by julie savage parker
Groundhogs aren’t faring very well in my neck of the woods these days. Groundhog corpses are appearing here and there in my yard, aided and abetted, I suspect, by my dogs Cricket and Anna. I thanked them for their gifts to me—last year I found a large rabbit head in my long dark hallway—and explained I’d prefer they let all the little animals live in peace. Tails wagged and tongues lolled, and all I got was empty promises.
A particularly large ex-groundhog made its appearance one day when I was finding even the simplest of tasks overwhelming. I put off dealing with the body. My friend Irv suggested picking it up with a shovel and throwing it onto the roof of the chicken coop, where it would be taken care of by the flesh-eating birds and out of the reach of the dogs. (Irv has two dogs of his own, and apparently this technique works well for him).
I was doubtful that I could master the technique of groundhog slinging. Visions of groundhog corpses falling back onto my head persuaded me to procrastinate a bit longer. Have you ever found that if you put something off long enough, you didn’t have to deal with it at all? At times, procrastination has been my primary Spiritual Practice.
Stepping outside one morning, I found the groundhog was no more. Perhaps it has ascended, I thought, hopefully, relieved and grateful that I no longer had to deal with it. It wasn’t until the next morning when my eyes wandered up to one of the flowerbeds that I saw where the groundhog had found his final resting place. Approaching the body gingerly, I saw it was bloated and full of maggots. Euw, euw! Euw. I decided the wisest course of action was to cover it with a cardboard box and procrastinate some more. After all, slinging maggot-infested groundhog corpses onto the roofs of chicken coops is no one’s idea of a good time (with the possible exception of Irv!)
At this point I adopted a philosophical attitude towards the whole affair. I blessed the maggots, thanked them for doing their job, and wished them Godspeed. This is the natural cycle of life, and all quite appropriate, I decided. And I was in no hurry to peek under the cardboard box again.
But one morning as I stepped into the garden, I found the cardboard box was gone, and where it had been was a bit of fur, a few bones, and what looked like the richest, blackest soil I had ever seen. Yes! This is good, I thought. And procrastination having worked so well for me to this point, I still took no action.
A week or so later my cousin Katherine and her husband Jim were visiting. Katherine was helping me plant several flats of impatiens a friend had given me. I’d suggested she plant them anywhere on the little hill of tiered flowerbeds behind my house, while I continued to focus on the speck of garden by my back door. Then we cleaned up, had dinner, and they left the next morning.
That afternoon I looked to see exactly what she had done, and I found she had planted most of the impatiens smack dab in the middle of the groundhog!
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I discovered The Moral of the Story. Stepping out into the garden one morning, I noticed that the flowers planted in the groundhog were thick and luscious and radiant in the morning sun; the impatiens in the flowerbed only inches away were as puny as others were fine.
The proverbial light bulb went off immediately and I saw the dark, ugly, maggot-infested terrain I had passed through the previous year was truly a gift, truly that which was the rich, fertile soil for my own blossoming.
Mind you, I have always stubbornly resisted this “suffering is good for you” stuff. “You have to know the pain to feel the joy.” Phooey. Who makes up this stuff, anyway? But I am coming to believe that it is just possible that a Dark Night of the Soul can be a good thing. Just what the doctor ordered, actually. Is it possible that what looks like the maggot-infested corpse of my life is really compost for my own metamorphosis? The evidence is still unfolding. I’ll get back to you on this.
from Planting Groundhogs: Essays on the Evolution of a Woman’s Soul
When not slinging groundhogs, Julie Parker is a weaver of webs: her website is handwovenwebs.com.
First published in WNC WOMAN magazine, January 2002