He’s not a mole or a beaver, not an otter, not a hedgehog. He’s not a honey badger — oh man, I wish he was a honey badger — and he’s not a raccoon. I’m not even sure if he is technically a “he.”
So by the process of elimination and some context provided by decades of television viewing, I’m deeming the creature that lives under the old tin shed a groundhog: low to the ground, broad like a plank, a bewhiskered proboscis, a shaggy pelt that culminates in a somewhat bushy, dark tail. Groundhog it is.
He lives under the tin shack — that corrugated, rust-streaked shed built into the slope that borders our parking lot here at the Nussbaum Center. I’ve been watching him for weeks now from my smoking perch on the fire escape, seen him scamper along the browned grass and nibble on the green, noted his indifference to the hums and clanks of the O’Neal steel mill next door, the comings and goings of the trucks and trailers through the gate near his home.
He seems to be alone, unless he’s got a wife who looks just like him and I’m confusing the two, and from what I can tell, his day consists of policing the slope by our parking lot and along the side of the building and down to the dumpster in search of the grasses and greens that Wikipedia tells me make up his diet.
I have to be careful about anthropomorphizing this little fella here, which is what inevitably happens when you start building a narrative for the wild animal you’ve been observing: You start to think of him in human terms, create an imaginary relationship with him, project your own thoughts onto him. Go too far down this rabbit hole, next thing you know you’ll be wrestling in the grass with the thing, trying to get a little sweater on him.
But my point is the little guy is a survivor, maintaining his own oasis of wilderness in the industrial corridor, living apart from the machines. He’s just a groundhog — or maybe he’s a hedgehog, I’m still not sure — but it’s an honor to work with him.