By Christopher Cudworth
Before I get on the bad side of animal rights activists, let me go on record in saying that I’m a huge nature buff. I even spend time in the buff in nature whenever possible, so long as there is no one else around.
So before I digress too far from the subject of a long-running feud with chipmunks, let me state that I literally mean them no harm.
Which is not to say that I have never harmed a chipmunk. Quite by accident many years ago I stepped on the back of a chipmunk crossing my path while running and killed the little bugger. I felt horrible of course. Because I like chipmunks. I really do.
But this was in my prime as a runner, and while training on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a college teammate, we were flying along at 5:00 pace and feeling great when a chipmunk darted out on the path, changed directions halfway across and ran right under my right foot at the moment it was striking the foot path. And damn, the poor thing was dead in an instant.
“You KILLED IT!” my friend said as he stood there in amazement. “You’re going to go to chipmunk hell!”
And so it was that chipmunk karma began.
Another chipmunk tragedy
Because a little while later that year, I was walking across the campus of Luther College when I spotted a chipmunk writhing in the grass. It appeared to be hurt so like the good biology student I was at the time, I bent down to pick it up and got hold of the tail. Not a good plan. The tail came right off its little butt and the chipmunk jumped up and ran away.
That’s nature’s strategy you see. Better to lose a tail than to be eaten on the spot. Just ask the Fantastic Mr. Fox. He later recovered his tail and pinned it to his ass for appearances, but everyone knows that once you lose your tail it’s never quite the same.
Getting some tail
After all, human beings lost their tails about 1.5 million years ago and we’re definitely not as interesting or attractive as we used to be. The phrase “I’m going to go out and get some tail” so often uttered by bachelors on the prowl never had the same meaning.
And think how awesome it might be to have a little bit of tail sweeping out the back of your Nike shorts as you raced down the boulevard. That would make you feel and look really fast.
Why, we’d almost be as studly amazing as chipmunks, who run around the yard with their tails raised whenever they are alarmed or in a hurry.
See, it’s pretty cool being a chipmunk in this world. Generally you run around stuffing your face full of seeds and other foods and run back to your hole in the ground. Then you squeeze your face through the hole and dump all that stuff out of your mouth into a little food cache for safe eating later on.
In fact while stuffing their faces chipmunks look a lot like triathletes or marathoners or any number of other endurance athletes so hungry for nutrition they cannot slow down enough to actually chew their food. Rumor has it that the typical insides of an endurance athlete contain whole, undigested bananas, long wedges of fermenting raisins and entire half slices of bagels, unchewed and unmolested. That’s because we make ourselves so hungry from all that endurance training our bodies crave food beyond reason. Oh yeah, there’s always a few Oreos down there too.
Which means the typical endurance athlete often shits out an entire grocery cart of perfectly good food whenever they take a dump. I’ve seen bananas still inside the peel left along the road when the urge hits a runner and they need to excavate their bowels. That explains why you sometimes see food wrappers at the bottom of Porta Potties. Those plastic wrappers do not digest well.
So we kind of have a kinship with chipmunks in that we run around shaking our little tails and eat like insatiable pigs, sometimes stuffing our faces so full there is no getting around it: we are little more than giant rodents when it comes right down to it.
Living with chipmunks
It’s even hard for human beings and chipmunks to share the same living space at times. The pair that lives under my back steps loves to tease my dog when he comes snuffing out the back door on the hunt. Then they race up the drainpipe while he goes apeshit sticking his nose up the pipe because he can smell those little buggers up there and they’re Oh So Close.
Catch and release
Some people don’t put up with chipmunk antics. They catch them and cart them away to other places. My uncle did this for years until one day while he was driving a chipmunk away from his home the little guy escaped and ran up onto his shoulder. That gave my uncle such a start he almost wet himself.
And catching a chipmunk inside a car is no easy feat. There are a zillion places for a chipmunk to hide, and there’s usually plenty of lost peanuts under the seat. So they can live in there for days.
A close relative of the chipmunk is the gray squirrel, and they are even known to make nests in the engine of your car. Here’s a photo with living proof of that phenomenon. Talk about “going along for the ride.”
If chipmunks catch up with that mentality, we’re all really screwed. I once had a mouse set up shop in the heating vent system of my Subaru. When the heat came on in fall a giant blast of mouse chewings came flying out the vents into the car. If chipmunks follow those habits and learn how to invade our cars we could wind up with peanut casings up our nose.
Stuff like that can drive people to criminal levels of chipmunk hatred. It’s bad enough they climb to the top of your sunflowers and knock the 10 foot plants to the ground. They really are destructive little buggers when they try.
Too cute for their own good
But they’re so darn cute in all their chipmunkness that it’s hard to get really mad at them. Which is why I put up with the pair (or more) that has now taken over the space known as my garage. Every time I open the door they are scampering in or out. I’ve let my dog chase them around the garage and they inevitably escape. They really liked the pile of wooden fence posts that sat on the north side of my garage for a few weeks. It was like a chipmunk hotel with holes in the fence posts so they could go over, under and through the posts. It was like Disney World for chipmunks.
So there is always fun company when I go out to the garage to get one of my bikes down or stand there stretching in the shade before going out for a run in the summer sun. I’ve offered an apology for killing one of their cousins way back when. But pretty much those chipmunks sit there and stare at me without an ounce of forgiveness in their hard little eyes. There is still some penance to be paid, perhaps. Which is why I don’t ever talk about the chipmunk that got rolled under my bike wheels a few years ago, or the ones that succumbed under my car wheels. We won’t go there at all.
Because if my local chipmunk friends ever get wind of those incidents, there may be a full-on war declared against me, with chipmunk karma raining down on head from all quarters.
So I’ll beg you to keep all that quiet, lest they all gang up and try to take me down on the bike by felling some giant tree in my path as an act of sedition toward their hated enemy. That would be bad, because if you’ve ever crashed your bike into a tree you know how bad the damage can be.
Heyyyy, wait a minute. Now that I think about it I think there were some teeth marks at the base of that tree that fell across the trail where I crashed the other day.
Those little bastards.