30 September 2018
I first met Chet a week ago. When I stopped by our new weekend-getaway/family-gathering/possible-permanent-home-after-retirement house in the Galena Territory, Galena, Illinois. Yep. I said “howdy” to Chet the Chipmunk when I stopped by the house to take some pre-landscape grading photos (I named him “Chet” after an old Marine Corps buddy). Chet stood and greeted me at the end of the driveway, nodded his hello and scampered off around the house. Grinning, (I always grin at chipmunks), I followed him a few steps and saw him dart under his hip pseudo-modern chipmunk pad, an abandoned upside-down wheelbarrow, an ideal maison for a Galena Territory chipmunk. I liked Chet immediately.
“I’ll check ya, Chet!” I said as I continued my photo journey. Around back, I also saw a rabbit and a squirrel, but those rascals were a bit snooty compared to Chet so we didn’t get properly introduced. You must understand, this house sits on an acre that is almost entirely undeveloped woodlands, with many more acres just like it in all directions. We are in the woods.
I met Chet again late yesterday afternoon. Under life or death circumstances. His, not mine. No grinning this time. When Patty and I first looked at this house, we realized quickly that an outdoor critter or 34 had paid a visit or 13 indoors. Now I don’t mind being right neighborly, I’m an Andy Griffith kind of guy after all, but my many years of city dwellin’ makes me like it better when a critter, two or four-legged, lets me know he’s comin’ by for a Nehi. I gotta know whether he likes grape or orange, right? And Patty? Well, she just doesn’t much like mice using the cabinets as their latrine. We hired an exterminator.
The guy came out a few weeks ago, checked things over, and set up a defensive perimeter even us Marine Corps sergeants could appreciate. You have an idea what’s coming, I know. Hold on.
Part of the plan included industrial strength glue traps, the kind with a domed top on them sort of like a white Gomer Pyle Quonset hut. Now of course that dome is there to keep Patty from seeing the poor little devils getting stuck. And stuck they get. I never saw a glue trap work ever. These do. Trapped a few mice, no big deal.
Until yesterday. We were in and out of the house unloading things we don’t need the movers to move from our downtown apartment. I opened the garage door and began carrying things in, taking quick notice of the glue traps. All clear. Garage door opened, a few more trips. As I prepared to leave for another load, I noticed one glue trap had moved about two feet away from the wall. Curious, I tapped it with my foot. Loud, desperate squeaking burst forth. As I began bending over, I saw Chet the Chipmunk, much bigger and browner than a mouse, stuck fast in the domed glue trap.
I sighed audibly. It was my fault. I left the garage door open out in the woods with bait available. And now my new friend Chet was stuck. I bent down and removed the dome. Chet, still very much alive, covered most of the glue trap surface. He was seriously stuck by his tail, hind legs, and head, his little heart clearly setting a chipmunk rate record. Now what?
I considered my options. One, just toss Chet and the trap in the garbage. Chet would die slowly of thirst and starvation. Not an option. Two, just put the little guy out of his misery. There seemed to be some humanitarian value to that, but even this Marine Corps veteran sergeant couldn’t kill this tiny creature. And three, I could try to free him. I chose number three and carefully carried the glue trap outside the garage.
Now what? With no tools, no gloves, and a very sticky trap in front of me, I picked up two sticks. One to hold the trap and the second to try to pry Chet loose. I worked at it for 15 minutes. I freed his tail (most of it anyway) and he squeaked in pain. I almost felt it, too, though my tail wasn’t stuck in the glue (this time). I tried to gently get his head loose and he attacked the stick, biting and squeaking with all he had. I don’t speak chipmunk. I tried English, telling Chet this was going to hurt but I was trying to get him loose. I then tried to take his mind off this predicament by telling him that though “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire” by Bob Rivers is a favorite Christmas song, I really wouldn’t eat a chipmunk, hot sauce or no.
Didn’t help. He thought I was there to hurt him more. He thought I was evil. And I was, from his perspective. Back to work. I was clearly inflicting pain and increased suffering to the chipmunk in order to free him, and there was no way my superior human mind could tell him that. He just thought his bad day had gotten much worse. With no way to communicate, my every move caused him more pain. I was afraid the force I had to use to pry him off the glue was going to kill him right there. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes over this goofy little rodent. But I could see progress. His head was free. And tail. Most of his body including his front paws. Only what looked like a doomed pair of hind legs remained seriously stuck in the goo.
Finally, one more stick push. We both paused a moment. Chet bolted free, and off he ran, apparently relatively undamaged from his brush with death. I watched him run back to his home sweet upside-down wheelbarrow.
I don’t know if Chet will survive his entrapment and the actions it took to free him. I really hope so. If he does, he may quickly realize he has a new, very useful ability…ultra-sticky paws. Spider-Chipmunk. He can now climb anything. I’ll look for him in a couple of weeks when I go back.
Yes, I think there’s something to think about in all this, besides not leaving the garage door open in our woodlands home. Maybe I sometimes misunderstand difficulty and pain in my life. Maybe when I feel things worsening, it’s to set me free, and maybe even end up more equipped to live my life. Hmmm. I do know that to be true in some instances of my life experience. Sometimes trouble and suffering bring about good, even if I don’t immediately see it. Thanks for reminding me, Chet. I’m indebted to you, little one.