Coffin: Side Hill Croncher

May 2, 2014

In a 1966 Rutland Herald, I wrote on the following strange subject. Joe Citro resurrected it not long ago, in a commentary.

As a most welcome Vermont spring arrives, hibernating things are wakening. Indeed, a creature said to be strange as Vermont has ever known may already be stirring deep in the Windsor County hills. Back where Bridgewater, Barnard, and Stockbridge meet, there’s a remote woodland area known as Chateauguay. Through the long upland winter months, night winds moan along its plunging valleys, and moonlit snow wisps cast ever changing shadows on its ridges. Back there where men once dug for gold, on such nights a glance may be cast toward a dark window, as thoughts arise of things little-known.

There’s a legend, probably old as Vermont, of a creature that roams backwoods hills and mountains. Said to be part deer, part wild pig, some call it a side hill croncher, others a gouger. Stories abide of its horns, tusks even. Said to travel at alarming speeds, years of racing along Vermont’s precipitous up-country terrain have, ’tis said, caused the creature’s legs to become shorter on one side.

The result of this evolution has caused the croncher to travel in but one direction, though opinions vary as to whether clockwise or counter clockwise, speeding along after whatever may be its prey. And what does it eat? Perhaps berries and roots, or perhaps, FLESH!

Possibly the saving grace for many a wild animal, or human, wandering the high lonesome of the Chateauguay, has been the croncher’s leg structure. If seen approaching, one need only move slightly uphill, or down. The beast is said to have trouble altering course and must circle a hill completely to return. But do not delay, it may reappear astonishingly quickly, careening around some woodland slope.

Cronchers reportedly make grunting, sometimes whistling, sounds. But most croncher noise is said to come from the crashing of trees, and smashing through brush, as it plunges along. And it leaves footprints, said to be the marks of cloven hoofs.

In a Bridgewater tavern on a snowy night years ago, I heard talk of a hermit known as Old Chateauguay. He was said to dwell in a shack way back in the hills, hunting and fishing for trout in remote streams and ponds. Perhaps he tilled a patch of garden in some ancient pasture that would, but for his caring, have long ago returned to woods. Old Chateauguay, it was said, may himself have hibernated, and he was said to know more about side hill cronchers than anyone ever did. Perhaps, he’d even fed them. But if no one I ever met could say, for certain, they’d ever seen a croncher, well, nobody could ever say, for sure, they’d ever seen Old Chateauguay.