Posted by: Memorizing Nature | July 29, 2010

Stout and Sleepy Half the Time

They are among the classic hibernators. They dig a separate burrow below the frost line, where the dirt smells like roots and worms and layers of earth’s history, and in that snug place they sleep for half the year, from Canadian Thanksgiving until after the festival named in their honour. Their heart forgets to beat. Their fat – the result of months of chewing on grass – burns off without any exercise. If only.

Becoming comatose – what a convenient way to avoid winter. Easier than the strategy of migration chosen by birds, and no need to nibble on tasteless fare like deer. This is a lifestyle for semi-languid beings. Eventually they wake up, but only because it’s time to mate and give rise to the next generation. Rest hard and work hard, that’s their motto.

"Most impressive are the thick claws at the end of brawny limbs." (Photo by E. Medline)

Marmota monax. As far as squirrels go, they’re the stoutest, but agile enough to climb trees and swim if necessary. They grow a frosted topcoat of hairs, elevating their rodent status with a fancy sheen. When alarmed, they whistle to warn their neighbours, and that’s why some people call them whistle pigs. They also go by the name of woodchuck, but don’t you go reciting that rhyme.

Most impressive are the thick claws at the end of brawny limbs. Their skill is bulldozing, and they do it well, creating enough entrances and exits for a quick escape. Holes are their haven. They are despised by some, because of the havoc these holes cause, but what else is new?

They live where forest merges with meadow. Sometimes, you notice them, upright and alert, from the passenger car window. In winter, though, no one wonders where they have gone. They simply disappear from our expectation of the scenery. But they’re near, resting below the earth, maybe below the roads. They don’t hear the rumble of the wheels; they’re indifferent to snow. Life is a slow breath underneath.

They’re not ambitious and don’t really bother anyone. To dig deep means to discover the truth. What is more real, more truthful in a sense, than the basic rhythm of a groundhog’s life?

Eventually they wake up, but only because it’s time to mate and give rise to the next generation." (Photo by E. Medline)



  1. Just tell the farmers how sweet they are! Remember them peeking out of the wood at the farmhouse.

  2. I wish I were a groundhog! I really like the way you described their way of life.

  3. The kids love groundhogs and anything like them – pika, marmots, prairie dogs, hamsters, chinchilla. I loved how you described them too, so peaceful.

  4. not ambitious and don’t really bother anyone, very modest creatures, thanks for sharing!


  5. Well done! This comforting post has such an earthy, sleepy feel.
    And I love “a frosted topcoat of hair, elevating their rodent status…”

  6. Woodchucks, as we call them in these parts, are wonderful to watch. Like prairie dogs they scan the fields from the edge of their den holes, and skeedaddle back inside them if they spot potential danger. Although I’ve been having trouble with one this year consuming large quantities of beans in my garden, I still marvel at their survival skills.

    In the past coyotes seem to outwit them, but being a natural part of the food chain will sharpen their observation skills.

    Nice writing. Thank you.

  7. I had a woodchuck that lived in my yard one summer. I really enjoyed having it around, it was quite shy and would bustle away if I came outside. It was very much attracted to the sunflower seeds the finches threw around. Fortunately it did not find my vegetable garden, because they can be very destructive there. They really like fresh tender baby vegetables. . . gourmet fare for this vegetarian.

    I was in Colorado a couple of summers ago and got some great pictures of the ground hog’s cousins, the Yellow bellied marmot, a high altitude relative of your Marmot.

  8. nice post and photo quality! i can imagine how wonderful the scene are just by reading what you had described on your post. thank you for sharing it with us.

  9. You should check out the blog The Featured Creature. (

    She posts little snippets about all kinds of crazy animals – I bet you could find some great animals there for inspiration for your posts. 🙂

    • Tricia, just looked at the blog you suggested and it really is fascinating. The latest post was about pink fairy armadillos.

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