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If a woodchuck could chuck

I give up. I’m succumbing. All of the past week, a phrase keeps running across my mind. It’s totally distracting. I fall asleep with it, and when I wake up it’s still there. It has happened before, years ago. When it did, I wrote a column about the problem and that seemed to finally purge the sing-song sentence/question from my thinking. Revisiting that approach here.

Here’s the phrase: “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” Say it a few times fast and it makes you a little dizzy. What exactly is a woodchuck anyway? How do you “chuck” wood? I mean, really, you “chop” wood and “stack” wood and the best thing to do with wood (besides building houses and baby cribs and high-quality breadboards) is to burn it in your fireplace on a chilly spring day while reading an engaging novel and drinking a cup of chamomile tea. Now that is a vision I wish would start running constantly through my head.

But let’s get back to the issue at hand. In case something of this nature is distracting you and you’re looking for solutions, I’d like to share how I’m choosing to tackle my problem. My initial approach was to look up the word “woodchuck.”

Omigosh, a woodchuck is actually a groundhog; in some areas of the country, it’s called a “land-beaver.” No wonder I’m thinking about this so intently. I am retired from the faculty at a university that has a beaver as its mascot. There must be some sort of undone work-related activity I am subliminally channeling.

As I read on, using the always-interesting but sometimes not entirely accurate www.wikipedia.org, I’m reminded that woodchuck-beavers (my phrase, not theirs) are quite canny creatures. In addition to weather forecasting, they’re frequently involved in medical research on liver cancer. There is a lot of interesting information to absorb, including the fact these not-so-little mammals are members of the rodent family. That, by the way, is not a vision I plan to explore further.

An Audubon website definitively declared that “a woodchuck cannot chuck wood, but it does chuck dirt to build underground burrows. A single woodchuck can chuck up to 700 pounds of dirt a day. Who knew?

I think this approach is working for me. The more information I have, the better I feel. Let’s move on to an improved understanding of the word “chucking.”

The Oxford English Dictionary indicates it has multiple definitions, including “to toss or throw.” There is a dark side to the word “chuck,” but we won’t go there right now. My favorite way to describe how you “chuck” is this: “to squeeze fondly or playfully, especially under the chin.”

The first time I wrote a column about wood chucking, years ago, my husband entered the room, saw me huddled over my computer and asked, “So, what’s the topic?” And I responded, “I’m writing about woodchucks.”

Quick wit that he is, my spouse asked, “Any recipes involved?” And then he chucked me tenderly under the chin. Honest, he really did that. Talk about distracting.

Sharon Johnson is an Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.