He made his appearance in July, last year, and stayed until mid-October—another guest for Chuck to feed, to talk to and enjoy. Yes, a new project for Chuck, a new member of the wildlife species had not only arrived, but had taken up residency under the 8′ x 6′ building Chuck had built for Molly, the homing pigeon, but that’s another tale.

This furry little intruder, who we named Barney, had been busy. His sharp, thick claws had gone into action like the claws of a mighty backhoe, putting any construction crew to shame. Overnight, a good-sized hole had been excavated underneath the doorway of Molly’s house, and just three feet directly across from this entrance, an escape exit was dug. A stocky, brownish-grey groundhog had moved in.

“Not the smartest rodent in the field,” I sarcastically remarked to Chuck. “A predator would certainly have him cornered in this setup.”

But Chuck thought Barney was doing just fine, and so began a summer of conversations and companionship between these two.

Chuck’s patience and persistence paid off as Barney eventually warmed up to him, standing his ground even when Chuck loomed just a few feet away. However, any hint of tractor or machinery sounds sent Barney dashing back into his burrow faster than a speeding bullet. Noise meant no showtime for Barney.

I wondered about Chuck’s knack for befriending creatures that typically kept their distance from humans. How did he do it? The answer soon came to light.

One night as I was searching for lettuce to make a Caesar salad, I said to Chuck, “I’m sure I bought 3 bunches of romaine this week at the grocery store, and now I can’t find any. God, I must be losing it.”

No word was uttered from Chuck.

After a frantic search, I turned to Chuck and asked, “Did you see me buy the lettuce?”

The jig was up, and it was time to come clean.

“I gave some to Barney,” he sheepishly replied.

“All 3 heads?” I asked in disbelief.

And then the truth came out. Chuck had been feeding this little rodent my lettuce! Because each head was quite large, Barney would nibble on the outside leaves until the greens were small enough for him to drag the remaining feast down into his burrow. Since the food had disappeared, Chuck would, naturally, replenish the supply the next day. After some discussion, it was agreed Barney would no longer be allowed to raid my fridge. How many secret trips were later made to Sobeys on Barney’s behalf, I do not know.

I must admit I enjoyed listening to Chuck’s tales of Barney’s adventures, but then mid-October, Barney vanished. Had he gone into hibernation, had he moved to a different habitat, did a predator get him? We did not know. Groundhog Day came and went with no sign of Barney, so we concluded Barney was either lazy, not wanting to show up for the only day of the year he had to work, or he was a goner. Barney now, no longer occupied our thoughts.

The other day, mid-April, Chuck came tearing into the house, yelling, “Guess what Lynn, Barney is back! Barney is back!”

I looked out the window and right in front of his summer house was a very sleek, fat-as-butter, Barney. I couldn’t believe the size he had gotten over the winter.

“I need to get him something to eat,” said Chuck.

I simply gave Chuck the look and he quickly closed the fridge door.

Chuck is back into groundhog mode, talking to Barney, trying to regain his trust. I have to smile as I look out the window and see this short-legged, rotund 12-pound mammal sit on his back legs, beady little eyes staring at Chuck, and listening to whatever nonsense Chuck is telling him. Barney is a still a little skittish and ever on alert to Chuck’s every move and word, but I’m pretty confident that within a few weeks, these two will once again be great friends. In the meantime, I will enjoy hearing all about the chats they have.

Good Lord, that animal is huge. I hope we don’t have to change his name from Barney to Bernice!