It doesn’t pay to make enemies with nature.

Today I ran a passable half-marathon. Not great, not totally evil either. I have to blame (or, perhaps, credit) the groundhogs and the opossum.

In recent months I have had groundhogs living under my backyard shed.

I do not like groundhogs — it could be argued that I am one of those jerks who is not big on nature in general — and after gritting my teeth for a while, I finally called a pest control company to deal with them.

(I tried intermediate solutions as well … like trying ineffectually to block the access underneath my shed, and sprinkling substances that groundhogs don’t like. The latter might have worked temporarily; the former worked not at all.)

The pest control company informed me right off that state laws required them to kill whatever they trapped; they couldn’t just bring it down the road apiece and let it go again.

I was not easy with this, particularly. But in the end I went along with it and signed the death warrants of two groundhogs that were caught during a week of trapping, along with an opossum that happened to find its way into one of the traps. (I didn’t even know I had opossums passing through my yard, though it doesn’t surprise me.)

I resolved that I would promptly install stronger fencing underneath my shed, in hopes of sparing a recurrence for both groundhogs and myself. Seemed like the best possible answer, right? Try, at least, to not let it happen again.

So I bought appropriate supplies, and last Sunday morning — two days after the trapper took his tools and departed — I went out and set to work.

Just as I got to the place where the groundhogs used to come and go — their hole was under the right side of the ramp, in front of the shed — my lower back magically and thoroughly seized up. As in, lay-on-the-ground-for-five-minutes, stare-at-the-sky-and-curse seized up. Fook.

I managed to rally and complete the fencing job, then retired to other flat surfaces to rest my aching back.

I couldn’t help but think but the spirits of the dead animals had decided to have their karmic revenge by sabotaging the half-marathon I was signed up for, less than a week later — an event I was much looking forward to, as it would be my first half-marathon since 2019, before the pandemic. If they’d wanted to get their own back, that would have been a great way to do it.

Through most of a week of stretching, back-bracing, ibuprofen, attention to posture, and rest from running, I was able to nurse the back more or less into compliance (it is still quietly complaining) and set out to Hartford at zero-dark-hundred this morning for the race.

The back was OK during the race, but the thigh muscles — and later the calves — were pretty much openly contemptuous of their assignment. They were tight and painful and I had to constantly coax, convince, and order them to keep hammering forward.

Who knows? Maybe that had something to do with the groundhogs and the opossum too. (Or maybe I didn’t warm up with enough jogging on a cooler-than-usual morning. I’m not that big a believer in the marauding spirits of animals.)

In the end I ran a 1:41.33. This is not my PR (I ran that at Hartford in 2019 — 1:37 and change), but it was two minutes better than my time from my last pre-pandemic half-marathon. It is smack in the middle of my half-dozen or so lifetime half-marathon finishes.

And I feel like I worked the whole way, which is good.

After the race. Can you see the blood on my hands?

The long-timers among you will remember that I traditionally make hotdish after I run a half-marathon, on the grounds that I have earned it by racing 13.1 miles.

(My brother would point out that running burns calories you’ve already eaten, and you don’t do yourself any favors by binging afterward. He is right. I make hotdish anyway.)

While I was wrestling with the moral dilemma over killing blameless groundhogs for no greater sin than living, I came to the following logical impasse:

  • Since I eat meat and fish, animals — presumably with faces, mothers, fathers, and maybe even emotions — have been dying at my behest every single week for close to 50 years now.
  • If I was uncomfortable with the idea of croaking a couple of groundhogs, maybe I ought to rethink my relationship with meat. The cows and chickens and fish I’ve been eating didn’t do anything to deserve getting killed, either.
  • Conversely, if I refuse to rethink my relationship with meat, I shouldn’t feel any angst about killing the groundhogs and the opossum. That’s just an extension of business as usual; the only difference is that I won’t stuff the remains down my gullet.

The point of all this is, tonight’s hotdish included both chicken breast and chicken broth. Which apparently means I have decided not to give a rat’s ass about the lives of animals, and proceed with business as usual.

The people I used to attend Quaker Meeting with would probably be disappointed in me, and truth be told, I am kinda disappointed in myself. I might not be done thinking about this.

On the other hand, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hotdish.

It *can* be made vegan…

One final note: After the first half-marathon of my recent years’ comeback (if that’s the word), I mentioned driving home from Rhode Island with Yes’s “Leave It” on repeat. It seemed to suit the moment.

So did Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter during my drive home from Hartford in 2019, during a period of relaxed contemplation of the foliage along the Mass Pike.

Today the foliage was pretty good…

Massachusetts welcomes you.

… but I was considerably less joyful and/or meditative and/or victorious. Mostly, I was thankful for having scraped my arse out of Hartford, still able to stand upright, with an acceptable time.

Somehow I ended up with this knotty bit of early-’80s art-pop, a portrait of a fractured relationship, on repeat.

Probably the only song I know that uses the word “cyclothymic” … and the guitar solo isn’t “glitchy” so much as it’s one big glitch … but there are also hooks hiding in those offbeat time signatures, plus a bit of Daryl Hall in Adrian Belew’s voice when it arcs upward: “Oh, what a perfect mess.”

3 thoughts on “It doesn’t pay to make enemies with nature.

  1. Kurt:

    Congratulations on your race. Bits says that’s a good time!

    I caught groundhogs and a possum in my own have-a-heart trap in the back yard of our last house in Penfield about 10 years ago, after they were disturbing our vegetable garden. I took them down to the woods next to Home Depot and set them free, and when I hit a little traffic on the way home I was thinking they might beat me back to my yard. But I never saw them again.

    My generation tends not to worry about eating chicken. Beef, maybe, because of the atmosphere pollution implications…

    Stay well!

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