Third Time’s the Charm

Gray skies dripping precip have been the order of the May day here in Blacksburg. But under cover of darkness 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 onto the Huckleberry Trail this morning.

It began as a typical walk—my wanna-be rodent assassin ever alert, his hapless human companion with her head in the clouds.

One-third of a mile along the way a small, intense blur of light and dark flashed across the asphalt and my peripheral vision, a split-second before I felt my shoulder jerk, signaling a terrier in hot pursuit with no thought to the bipedal ballast dragging from 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.

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 gray squirrels.

The grays toy with terrier-boy daily, pretending not to notice Dash as he stalks, cat-like, closer… and closer… and with insouciant flips of their opulent tails they scamper, unconcerned, to the nearest tree trunk. Then, hanging securely upside-down from pleats in the bark, shout the squirrel equivalent of “Neener-neener” as he stares with indignant frustration.

When a chippie sees us, though, it’s always a mad rush across the pavement, 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 set off 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 even feasible to hold a camera steady with a frantic terrier bouncing off of your arm like a paddle ball.

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 we turned and retraced our steps homeward, a third chipmunk—or maybe it was one of the two we had already spotted—stood motionless for a moment mid-path, unsure of which direction to bolt.

It’s the last day of the school year, the sky is blue, the breeze is soft, and we saw three chipmunks on a single walk. Feels like the start of a charmed day… I’d better 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.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Gilles Gonthier, Mr.TinDC, and Jean-Pierre Bluteau.]


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