How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
We seem to have a woodchuck living under our shed these days, so to answer this perennial question, I decided to go to the source.
And he replied: “Whaddya mean if a woodchuck could chuck wood? I mean, how could I know what it is to chuck wood?”
Wouldn’t ya’ know I had to have a smart-aleck woodchuck living under my shed. So I explained: “Well, I’m not sure, I thought you’d know, maybe it’s slang for like, ‘throw’?”
“Have you looked at me lately? I walk around on four feet and practically hug the ground. Do ya’ really think a guy like me’s gonna be throwing a bunch’a wood around very far?”
“Well, I mean, I never really thought of it, I guess I never…it’s just a saying. Maybe it means cutting it down?”
“Whaddya think, I’m some kind of a beaver and I go around cutting down random trees and blocking up rivers, just so I can eat them?”
“No, I know you’re not a beaver, at least I don’t think so. Just what are you, anyway, by the way?”
“I’m a woodchuck, some people also call us groundhogs, and to my knowledge, I’ve never chucked anything made of wood.” He reiterated.
“So, technically, the answer would be ‘none’, I guess since you’ve never chucked any wood, but I mean, that’s not really the question. The questions is: if you could chuck wood, how much wood would you chuck?”
“Okay, buddy, I’ll go along with your silly hypothetical scenario. So I have to ask you, how much wood would need to be chucked?” inquired the woodchuck. “And by the way, you still haven’t explained what chucking wood actually is!”
He then went on: “I mean, that’s the trouble with you human types, just because you can do something, you just do it, but do you ever ask yourselves if you actually should?”
“Huh?” I dully inquired. I really wasn’t expecting to enter into a deep philosophical discussion with a woodchuck that lives under my shed. But in truth, I had to admit, it was an interesting observation and not a bad question. I mean, for a woodchuck, that is.
“So, really, let’s take something as basic as the discovery of atomic energy and the power that is unleashed during nuclear fusion.” The woodchuck added.
“Okay, now hold on a sec here, are you sure you’re just your average woodchuck?”
“Hey bub, it don’t get no more average than me. What, you didn’t think we woodchucks keep up with science? Say, you’re not the type who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a woodchuck wedding, are you?”
Luckily, he didn’t wait for an answer, and he just went on: “Anyway, you make this amazing invention, nuclear fusion, and then what do you do? You just blow stuff up!”
“No wait, we use it to generate electrical power! And not too far from here, either!”
“You should be like us woodchucks, bub! We get our energy from what we eat, and the good ol’ sun, too!”
The woodchuck went on: “Y’know, it’s all about renewable and sustainable resources. And only taking what you need. I mean you went to the moon and back and what did you get?”
“Well, we got, um, well, we brought back some rocks, I know that. And some cool pictures of astronauts taking these really giant leaps.”
“That’s my point. Hardly anything that was actually useful. I believe that’s why ya’ got outta that racket pretty quick, right? You go there, find out there ain’t much there, and head back, but not before leaving a bunch of your discarded garbage up there, too, right?”
“Yeah, I guess there was that…” I was starting to feel a little guilty. And maybe even a little silly, too. I mean, compared to this woodchuck.
“Yeah well, I guess since when most of you ‘western’ types came across the big pond from Europe, you found this amazing resource-rich land that you proceeded to first take advantage of, and then just move yourselves right on in like you owned the place…” apparently the woodchuck had a pretty good knowledge of both science and American History. Perhaps he’d dropped in on Mahomet’s schools a few times.
The woodchuck went on “…and you must have expected to find the same thing on the moon, I guess.
Why is it always growth, growth, and expansion with you people? Does it occur to you that this planet’s only so big and you guys can’t just keep growing, growing and expanding? It’s not sustainable!”
“Well I, I mean I recycle, and I compost too…”
“How about just living better? Improving things, making the earth a nicer place to live than when you got here? Living in harmony. Living more simply. Like us woodchucks, under the shed.”
He went on: “I mean, we did OK before you guys left Europe and came over here. We even got along really well with the native humans.” Some woodchucks have really long memories, apparently.
But I didn’t interrupt. “And getting back to your question, bub, just like those native humans, if we’d have wanted to chuck some wood, we’d have only chucked just what we needed, no more less. We lived in balance, in harmony. Still do. It never occurs to us to think, ‘how can we woodchucks get more wood chucked per man-hour?”
“Wouldn’t that be ‘chuck-hour’.” I interjected.
“Yeah, whatever. Listen bub, I’m on a roll here.” So I just let him rattle on: “I mean, why would any self-respecting woodchuck even ask the question that way? ‘How much would we chuck if we could.’ It’s totally ridiculous!”
And then it began to dawn on me: it is a ridiculous question. Not only is chucking wood poorly defined, but nobody really said a woodchuck can chuck wood, they just said “If” a woodchuck “could”. And even that begs the question if a woodchuck actually can’t chuck wood. Still I think he had a point. Should we just keep doing stuff just because we can? Should we just keep growing just for growing’s sake?
Well, I turned away for a few seconds, and by the time I turned back, the woodchuck had gone away; back to his home under the shed. But I had enjoyed our little chat. He seemed unusually bright and insightful, for a little woodchuck, that is.
And as for my question: how much wood would a woodchuck chuck? I’ll just have to keep asking, just because I can.
But as for the answer, I guess the world may never know.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, April 9, 2015 by Scott Hays