October 19, 2012About six years ago I worked as a television reporter for a local news station. My boss encouraged me to do a segment each week where viewers would send me questions and I'd pick one to answer in as entertaining a way as I could. After a few months of doing the segment, a photographer and I were traveling to a story when I saw something on the side of the road that I'd never seen before. It looked kind of like a beaver, it stood on its hind legs sometimes and it manipulated things with its hands like a person. My friend and I turned the vehicle around and tried to catch the thing on video, but it scurried away before we had the opportunity.
This identical set of events occurred a few more times, sometimes with other photographers but usually the same guy, and each time we were unable to catch it on video before the cute little guy would vanish.
Shortly after I'd seen the thing a few times in different locations throughout Northwest Arkansas, people began sending me letters about it. There were a ton of people who were seeing it and who were also in the dark as to what it could be. That ignited my desire to locate one, get video or a photo of it and then take it to an expert to give me the answer.
Now, even then, I could speculate on what it was - and many of you reading this may already have a good idea. My guess is that it's a groundhog, and I think I'm right - but that doesn't matter because I can't verify that with an expert unless I can say, "Here is a picture of what I saw, what is it?"
For months I'd see this thing and made countless unsuccessful attempts to capture an image of it while out on other news stories. My boss - to whom I'd passed on all my war stories related to the little fuzzy thing - called me into his office one morning and said, "Forget covering news today. You and Ben (the first photographer to see the little thing with me) take the day, go find one of those things and find out what it is."
I think he was sick of hearing about it, plus a lot more people were writing in and asking what it was. Never-the-less, Ben and I were excited. We grabbed a couple of camera batteries and headed out. For whatever reason, we felt we'd have a good chance of seeing one on the way to Eureka Springs and in less than an hour we found out we were right. Just as we passed the Clifty Store, we started on a big curve to the left and BAM - there it was. We saw it. Standing on two legs on the right side of the road. I was ecstatic...for about two seconds. That was roughly the time it took the little guy to run directly under our car. That's right. We killed it.
The inside of the car went completely silent. We were both horrified. There was nothing we could do. Not that we would have, but that particular location wasn't safe enough for Ben or I to hike back with a camera and get a shot of the gruesome evidence. In a bit of shock, we drove home mostly in silence.
That was it for me trying to cover the story for my news segment. We rejected any and all suggestions that we continue, but we did both continue to see that little guy from time to time and still always failed to catch an image of him. This went on for years. There were times when I would spot one, pull over and just watch him. The second I'd reach for a camera, he was a ghost. On a couple of occasions, I was able to capture an image on a cell phone camera but I was always too far away to really get a got picture. Then, I started as a reporter at The Record.
One morning, I pulled into my usual parking space and there was one of those little fuzzy creatures just standing in front of my car. I was surprised, but at this point in the saga - every time I saw another one - it simply felt like the thing was taunting me. It didn't end up being a one time affair either. He was there a lot in the mornings. I told the story I just told you guys to one of my co-workers, to which he replied, "Oh yeah, that's our groundhog."
Apparently he'd (actually "she'd" because I understand the thing had babies last summer) been around for a while. This was my chance. I started making sure I had a camera with me in my vehicle most all the time. There were times when I'd pull up and see him, but as soon as I'd get the camera ready - gone. This thing really was taunting me, and these occurrences went on for several months. On my trips up and down Highway 74, I see them a lot - yet I never get any closer to getting a picture of the thing.
Fast forward to October 15. I needed to get a picture of the folks running the haunted house down in Aurora for The Record. The trees on Highway 23 are currently showcasing an absolutely amazing array colors, so the trip was beautiful. I had a blast with the haunted house folks and got some great pictures before heading back. Incidentally, that meant I had a camera sitting on the passenger's seat of my truck...just as I saw the little guy sitting on the side of the road.
With no high hopes, I reached for the camera and snapped off three quick shots as the little guy darted for the weeds and, believe it or not, I got him.
These three pictures may not be great, but they're good enough. In fact, you know what, they are great. They're fantastic.
It took more than six years to finally get a pic of one of these guys, that I still haven't officially confirmed to be a groundhog, but it was worth the wait. The feeling of accomplishment is quite satisfying. I was giddy all the rest of the way back to the newspaper office. Once there, I walked in the door and announced my victory. The same co-worker whom I'd first told the story simply relied, "Nuh uh."
I tell you this story not just to share my accomplishment, which I just could not be more pleased with, but because I really love the story - and it will be one of the last I get to tell you. As some of you may be aware, The Record is currently looking for my replacement. I've taken a position as a weekend anchor and reporter with a television news station in Missouri. I'm very excited about the new adventure, but I'm also quite sad about leaving all the great people here in Madison County that I've been blessed to get to know. This is a great place, and I'm going to miss every inch of its beautiful landscape and its unbelievably kind and warm welcoming residents.
I knew quite a bit about Madison County before I started working here. Spending a lot of time here while I was in college at the U of A, I got to know a few people and started being able to find my way around. If I hadn't returned years later to report for the newspaper though, I would have missed out on so much. I wouldn't have gotten to know so many of you so well. I wouldn't have gotten to find out about the issues that matter to you so much. I wouldn't have covered the story at the pet shelter where I found my amazing little dog. I wouldn't have gotten to play donkey basketball (which you have to admit, I was pretty good at), and I wouldn't have finally gotten a picture of that little fuzzy guy who has been taunting me for years.
Madison County has given me memories, experiences and new friends I will cherish for the rest of my life. I plan to subscribe to The Record just to keep up with what's going on here, and I don't plan to be a stranger. It will always be a place that I visit. So, until then, thank you for everything and - of course - Go Eagles!