BY ED HUNGNESS, Local columnist
---- — As the sun dipped low in the western sky, I folded the big plastic tarp for the last time. With pleasure, I hung my trusty leaf rake on its pegboard hook in the garage. I won't need it for another 12 months and quite honestly, I won't miss it one bit.
This little ritual symbolized the end of leaf raking for another year.
This season, in addition to leaves, we had an abundance of pine cones and acorns. Old timers have told me that indicates a long, cold and snowy winter is coming. They say that this is nature's way of providing for the critters so they will have plenty to eat for the months ahead. I've noticed a flurry of chipmunk and squirrel activity so perhaps they are stocking up.
In past years, I have made a game out of my chipmunk trapping activities. I designed a critter scoreboard that I nailed up on a wall in the garage. Each critter caught added another mark to the scoreboard. Before anybody gets too excited, I live-trap them. Once caught in my Havahart trap, and their fate recorded on the scoreboard, I drive them to an undisclosed location in the national forest and released them. Once freed in their new neighborhood, I'm sure that they joined their previously caught relatives and no doubt a family reunion was organized.
This year, due to budgetary concerns, economic uncertainties and because I am not running for any elected position, I made a decision to scrap the relocation program. I felt that it was very unlikely that any federal funding for chipmunk deportation would be forthcoming. With gasoline prices having doubled and the price of sunflower seeds going off the charts, I decided to let nature take its course. "Live and let live" was my new motto. I vowed to co-exist in harmony with Chip & Dale and their ever-expanding family.
Anybody living in chipmunk country knows that the little rascals cannot resist an open garage door. To them, it's like going to Walmart with a gift card. One just never knows what might be on sale!
Not wanting anyone to get locked inside the store after hours, I began setting the live-trap inside the garage, baited with those pricey sunflower seeds. Usually I don't leave the garage door up longer than necessary, simply to discourage uninvited guests from gaining access to my man-cave. However on nice autumn days, it is always a delight to work in the garage with the door up. Besides, the trap is set.
The telltale "clank" of the trap doors falling shut always gets my attention. Upon further inspection, I am certain to find either Chip or Dale looking back at me from within the trap. After catching one or the other, I take it outside and release my visitor near the woodpile. I then reset the trap in its usual garage location.
Earlier this fall, I was working on a project and the garage door was wide open. I had caught a chipmunk, released it and decided to take a break from my work to enjoy a cold beer in the warm autumn sun. Sitting in a lawn chair, just outside the garage door opening, I spied a chipmunk scurrying in my direction from the woodpile. He stopped at my feet, looked at me, and then ran under my chair and into the garage. "Clank," the trap sprung.
Picking up the trap, I was greeted by a familiar face connected to a unique scraggy tail. It was the same chipmunk! By the time the day was over, I had caught the same critter four times. Since then, we have become good friends. I open the door and he comes in for a free meal. I have learned where its den is located and occasionally leave a pinch of sunflower seeds on his doorstep.
This late in the season, I don't see him as much. I hope he has stored up plenty of my sunflower seeds to carry him through our Michigan winter. Who knows, maybe we will have our own reunion in the spring.
Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed's retirement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633