The friends I was visiting in Massachusetts had a groundhog in their yard. They saw it regularly, usually grazing the rich growth of plants next to the gate between the driveway and the back yard. Where I live in California, we have no groundhogs, although I have seen their cousins the marmots in the Sierras. The groundhog, Marmota monax, is the same animal as a woodchuck.
My friends said it was very fat, appropriate for an animal that hibernates in the winter. If you say to a groundhog, “Wow, you're a real tub of lard!” it's a compliment. (But don't get addicted to saying this.)
One afternoon, while we were studying sangria in the yard, my friend said “Look! Groundhog! Quick!” I couldn't turn around in time to see it dash across the yard and dive under the toolshed. I did hear it, because it was very noisy. Pounding feet, rattling against plants -- we practically heard change rattling in its pockets. A bear makes less noise.
We went to the other side of the shed, and the groundhog put its nose out and looked at us thoughtfully. It had a nice face. With its body safely underground, or undershed, it wasn't worried by our regard. It wasn't all that interested, either.
That weekend there was a barbecue to celebrate the graduation of a son of the house. As soon as we went out to the yard, my friend asked “What is that horrible smell? Like sewer gas?” While I stood around with condiments saying “Where?” two quick-thinking guys spotted a heap of dung, carried it away on shovels, and covered the spot where it had been with leaves.
It had been a really dreadful smell, apparently, a foul smell, a disgusting smell, an H. P. Lovecraft smell (i.e., too awful for human vocabulary to describe). And it had been an enormous ghastly heap of dung. They said it must have been the groundhog. They said the groundhog had to go.
I said it didn't sound like the work of a groundhog, but since I hadn't actually viewed it, and since there was little enthusiasm in the crowd for a detailed description of the monstrosity, my comments lacked impact. My friends said they hadn't minded the groundhog before, but literal partypooping was intolerable. They would ask the city to trap it and take it far away. “It might not have been the groundhog,” I squeaked. But the conversation swept relentlessly to daintier matters.
When I got home, I did an internet search for “groundhog” and “scat.” I hoped to clear the groundhog's name and save it from captivity and exile. Just as I had suspected, groundhog scat consists of dry pellets of plant matter. It is not as big as The Thing that appeared at the party. And since groundhogs are vegetarians, it's not very stinky.
Anxious to avert injustice, I hastened to present this testimony I hoped would exonerate the groundhog. My friend was amused. She was glad to hear that the creature was innocent, but my argument was beside the point. That morning her husband had gotten up early and seen the groundhog in the yard – playing with a baby groundhog.
She had a baby. The groundhog was safe now, even if that had been groundhog poop at the party. She was safe even if she pooped in the yard every day. She would be safe even if she went out in the front yard and flung poop at passing cars.
The question of who the actual offender was could now be considered at leisure. What creature is big enough to create the heap described? No bears or moose currently roam the back yards of Arlington, as far as I know. So our current suspect is a raccoon. They're stinky omnivores. They're not large animals (except the one you saw that time), but they like to accumulate scat in one spot, a “latrine.” Perhaps it's a way of saying “This is my real estate!” Sort of like renting a porta-potty. Maybe they repel competitors with the sheer volume and stench of the thing.
This strategy is ineffective against people with shovels. If raccoons wish to be welcomed in Arlington, latrines won't work. The raccoons will need to invest in actual plumbing.