Toni's Territory
Writing Office
Store Room

Bob's Your Uncle,
circa 1991

While chipmunks don't seem to hold grudges, once in a while they will all pick on one particular chipmunk at the same time.

This is usually a chipmunk with some type of defect, such as a short tail or an underweight body. I always lavish special attention on the mistreated chipmunk, and by the time it becomes an adult it is usually accepted by the group and no longer has to worry about being chased and bitten.

One of my very favorite chipmunks, Bob, had a very rocky start in life, but ended up being the wise old man of the woodpile, and grandfather to a whole passel of chipmunks. Bob started out as the runt of the litter, and probably beat the odds by even surviving his first eight weeks of life. The first time I saw him, cowering at the bottom of the deck staircase, he was tiny, and he had a very short tail, maybe barely two inches long. The average adult tail is about 3.5 inches, with four inches being a longish tail. Now keep in mind that the Point Reyes Peninsula chipmunk is the smallest of the chipmunks in the United States, with an adult weighing only 2.5 ounces. A very pregnant female weighs 3.5 ounces, and she may be carrying from one to three babies.

Bob was below average size for a young chipmunk, and he had either been born with a short tail, or more likely, his tail had been bitten off by a bigger chipmunk the first time he ventured out above ground by himself.

He was so sad. None of the other young chipmunks would play with him, the adult males chased him off into the bushes, and no one would let him come up on the deck and get some food.

He sat at the bottom of the stairs and made what we call "sad chipmunk noises."

This is a repetitive sort of muffled yelping noise, not like their normal, bright chirp or "chipping" call. I threw an almond at his feet and he immediately picked it up and disappeared into the bushes with it.

Every time I heard a sad chipmunk noise I would go out on the deck and look for Bob. Sure enough, he would be lurking somewhere in the garden, hungry. I started talking to him, and calling him "Bob," while tossing him food. In a few weeks, nourished on a diet of almonds, seeds, and whatever else I could get him to eat, he got stronger, and while not able to fight back, at least he could more easily escape trouble. Pretty soon he was even coming up on the deck to eat.

He was still pitifully smaller than the other chipmunks that had been born at the same time as he had. He was smart though, and he knew his name. If he didn't come by in the morning for food, I would go out in the afternoon and call him. He always responded, usually within two minutes. I think he was living down by the creek, in front of our house. He usually came from that direction. As time went by he continued to improve in appearance, but still did not get a lot bigger. He did start coming early in the morning though, and often when I opened the curtains in the dining room, he would be the first chipmunk on the deck. I would take my coffee cup out on the deck and have a little chat with Bob every morning. This got to be a very regular thing, and Bob had reached the point where sometimes he was able to be the one who chased the other chipmunks off the deck. While I was very fond of him, I didn't have to be so worried that he couldn't take care of himself. He was proving that he could.

Then one day I opened the curtains and he wasn't there. I called him and he didn't come.

About a half an hour went by, and while all the other chipmunks arrived, no Bob. As I gave each one of them an almond out of the palm of my hand, I told them to find Bob and tell him I wanted to see him. About twenty minutes later Bob arrived. I was so relieved. He was OK. And evidently he was communicating with the other chipmunks.

Everything was normal for a few weeks, and then one day Bob didn't show up. I sent out messages with all the chipmunks, but no Bob. By nightfall I was very worried, but I told myself he would be back in the morning. But he wasn't. He didn't come back for a week. Then suddenly one morning, there he was. First chipmunk on the deck again. I scolded him for taking off like that, and petted him while he stuffed almonds into his cheeks. I came to realize that although he was still smaller than the average chipmunk, Bob was an adult now, and I had to accept that he was something of an adventurer. Sometimes he was there when I got up in the morning, and sometimes he wasn't. Sometimes I would send messages out with the other chipmunks, and nine times out of ten he would respond.

I told some friends from Los Angeles about this chipmunk message system I had developed, and they didn't believe me. But when they came to visit I proved it to them. They even videotaped it, and they were amazed.

It was fortunate that Bob had such a distinctive tail, since all the other chipmunks looked just alike to my friends. But I had described Bob to them, then told the chipmunks to go get him and bring him to me, and when he arrived, about two minutes later, even the disbelievers believed.

One day Bob got a girlfriend, Spot. Spot was so named because she had a large, white spot on her right side, between her front paws and her back legs. Now Bob lived down by the creek, in front of the house, and Spot lived in the back garden, on the hill. I don't know how they got together, but I did see Bob going in the direction of the back garden several times. When Spot became pregnant she moved to the woodpile in front of the house.

Now I have previously stated that I don't think the male chipmunks make great fathers, since I have only seen the mothers raising the kids. But Bob seemed to be a great dad. He hung around the woodpile a lot, with Spot, and they never seemed to fight over food. He seemed to be protecting her, watching out for predators while she ate, and just taking care of things in general (male quail are like this too. They are great dads).

In 1992 Spot had a girl and a boy. The girl also had a white spot on her right side, but it was not as large as her mother's. We named her Virginia, after President Clinton's mother, because she had a white streak in her hair, too. The little boy we named Phillipe, after Phillipe Petit, the French high wire artist. Let's just say Phillipe was a climber of great heights, but we'll get to him later.

Bob seemed to be a great dad, and the whole family was very smart and friendly. They all knew their names and would come from great distances when called. We would amaze visitors with this feat. And it was very convenient when friends with children would visit, because not all the chipmunks responded as well as Bob's family did. And all children love to see the chipmunks, and have them eat out of their hands. Even hyperactive children who never seem to be still or quiet will calm down and behave wonderfully when observing and feeding chipmunks. They never fail to charm and captivate.

But Bob was even more amazing. When he finally did leave (as the genetic imprint in Chipmunks tell them they must do), it still wasn't the last we saw of him. Virginia, Bob's daughter, had babies. And on the first day they came out of the den, Bob arrived, to see his grandchildren. We've never seen that before, or since.

More about our chipmunks will be forthcoming (if I could only teach them to type! I may yet have some success in this area with our chinchilla--he already loves to sit on the keyboard--That is, when he's not snacking on chamomile, lavender, basil, dill, and nasturtiums. ).

Copyright © 1996 Toni Will-Harris,