Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Twelve -- Chipmunk


In the sheltered south corner of my doorway where the sun has kissed away the snow I hear a chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, pointed as a metronome. Ticking items off some list, a chipmunk sits up tall on the warming cement slab. I try, peanut offering in hand, to ease the latch open soundlessly, but the chipmunk jerks, spins, and vanishes down his hole.

The cement slab is sinking on the side fronting the door, thanks to this burrower. His tunnelworks clearly start at my door, but who can tell where they go from there? With forefeet half the size of paperclips, he’s dug down maybe four or five times the length of his body and out as far as a two-story house is tall—though not that straight. Up in the wide bright world this morning, he’s taking what’s apt to be his last sunbath for a while. Winter is about to settle in its cold bulk for a three-month stay, banishing the chipmunk to his basement. Unlike his cousins, squirrels at home in the trees, he would freeze above ground. Even in the insulated earth he survives only by careful calculation.

Compulsively all fall he packed his cheek pouches with nuts and seeds and sped to rooms he’d hollowed out along the sides of his tunnel—pantries holding altogether up to a bushel of winter provisions. He keeps inventory, working for variety. If one sort of seed spoils, he wants plenty of other sorts. Such a well stocked pantry, though, is a magnet for thieves in the beneath, and so above
ground he’s stored more reserves, hiding them from hungry thieves there, too.

He will keep up his gathering, storing, inventorying—above ground, below ground, relentless, never sure of enough—until, finally, the cold says: Stop. Or die. Then he’ll slip down through his tunnel to a leaf-lined sleeping chamber and ball up. His restless heart slows from 350 beats per minute to fifteen. He barely breathes. His body cools.

If a weasel should find him so, he will be dead before he knows what bit him. Awake, he can likely escape. So he sleeps in snatches—a few days, a couple of weeks—pulling himself up out of torpor to inspect the tunnel, the exits, the pantries, and to eat. If provisions seem low, he might pick a warm day and pop up briefly to raid a bird feeder or find one of his above-ground stashes. Which means risking a hawk or cat watching for dark stripes against snow. So he considers staying put and saving food by sleeping a longer stretch. But that gives the weasel better odds. Also, he has to consider how long this winter might last and how to save food for spring—whenever that comes—so he’ll be strong enough then to pursue a mate.

A tiny master of risk assessment, he calculates and recalculates all winter long. There’s no formula, no group-think to fall back on. Flexibility is all. Each chipmunk must, for and by himself, consider which of several choices will most likely bring him through the cold dark days to the other side of winter, strong. He must do this continually, with no guarantees. Today, heart beating fast, he makes today’s choice.

by Gayle Boss
illustrations by David G. Klein

From: All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (used with permission of Paraclete Press).

To read my review of All Creation Waits, just click here.

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

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