The Chipmunks

The chipmunks weren’t evident the first few years I lived in my house. There were mice, squirrels, lots of rabbits, a deer or two, skunks, a pregnant woodchuck and unseen raccoons, but no obvious chipmunks. That wasn’t a surprise since there was no stonewall near my property. Didn’t chipmunks live in stone walls?

A few years later, in March, we had a snowstorm that left a foot of snow over the area. The next day, the snow still needed to be shoveled, so I decided to work from home. At about 10:30 that morning, I took a coffee break and stood looking out the large window at the back of the house. The snow near my shed was black. A closer look (using my binoculars) showed that the ground was covered with chipmunks, crawling all over the ground and one another. There must have been fifty of them. Apparently hibernation had come to an end; all at the same time and place. How could that happen? Was hibernation based on temperature (it was 20 degrees that day), hunger (what food was available for them to eat?) length of sunlight (if they were asleep in the dark what woke them?)?

Do you know that chipmunks hibernate? It was news to me – but what do I know, I grew up in New York and there were no chipmunks there. Even if I had known that they hibernated, my expectation was that animals woke up gradually and at different times. All of which was obviously not true. The mystery deepened when my Audubon Magazine arrived the next day. There it was in the monthly calendar – March 10 – chipmunks come out of hibernation. How could they be that regular? Ah, the mysteries of nature!

My knowledge of chipmunks turned out to be more flawed that I expected. Every chipmunk I had ever seen was on the ground. They ran, went into decaying trees, disappeared into brush and ground cover, but never did they climb onto trees. Then I discovered that they did climb up trees when they wished. No I was not hallucinating. Chipmunks can climb trees and live in them when they want. I had one chipmunk who decided to do just that. (Perhaps he had done been doing it for years and I had just noticed.) One day I had filled the bird feeder and was standing quietly watching the birds, when a motion on the side of the tree trunk drew my attention. It was my chipmunk (Chip). He climbed to the limb that held the bird feeder and settled into that vee to watch over the yard. For months he was there, climbing down to eat the birdseed that was dropped onto the ground and then he would climb back to his perch. One day he wasn’t there and that ended that for the fall and winter. The next spring he was back, same time, same place, same scenario. No other chipmunk ever joined him, but he was content. (Can a chipmunk be content?) I never did discover why he was there, but seeing him each morning was a wonderful way to start the day.