Twenty some years ago, when I was finally able to move to the country, I was fascinated by all the sights I loved so much, especially sighting wildlife: “Oh look! A deer!” “Look! Wild turkeys!” “A fox!” “Raccoons!” and so forth. I’m still glad for the change, but long since this has moved to “Would you get your damn ass out of the road?! I’ve got to get to work!!” A few days ago, I had to stop for four coyote pups considering negotiating the road, the “leader” poised with one paw raised (OK, I admit—this was wicked awesome cute).
Perhaps due to the warm weather, 2007 has been The Year of the Chipmunk. They’ve everywhere. Increases in a species aren’t unusual per se—voles have made steady incursions into my and my neighbors’ property—but this is a sudden surge. I could understand this on my own property, as I have a few thousand spruce trees, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started seeing chipmunks running across the driveway carrying pine cones larger than the chipmunks themselves—all those pine nuts! I couldn’t help but think of Chip ‘n’ Dale, Disney’s acorn throwing tree dwellers. These creatures, however, aren’t limited to my trees. Stoney Pond, where my dog Shanti and I run daily, has them lined up as if in some chipmunk suburbia. All during the fifteen minute trip down the road to the Pond, kamikaze chipmunks dash from the comparative safety of the side of the road across the road in front of the car—usually about 12-20 feet in front. Their boldness extends beyond motor vehicles, apparently—yesterday I saw one dash across the road with a sparrow RIGHT on his tail, showing the reckless critter what’s what.
Indeed, perhaps the warm weather IS the answer, since after last night’s thunderstorm ushered in much cooler air, I haven’t seen a chipmunk all day—not at home, not on the road, and not on the trails around Stoney Pond. We did come across a gray squirrel, but as they are much faster than chipmunks, even Shanti only watched as it escaped, leaving the safety of its hiding place to run across the trail and take to the trees on the other side.
But squirrels are not the only denizens of the forest, and as I ran up the curving trail, before I noticed any game was afoot, Shanti launched toward whatever it was with such force that her rush on the 26’ retractable leashed jerked me suddenly forward, wrenching my ankle (already nursing an inflamed ligament from a similar injury a few months back) as my foot sharply turned against a small stump in the path. My run abruptly interrupted, I exploded into spontaneous, improvised oratory, considerably more colorful and forceful than, “Oh, gosh golly gee wiz. That really hurts! You know, I really wish you wouldn’t do things like that. Could you perhaps refrain from such practices in the future? I’m truly in a lot of pain here…” Uncontrite, but realizing the jig was up, Shanti lay down, waiting for me to get over it, while I struggled over whether I should continue or just limp back to the car.
I continued, slowly, after issuing the firm command “Back!” Shanti dutifully trotted behind—immediately behind, so close she was stepping on my heels. “BACK!” I barked, in no mood for indulgence, and Shanti eased off a bit—until a few yards later, when she rushed past me toward a fluttering quail. I again extemporized a flurry of provocative prose. Shanti, realizing maybe she had pushed this a bit too far, lay down again. The quail twittered from a short distance away. The run—or slow jog, I should say—resumed, this time with Shanti dutifully behind, behaving.
For a while, that is. After some minutes of peace, Shanti noted that this “run” wasn’t very exciting, and resorted to one of her best tricks—get a stick. Trashing that stick from side to side, running about my heels to get my attention, inviting me to play, always eventually wins me over, and so, as usual, I grabbed the stick and held it at shoulder height—one of her favorite games. She jumps up to wrest the stick from my grasp, beat it up a bit, then come back for more. This game does have the distinct advantage of eventually tiring her out a bit—but it’s also her ticket for once again running in front, and, as usual, the ploy proved successful. We continued the run peacefully, me lost in my thoughts and plans for the work day, Shanti making the rounds of all known dwelling places of both bird and chipmunk.
Then the geese. Shanti and I, both veteran forest roamers, pad along quietly (at least when I’m not practicing invective monologues), and since many other visitors are absent on less than balmy days, we not infrequently surprise game of one sort or another. While the geese are usually alert, even adult geese can be caught off their guard (as Shanti learned as a puppy, unfortunately), and this morning, for the second time this week, we surprised a few families, sending them waddling off for the water at far too slow a pace (the goslings can’t yet fly). Thankfully, I saw them first. Adult geese can be quite intimidating, but Shanti doesn’t know the meaning of the word (literally—beyond my moods and signals, I’ve never seen her read at all). I held her at bay while her would be prey escaped to the pond.
Back in the car, we headed home. Still no chipmunks. A deer ran across the road.