Here’s the next installment of John D MacDonald’s 1947-1948 newspaper column in the Clinton Courier.
Students of MacDonald’s short fiction will immediately recognize the setting of the first few paragraphs. Twenty-three years later the author used it in his short story “Woodchuck,” which appeared in the 1971 anthology S*E*V*E*N.
A myth is exploded:
Way back when each week consisted of seven Saturdays, and there was always sunshine, we went out with the grandfather we once had near a fabulous village named Orangeville while he shot woodchucks with great efficiency and dispatch.
The excitement of the gun and the hunt and the sharp crack of the shot was all very fine, but in a sense we felt we were betraying something by being a party to the slaughter of a superb animal.
It wasn't manly to mourn the stricken 'chucks, but we did. Secretly. The books of childhood had pictures of him on many pages -- sitting erect and wise, looking for his shadow, predicting the weather.
We suspect that our grandpop was killing off our furry friends.
Last week when the kids left for school one morning, they paused to report some sort of a beast down in the concrete hole by one of the cellar windows. We hurried through coffee and went out and took a look.
At first we thought it was a 'chuck. He wasn't very big, and he looked pretty calm and quiet. The cellar hole isn't deep, so, for his convenience a flat board was obtained. As soon as the board was within six inches of him, he pulled his underjaw out of the way and, using some large upper-story teeth, he hit the board like a striking snake, knocking off one large splinter and nearly knocking the board out of our hands.
He continued to hack at it while we put it in place. And then, even when he was left alone, the darn thing wouldn't climb out.
As a bit of further assistance, we dropped a small cardboard carton in there with him. He hacked at the carton like a crazy goldminer attacking a mountain with a pickaxe.
With a ski pole we attempted to urge him up the improvised ramp. He grabbed at the ski pole in his front paws and made four or five determined chompings at the metal part of it, removing some enamel from his teeth.
It was then and there that we decided that he wasn't a 'chuck. First, he had a foul disposition. Second, he was stupid. Everybody knows that 'chucks are amiable and intelligent.
After a time, Charlie Locke appeared, bearing the usual stack of disappointments from our editor friends. We asked him to take a look.
"Woodchuck," he said without hesitation.
Herewith we furnish readers of the Courier with a method for removing 'chucks from cellar holes. (A) Place carton on side near 'chuck. (B) Slap 'chuck into carton with board plank. (C) Tip carton over onto its bottom before 'chuck can scramble back out. (D) Make threatening motions with plank so he won't climb out while other party gets something flat to cover the top of the carton. (E) Lift out covered carton, and do not permit the 'chuck to take a hack at your hand or he will remove fingers at random.
It is only fair to add that Mr. Locke performed the more risky portions of this procedure.
Liberated, the 'chuck waddled off across the Saunders' Strip without a backward look.
This buildup that has been given the character of the woodchuck over the years is completely fallacious. The 'chuck is an evil little animal with a filthy disposition. If he ever climbed out of his hole and saw his shadow, he'd bite a hole out of it. He is so stupid that he couldn't get himself out of a cardboard box if the directions were printed on the bottom. Also, once you do him a favor, he ungraciously ignores you.
A week ago last Tuesday, hoping to arouse professional interest, we told Dr. Francis about the 'chuck leaving tooth enamel on the ski pole.
"Bring him in,” said Dr. Francis without hesitation.
* * *
Things we learned on Easter Sunday:
We learned the following from a CBS program, largely wire-recorded, called "Our Northern Exposure" and dealing with Alaska.
There are less people in the Territory of Alaska than in Utica. There is no rail connection with Canada or the States. There are no surfaced roads. Military officials on the spot consider our defenses inadequate. Siberia is minutes away. Forced labor in Siberia has been constructing airfields and military installations. Alaska is the ideal base for the bombing of our industrial centers.
Alaska is the frontier we have in common with our enemy in the Cold War.
A common frontier is the logical jumping-off spot in case of conflict. Not only are we unprepared to do any jumping-off, we are unprepared to hold what we have.
It is silly to think of the Atlantic as being between us and Russia.
In Alaska we sit in each other's laps.
Ant they, on the roof of the world, hold aces -- back to back.
* * *
See you next week.