Muskoka is about a four-hour drive north of Toronto and is an idyllic place to live. It is what we would call ‘getting back to nature’. Fresh air, clean water, pine and spruce trees galore, pristine lakes, wildlife, and, of course, the loons. Because of the pressures of running my construction business, I had decided I needed a break. A friend of mine offered their family cottage on Lake Muskoka and that is where I parked myself for the month of August. It was a time of lounging around, reading, drinking some fine wine and taking in the sights.
Although you may think it was lonely, I very quickly developed some companions, of the four legged variety. Two chipmunks. The male, who was obviously the aggressor, lived under the neighbour’s cottage to the north. The sister who more than once was chased away by her brother, lived under the big cottage. Neither had felt the little cabin that I was inhabiting worthy of domestication.
Although originally timid and distant, their boldness increased dramatically over the month. This may have had a lot to do with the giant bag of unshelled peanuts.
Initially they would only come so close necessitating my casting peanuts in their direction. Then they starting coming right up and circling my feet and, if I ignored them, jump at my legs. ‘Hey you, can’t you see us. We’re waiting.’
I would bend down and hold the peanut in my finger tips. They would pluck it right out and then sit there on the ground trying to put the peanut into their cheeks. Comparatively speaking, the peanut shouldn’t have fit, it was too big . But they kept on pushing and the cheek kept expanding until it looked like their face was going to explode. They looked like they had stuffed inside a couple of ping-pong balls.
The female may have had difficulty with her vision because she would grasp the peanut and actually knock it free of my grasp. Unable to ‘see’ it lying on the ground, she would then grab the end of my finger thinking it was a peanut. Although the colour and size may have resembled a peanut, she soon learned that it was attached to something much larger. Persevere she did. She would grasp the peanut with her forepaws, lift herself completely off the ground and try to drag the peanut with her hind legs as well. An acrobatic chipmunk. And, if I ignored her long enough she would sit on my shoe. If I persisted, she would start to climb my jeans. That definitely got my attention.
One time after a swim I was sitting on the dock reading, and deeply engrossed in a mystery novel. The sun was shining, reflecting off the calm water and the day was warm and relaxing. Suddenly, I felt something crawling up my leg. Instinctively I flung out my leg and saw the chipmunk fly towards the water. Just as she made contact, our eyes connected. Her’s were asking, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Then plunk, she was gone under the surface of the water. Boy, did I feel bad!
I got up wanting to use all my life saving knowledge to save her. She surfaced and with a very quick chipmunk paddle swam towards shore disappearing under the dock and was gone. I tried to look to look for her but to no avail. She would usually exit from under the boathouse but I never saw her. I didn’t know if she as okay or not.
Sometime later she appeared on the part of the dock near shore, but she was not venturing out to the end. I left peanuts there, and there they remained. She did return with her demands later on but never again ventured down the dock.
When the last day finally arrived, both chipmunks had started climbing up and down the screen door to announce meal-time. Patiently they waited on the porch for my attention. The last supper was given with most of my remaining peanuts being poured onto the ground beside the porch. The final feast.
They survived before I got there and will continue to survive after I was gone. But I know that every time I hear a screen door slam, I will be looking around for my two companions.