Groundhog days

The day after I installed the fence around my garden, I identified the culprit eating my chamomile. It’s a groundhog.

I know it’s a groundhog because I watched him first try to rip the fence down with his teeth, then failing that, he proceeded to just dig under the thing.

The next few minutes of my life involved grabbing a mop, opening my garden gate, and attempting to shoo the critter out.

Apparently the groundhog was having just as bad a day as I was, though, because rather than make a dash for the convenient opening I’d made, he panicked and decided that the best course of action would be to run laps just inside the fence.

He ran past the open gate three times before finally digging yet another hole under the fence to make his escape.

We had a few choice words as he ran off, then I began doing some serious Googling to figure out what to do next.

The bottom line? Unless I want to buy a new, six foot tall fence, bury a foot of it in the ground, and turn my whole garden into some kind of Gitmo-esque prison for plants, I need to trap him.

Which, of course, will leave me with a different problem: what to do with a cage full of confused and bitey groundhog?

I consulted the fish and game department’s web site and found the number to a helpful wildlife control agent who coached me on my options. None of the paths before me are ideal, but there’s a good possibility I can just relocate him to a more suitable environment away from my herbs.

Unfortunately, I hit another snag. There are no stores in my area which sell the sort of cage trap I need.

One store swears they have them, because their computer says so, but after two employees did the most thorough search I’ve ever seen, they came up empty. That means I had to order one online, and it won’t get here until the end of next week.

So, I’m pretty sure my herbs are done for.

This whole thing has been an enormous gut punch, especially last night. I saw a fresh hole dug under the fence, and found that all of the chamomile which had been blooming had their stems eaten off. The groundhog seems to be leaving the rest of my plants alone for now, but the chamomile was what I’d been looking forward to the most.

It’s been a frustrating few days.

And because I like to overthink things when I get frustrated, I spent a good deal of time last night contemplating all of this and what it might say about the idea of control.

Over the last several months, most people have had their ideas of control and self-determination challenged in ways they’re not used to. The pandemic itself, the government’s response to it, and the unrelenting fire hose of awful news has been the kind of thing most people are ill-equipped to even think about, let alone come to terms with in any real sense.

When I see a video of someone losing their minds because a store employee asked them to put on a mask, what I’m really seeing is someone losing their minds to the once-in-a-generation existential crisis we now call daily life.

It actually reminds me of when I used to work a desk job where the company kept all of the office supplies in a vault.

I wish I was making this up.

The company literally had a bank vault, within which they kept all of the pens, pencils, and Post-Its. Only one person in the office had access to this vault, so if you wanted something you had to go to them.

Here’s how those conversations typically went…

Me: “Hi, I need a black felt-tip pen and a notebook.”

Them: “Why a felt-tip?”

Me: “Uh…because I like to write with felt-tips.”

Them: “They’re more expensive than a ball-point.”

Me: “Okay, well, is that a problem?”

Them: “Didn’t you need a pen last week? Did you lose that one?”

Me: “Maybe? I need one now, though.”

Them: “Mmm. Hmm.”

Me: …

Them: …

Me: “So…can I get a felt-tip pen?”

Them: “Fine. Was there something else?”

Me: “A notebook.”

Them: “Didn’t you need one of those last week, too? How many notes are you taking?”

It was like this every time. Every. Single. Time. And they were like this to everyone, not just me.

If you’ve never worked in an office before, you might be scratching your head about this, wondering how anyone could possibly have this protective attitude toward staples and White-Out. Rest assured, though, everyone in the company knew exactly what was going on.

See, this person’s job title basically described a mid-level “manager,” but in truth they had almost no actual authority in the company. They were at most one step above an administrative assistant, and they knew it.

They had to deal with irate customers, they had to call clients who were late paying their bills, and they were as woefully underpaid as everyone else working there.

Access to the office supplies was the one thing they had absolute control over, and by God they were going to exercise that control.

They knew that if you needed a pen, you had to talk to them. They had the keys, so they were in charge. The vault was their domain, the treasury of paperclips theirs to dispose of, and the rest of us cubicle-dwellers were mere commoners who needed to show proper respect to the liege if we wanted something.

It was an insane situation, but ultimately an understandable one if you know how office politics work. A friend of mine put it best:

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Petty power corrupts all out of proportion.”

The pandemic, and the widespread social upheaval we’re in the middle of? That’s a little harder to wrap your brain around than the office pecking order, but it’s clearly stirring up the same reactions in a lot of people.

We’re stuck in a situation over which we appear to have almost no control, so we’re seizing every opportunity that comes along to assert some, even when it makes us look unhinged.

Like a shrieking fat man with a mop, chasing a groundhog around an herb garden, we’re all overcompensating for a perceived lack of self-determination.

How else can you explain people who refuse to wear a mask in public because it’s “Stalinesque tyranny”? Or how there are other people acting as though anyone not wearing a mask is literally a murderer?

Is there a lesson in there? A solution? I have no idea.

My conception of free will is that it’s a lot less “free” than we like to tell ourselves, so maybe this is all just an argument for stoicism. A kind of aggressive acceptance with regard to the state of the Universe, coupled with a just-as-aggressive drive to change what we can for the better.

For my part, I’m going to keep an eye on my garden as best I can, and set up the cage trap when it arrives. If I don’t have any chamomile left by then, well, that’ll suck, but I’ll have done what I could.

That might not be enough, but at least I’m not locking up the office supplies.

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