No,Really! My first critic WAS a woodchuck.
In Vermont the term "Woodchuck" can refer to some back woods native that might still be living in the first half of the 1900's. Our version of a Redneck. The type that if you say "I think I will start my herb garden before I go on my nature hike" they hear "I want to take your guns". Although skeptical of those who want to take away a lifestyle they have grown comfortable with, this was NOT my first critic. My first critic was a furry brown rodent that stood no higher than 14 inches on a good day. Here is the story.
When I was around 14 years old I would work summers on my Grandparents farm. It is a time filled with many a fond memory. Driving tractors, picking berries, checking out my cousins cabin in the woods with a trap door that hid two dozen Playboy Magazines. Yes when I look back life was good, but at the time it did have its moments of boredom. At the end of a hard day the last thing this teenager wanted to do was to sit on the porch swing and talk about whatever neighbor just drove by.
At a loss for things to occupy my time I would sketch. Well one evening I decided to walk up the hill that overlooked the farm and sketch. It is one of my most memorable views of Vermont as I looked over the House and barn to the Green Mountains and its second highest peak, Camels Hump. Having sat on the porch swing for several evenings I knew there was a resident woodchuck that would come out every evening and forage.
With sketch book in hand I walked up the hill and found its hole, walked about 10 feet above it and sat to sketch. I didn't necessarily want to see the woodchuck but was still a bit leery about woodland creatures so though it best to be able to keep one eye open, in case it appeared.
It did not take me long to get lost in my work. The Farmhouse built in the late 1800's with a huge willow tree to its west where my mom and her sisters would swing with each other and later with boy friends. The Barn across the road where I learned my work ethic and heard the great stories my Gramp would tell of his days working at Shelburne Farms- back when it was a working farm. The twin maples at the edge of the road that the farm was named after were all that was left of the 50 or so that use to line the road. All gone now in the name of progress.
As I sketched I would see cars coming from the north when I realized that they would slow down as they saw me sketching. Some would even stop for a short while before continuing on to the village. So engrossed with the work at hand I told myself they must have never seen a young boy sketching and continued to work.
After a few hours and with the sun starting to set I picked myself up, dusted off my backside, and headed back down the hill for home.
When I got closer to the porch I heard Gramp laugh and say "Hey City Slicker"- my pet nickname he had tagged me with a few years earlier, but that's another story. "Did you know that the woodchuck stood up behind you and watched you work?"
In my diligence to find a safe spot to sketch from I did not take into account that woodchucks have several exits from the same burrow. Apparently its second hole was above me and when he came out to forage that evening he was confronted with a unusual rock that had not been there days before so it stood to check it for danger.
The cars slowing down were not looking at the young artist as I had thought, but at my first critic. That lonely rodent who stood looking over my shoulder checking out every stroke but I liked this critic. For instead of being loud and overbearing this one knew to "Keep its mouth shut"