Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's in a name?

You might wonder why I chose chipmunkheaven as my blog title. I was inspired by the Eastern Chipmunk, they are so darn cute, and who can resist that little impish face.
There are plenty of chipmunks living on our property. The soil is sandy, so it’s easy to dig a burrow and there is plenty to eat: maple keys, seeds, acorns, wild grape,  blackberries, cranberries,  crabapples, mushrooms, slugs, insects….and of course peanuts in the shell … so it really is heaven for these feisty little guys. They are very busy gathering food all the time, so you get to see them a lot.  I name them,  “Split Ear”, “No Tail” “Broken Tail” based on their appearance.  Split Ear lived for 3yrs, others are not so lucky.

Chipmunks have personality and spunk, but mostly I love them because they evoke childhood memories of a simpler time growing up in northern Ontario. A time when a cottage was a cabin in the woods and not a mansion on acres of lawn. A time when a bathroom meant an outhouse, a pump bringing water from the lake was a luxury and a woodstove is what you cooked on and heated your water. (OK now you know I’m past a certain age) You could drink the lake water and enjoy complete silence with no whine of “personal water craft”. Entertainment was watching a family of beavers in action, playing cards by candlelight, swimming and the best was letting chipmunks run up your legs to get peanuts out of your pockets. My earliest memories of nature are the crayfish, tadpoles and minnows in a shallow rocky cove; the salamanders and mushrooms in the dark mossy forest floor; watching the early morning mist rising on the lake, the old rowboat, hearing the mournful call of the loons and the howls of wolves.  I don’t recall missing the flush toilet or hot shower from our house in town. What memories will today’s children have of their youth… their first cell phone? video game? lipgloss? designer togs? hanging out at the mall? sad to think…
Many think of chipmunks as pesky rodents, but chipmunks in fact do a lot of good. They excavate burrows with storage chambers where they keep the food they collect for winter use. They are constantly burying nuts and seeds and often these will germinate and grow; think of an acorn becoming the mighty oak tree. They are also a prime food source for others species such as foxes, coyotes, hawks and owls.

This year another favorite mammal has taken up residence and after a few skirmishes, now lives in relative peace with the chipmunks. It’s of course the Red Squirrel, a playful agile little fellow whose chattering calls also take me right back to the boreal forests of the north. I watched a pair carrying nuts from our Black Walnut Tree, the nuts almost bigger than their heads. I found the remnant outer layers of several nuts in a mound. I wouldn’t want to be bitten by a squirrel; they must have very strong teeth to eat through the hard inner shell of a black walnut. We had to use a vise to get ours open.
Black Walnut outer layer

Inside the thick walnut shell
They’ve made a home in an abandoned owl nest box, easier than finding a tree cavity.
While their cousins the chipmunks hibernate, the squirrels are active all winter except on the coldest days. They seem to enjoy scattering the mourning doves under the bird feeders, quickly stuffing their cheeks with fallen sunflower seeds and scooting back to their home.

They too play an important role in scattering and germinating seeds, especially cone seeds and they serve as a food source for larger species.
So what’s in a name? A lot.

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