea.

When the fourth woodchuck came to the trap, the neighbor was convinced it was the same one, and Ralph said he wouldn't wonder a bit. So Ralph proposed they take a can of violet spray paint and color the woodchuck so they'd know him if they met again.

Through the wires of the trap they anointed him generously. Then the neighbor took the trap far over into the State of New Hampshire, on the far side of Lake Winnipesaukee to the outskirts of the town of Meredith, and at the edge of the parking lot behind a church he released the colorful little fellow, looking around first to make sure nobody would see him.

As the violet woodchuck disappeared into the bushes, the neighbor couldn't help saying: "Well, little feller, do we meet again?" Then he drove home, being late for supper. He came over in the evening to tell my kin Ralph what he had done. "Prolly never see him again," Ralph said.

BUT what the neighbor did not know was that while he was gone to Meredith, Ralph had gone to Scarborough, where there is a dealer in all manner of pet animals. And he had said to the proprietress, "I'm looking for a half-grown woodchuck."

"We got them!" said the lady, "How many d'yaant?"

So Ralph paid her $25 for a woodchuck, on condition she'd spray the little feller from this can. She demurred at first, until Ralph showed her it was nontoxic paint, and told her to keep mum as this was a classified government operation. He came home with his purple woodchuck. After his neighbor had gone to bed, Ralph sneaked over among the flowers and put his purple woodchuck in the trap.

It was all of 5:30 the next morning when the neighbor came loping into Ralph's bedroom, trap and all, and in full cry said the painted woodchuck, just like a homing pigeon, had returned during the night all the way from Meredith, N.H.!

Ralph said it was incredible. The neighbor said, "That's what the Press Herald editor said! I called him, and he's sending a photographer right over! Maybe that's him, now!"

As an automobile was heard in the street he left with the trap and the purple woodchuck, and my kin, Ralph, turned over and went back to sleep.

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