Note: Tomorrow, Saturday, September 8, Lea and fellow mystery writers Kate Flora, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, Marni Graff and Janis Bolster will be signing their books at the 365 Days of Christmas shop on Route 27 in Belgrade, Maine, from 2-4 in the afternoon. Rumor has it that if you buy a book you’ll also get a small ice cream cone …! Questions? 207-495-6087. Don’t forget your Christmas lists! Signed books make great gifts!
Lea Wait here, admitting a fondness for those small busy little creatures who spend spring through early fall zooming back and forth between their elaborate passageways under my front yard to the place they love best, where food rains down from dawn until dusk: under my bird feeders.
They comfortably share this space with mourning doves, the occasional crow, and other birds too large or too clumsy to cope with the feeders above, or just waiting their turns there. But while the birds come and go, the chipmunks are seldom gone for longer than it takes them to duck through the barn or under our porch to return to their storehouse, deposit their latest cache of sunflower seeds, and return.
This time of year their gathering, and their kibitzing with other chipmunks, increases. If you’ve ever shared space with chipmunks, you’ll recognize their calls. I don’t speak chipmunk (unfortunately!) but their loud “chipchipchip” is hard to miss. I’ve heard it repeated for as long as 15 minutes, and then be answered by others as far as an acre away. There’s also a softer call, which doesn’t last as long.
The generations of chipmunks who’ve inhabited the land around our house (and occasionally made forays into the house itself) have also occasioned stories.
The summer before my last year in college I was writing plays for children’s theatre as part of my senior thesis. Curious about how close the chipmunks would come to me while I was working, one day I put my typewriter on the porch floor and sprinkled sunflower seeds on the keys. The result was a series of pictures, one of which I put at the front of my thesis, dedicating the work to “That Elusive Spirit.” Surely the chipmunk, who worked so hard, alert to his environment, calling to his friends to warn them of dangers and keep in touch with their progress (or so I imagined) while saving for the cold days ahead, was a role model.
To remind me, I now have a small porcelain chipmunk in my study, looking at me seriously, as though to remind me that work must be finished before play.
When Tori, my oldest granddaughter, who has Down Syndrome, was about 7, she was happily watching TV on the floor of the living room while I’d backed my van up to the open kitchen door and was packing up for an antique show.
Suddenly she called me. “Nonnie! Come!” When I reached the living room she looked up at me indignantly. “Nonnie! There is a chipmunk in our house! Tell him to go back to his house. He should be outside. This is our place. Not his.” She then turned back to the TV.
I glanced around the living room. Sure enough. There was a very confused chipmunk on the back of one of the armchairs. (Chipmunks are curious, and the open back door was near the bird feeders.) My granddaughter watched calmly as I opened the living room door to the porch and shooed the chipmunk around the room until he zoomed out, back to “his place.” Order had been restored. (Although I have on other occasions found mysterious caches of sunflower seeds under cushions in that same room.)
My husband, who’s lived in Maine about ten years now, quickly fell under the spell of the chipmunks. His favorite chipmunk activity is what he calls, “chipmunk races.” Two chipmunks run up the ramp to our porch, and then race like mad the length of the porch, under chairs, tables, around anyone who happens to be there at the time, and then jump off the end of the porch — over four feet, to the ground.
Chipmunks don’t hibernate, but they are “dormant” in the wintertime. (My husband says they’re like men … they sleep for a while, and then they get up, eat a little, go to the bathroom, and then go back to sleep.) Only rarely do they leave their burrows. Sometime in October, depending on the temperature, the chipmunks will quietly (or not so quietly!) close up shop, find a cozy corner in one of the many rooms they’ve made off the passages in their network of storage rooms, and fall asleep. A well deserved rest. And we won’t be entertained or inspired by their work ethic or antics until early next spring.
They’ll be missed. The return of the chipmunks is one of our most treasured measures of spring.