Gray skies dripping precip have been the order of day lately, but under cover of darkness last night the clouds finally sloshed off to rain on someone else’s parade, leaving a bright blue wake overhead and a light, steady breeze at ground level, soft as down against my arms and face as Dash and I stepped out for our morning walk.
It began as a typical stroll—my wanna-be rodent assassin ever alert, his hapless human companion with her head in the clouds.
As we walked in pleasant companionship along the pathway, a small, intense blur of light and dark flashed across the asphalt. My peripheral vision flashed a warning to my brain one split-second before I felt my shoulder jerk, signaling a terrier in hot pursuit with no thought to the bipedal ballast anchored to his harness.
Even as my muscles braced for the impact of a 22 lb canine hitting the end of his literal rope, my brain was systematically sorting and categorizing the image my eye had transmitted: Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus)!
We’ve seen them on the trail before but they’re far less prevalent, and far more shy,* than their cousins, the abundant and impudent tree squirrels.
The Eastern gray squirrels toy with my terrier-boy daily, pretending not to notice Dash as he stalks, cat-like, closer…
…………………………………………….>>>>>>>>>………then with an insouciant flip of their opulent tails they scamper, unconcerned, to the nearest tree trunk and a higher-than-terrier elevation. At some arbitrary altitude they turn, hang securely upside-down by their sharp claws and agile feet from pleats in the bark and shout the squirrel equivalent of “Neener-neener” as Dash stares with indignant frustration.
When a chippie sees us, though, it’s always a mad rush across the pavement, followed by a headfirst dive into the leaf-litter or beneath a fallen limb.
I coaxed Dash away from the underbrush and back to the path, admiring his lightning reflexes, reminding him there would be other chances to prove his hunting prowess. We turned a corner just in time to see another streak of chestnut chipmunk careening past, a mere six-feet ahead. Too quick for my hand to even move toward my phone much less capture the elfin speedster… not that it’s possible to hold a camera steady with a frantic terrier spinning like a tetherball, with me as the pole.
Maybe the chippies have been waiting out the rain in their burrows and, now that the sun has returned, they were hungry enough to risk grabbing some breakfast during the dog-walking rush hour. That’s the only explanation I’ve come up with for why, once the path directed us homeward, a third chipmunk stood motionless for a moment mid-path, unsure of which direction to bolt.He made up his mind in plenty of time, though.
School’s out, the sky is blue, the breeze is soft, and we had three chipmunks to keep us company on single walk. That feels like the start of a charmed day…. think I’ll buy a lottery ticket.
*At least on this stretch of trail; I’ve had plenty of encounters with bold chipmunks while camping, hiking, and picnicking.
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© 2017 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author. Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available for use through Creative Commons License: Gilles Gonthier, Jim, the Photographer, Melissa McMasters, Jo Zimny Photos, and Gilles Gonthier.