When you find yourself envying a groundhog, you need to take stock.
I realized this last week when I spotted the sweetly chubby fellow contentedly browsing on the leaves of the viola carpeting my back yard. He took his time, examining three or four leaves for each one he munched while meandering around my deck and beneath my apple tree, which delivers a hearty crop of small fruit in June to delight the neighborhood squirrels.
I had emails to answer, lectures to prepare, student manuscripts to read, a journal to edit, and committee reports to write—all the work that, during an academic year, perpetually replenishes itself before one can get through even half the stack. Including weekends, I hadn’t taken a single day off in eight weeks—unless I count the Friday I returned home from a speed-run to the grocery, sat on the couch to watch the midday news, and fell asleep for five hours.
I didn’t have time to linger at the window watching the groundhog—there was too much work waiting, ten or twelve hours’ worth just to be ready for the next day—but I lingered anyway, wondering about the nature of the groundhog’s pleasure, what the undersides of the viola leaves smelled like, and if they tasted sweeter when mixed with the flavors of the saturated earth. I wondered how long he had been living in my yard—I’d never seen him before—and if he’d found himself a weary traveler after crossing so many treeless, close-clipped lawns, relieved and joyed to come upon a space allowed to go wild (to the dismay of the neighbors), where walls of honeysuckle cover chain link and most of the trimmed and fallen branches are thrown into stands of scrub grass as natural shelters.
I envied the groundhog because he seemed whole, fully body and fully spirit, and I longed for some slow, gray, after-the-rain morning when I could heed Walt Whitman’s (and, it seemed, the groundhog’s) call to “loaf and invite my soul.” A day, perhaps, when I could swing in my hammock chair reading for a while to quiet my mind sufficiently for me simply to listen, first to the sounds of the trees, the birds, the squirrels, and maybe even to the slow rustling of the groundhog in the viola—and then to the footfalls and whispery voices of the characters who have been flitting in and out of my mind for months, wanting me to follow, listen to their stories, and start writing.