Scene One – HOPE or DESPAIR – Madison, Wisconsin, May 2020
“She wouldn’t take the bait until all her babies were gone,” I say.
Jeannie finishes the last nibble of her avocado toast and pushes her plate to the center of the table. She brushes crumbs into the scoop of her hand and drops them on the plate. The mound of crumbs is stacked like an ant hill, a home for ants without ants. Jeannie returns her gaze to me. “What do you mean Bobby?”
Morning sun floods across the oak kitchen table. I brush previously invisible dust from the sun’s path as if clearing way for my illumination. “I have problems with woodchucks at the farm. They are destructive critters, chewing through floor joists in sheds and barns to make a home safe from predators. Most farmers will poison or shoot them. I prefer to use a live trap, capture the uninvited guests, and release them in a remote location where they can burrow with plenty of food and water. I don’t have a beef with these rodents and they are actually cute, except I don’t like the damage they do to our shed.”
“What kind of bait do you use?” Jeannie says.
“Last year I used cantaloupe based on a recommendation from a neighbor. I caught opossums, raccoons, and finally one woodchuck. I covered the holes and no new burrows appeared so I figured my problem was solved.”
Jeannie chuckles. “I guess not.”
“Yup. This March I saw her run across the lawn. I investigated and found a new burrow under the shed. I asked around and decided to use broccoli as a new bait. Maybe broccoli wouldn’t attract opossums and raccoons. I also worried cantaloupe might attract a skunk. Skunk in a live trap would be a problem. Skunks probably don’t like broccoli either. Who does?”
“Not me.” Jeannie laughs.
I join Jeannie’s merriment. “Me either and Momma woodchuck, too. For days she would ignore the trap. She never took the bait so I put the trap away. I few days later I saw five or six young woodchucks playing by the shed so I set two traps with broccoli. About an hour later I captured a youngster in each trap. I observed Momma walk by each trap while siblings rolled in the grass beside each caged brother or sister. They seemed oblivious to the entrapment until I walked out, picked up the traps, and drove the siblings away.”
“Do you have a beer?” Jeannie says. “This is a long story.”
I open a couple of Snake Hollow Pale Ales.
Jeannie puts the icy bottle to her temple. “Thanks, Bobby. Please continue.”
“Well, there wasn’t much activity by the siblings after removal. All young woodchucks seemed to stay in the burrow and not venture out except for Momma. She would sniff around the traps, never venture in, and stand on her hind legs and stare toward the distant woods.”
“The next day I captured two more young ones and then one more. During this time Momma continued her routine of not venturing into the trap, sniffing, standing, and searching the horizon. After a day of no more capture of youngsters and Momma’s same routine, she finally took the bait.”
“Wow,” Jeannie exclaims. “Did she stay out of the trap to protect her young as one by one they disappeared? Did she wait for their return, staring off into the distance? Obviously, she didn’t protect them because her young never returned. In this case, did she give up hope and take the bait in despair?”
I reach for Jeannie’s hand. “Or did she go into the trap to join them because the last time she saw each one, each was in the trap? At the risk of giving the woodchuck human feelings, did she sense the trap as some type of portal to unite her with her babies? I released each youngster in the same field, so maybe they will be reunited. She was calm in the car on her ride to the release location. Was she feeling hope?”
Scene Two – THE COIN – Madison, Wisconsin, June 2020
“She didn’t have to be so hard-nosed,” I say. “Even when the outcome was known, negotiation gives the losing party hope and solace that he did everything he could.”
Linda takes my hand. “Bobby, I know this is hard for you. Men didn’t get a fair shake in divorce court over child custody in the 70s. The legal system was biased toward mothers even when fathers could prove equal or better ability to raise a minor child. Today, men’s rights are given more weight.”
I slump in my chair, staring at nothing on the far kitchen wall. “I know it wasn’t fair. I just wanted Sally to hear me. I would probably have agreed that our son should stay with Sally, if we could have negotiated or at least pretended to negotiate. When Sally said, ‘The child stays with me,’ I knew it was all over. Have you ever noticed that when people are in the heat of an argument, they often invoke third person, as in Sally saying ‘the child’ instead of ‘Billy?’”
Linda squeezes my hand. “I can’t say that I have. Why is that important to you?”
“Third party felt like diminishing the value of our son, as if he were part of the barter process like Sally saying, the sofa stays with me. At that point I realized there would be no negotiation so I caved in.”
“I see. Is there more?”
“Part of me knew that Billy would be better placed with Sally. I worked internationally. How could I raise a baby alone in Saudi Arabia? Another part of me grieved the loss. How would I survive without holding my baby every day? I felt as if Billy were being taken from me without my permission. I was abandoned, yes, I felt Sally stole my child.”
Linda pushes her brunette hair back from her face. “Life is like blowing a bubble. The larger it gets, the more likely it will drift away or smack you in the face. Did you primarily feel relief as your problem floated away or sadness as Sally’s demand hit you in your face?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Most events that significantly alter our lives include a variety of emotions many of which are opposites. You described relief and sadness that are two sides of the same coin.”
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.