“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all readymade at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince
The chipmunk was Hoovering the site where the tent and buffet table had been just days before for my daughter’s wedding five years ago. The chipmunk followed a random forage pattern that encompassed the tent site, the back garden with its bird feeders where cast-off seed and cracked corn could be found, then around the side of the house to where he/she/it was nesting in the rock garden under the Buddha head out front. Wherever I sat in the ensuing days, I would watch he/she/it/they making the rounds and often passing quite close to me or my feet, pausing only to sit up on hinders, sniff at me, look around, then dash off again.
I brought out a handful of shelled raw peanuts from the bird store and put them in a dish in the approximate pathway the chipmunk tended to take. He/she/it/they caught the scent and gradually tracked down the peanuts, stuffed cheeks full and ran off in the direction of the rock garden, unloaded and returned. In the meantime, I had moved the dish slightly closer to my foot, then closer, then closer with a peanut on my shoe, then one on my knee, then in my hand. Over a couple of days, the chipmunk, now recognizable as a single entity with a significantly torn left ear and a scraggly tale, emboldened by the smell of peanuts, became a regular visitor in my lap and in my hand. As long as I held still, he/she/it was content to graze until the pouchy cheeks were full.
A routine began, usually around tea time, I sat on the deck with peanuts, book, tea, and soon the chipmunk would appear. The cats would watch intently from the windows, as the chipmunk rambled over the Adirondack chair, table, books or magazines and me in search of the peanuts. In the cats’ horrified opinion, I had gone to over to the Dark Side.
This went on for about a week or two. My new son-in-law also became a part of the event one day. My stolid husband witnessed this, and said he was moved. The only warning from people I knew was that chipmunks are really pests and will eat your cherry tomatoes and burrow in your garden. I’m not much of a gardener, and I’m not fond of tomatoes, at least not raw. Perhaps, fed enough peanuts, the chipmunks would not attack the cherry tomatoes. As far as I was concerned, I could share my garden. I was the interloper in their territory after all. I was a refugee from the city to the woods. I was beholden to their acceptance.
The Mayflower movie theater in downtown Troy, Ohio was the beginning of my affliction about animals. I often refer to myself as a “Disney Cripple.” Snow White, Bambi or Cinderella were all part of my early passions. There were animals—bluebirds singing, rabbits lisping and thumping, motherless deer, smiling raccoons and squirrels—the whole panoply of woodland creatures not to mention house cats, dogs and mice capable of bursting into song at 78 rpm. (They even sewed things!) In a somewhat confusing childhood, Disney cartoons with their very cute but unrealistic looking animals were like a promise of happy endings when all looked dark. That was the beginning of the downfall of my critical thinking, and my immersion in fantasy. It has led to me talking to bugs, birds, cats and now chipmunks.
This has been going on for five years now. The chipmunks have changed or rotated in dominance, but usually there is only one. The one who has engaged me this summer and some of last summer, too, has a distinctive mark on his right flank. One of our granddaughters got in on the act this year and named this particular one “Myrtle” because he lives in the myrtle bed off the back deck. I suggested that, since being a male, “Myrt” might be more appropriate. Sometimes there is a female who comes from the same area of the myrtle bed, likely Myrt’s mate. Actually, I would rather not name them. It is enough that over the years they have been driven by harsh instinct, overriding their fear of humans enough to fill their underground larders with peanuts; enough to let an interloper who is kind enough to offer a bottomless supply of raw peanuts and keep the cats inside. They enthrall me in a everlasting childhood delusion of fantastic connection to the real denizens of these woods, as if they are in fact, my friends.