Saturday, November 14, 2015

Luna and the Chipmunks

“I think it pooped everywhere!” My wife exclaimed, aghast, looking at scores of tiny black pellets strewn about our foyer and staircase. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear on a relaxing fall weekend morning.

“No … those are nuts,” I responded, based on reason and the sound made when the shower of tiny particles exploded a few steps up the stairs from our front door.

“What?”

“You know, like sunflower seeds.”

Our 12-year-old, wise in the ways of animal culture, added, “They gather nuts in their cheeks for winter, mom.”

“Nuts?!”

Yes. Nuts. That’s the only way to describe a recent morning in our usually quiet home, on our quiet street, in our quiet little village -- absolutely nuts.

To explain, I should probably back up a bit.

If you’d visited our street just an hour earlier, you would’ve found our front door and screen wide open, with our big, cushy over-sized and over-priced armchair in the front yard on its side with me poised above it with my eyes bulging out and a fishing net in hand ready to pounce.

Maybe we should back up even more. Let’s start with the cat: Luna. You may remember her from such classics as the cat that climbed the 40 foot pine and the pet poo mystery.


Our family adopted Luna about two years ago. Since then she’s asserted herself as an outdoor cat, and she’s also grown into quite the able hunter. Her prey of choice: chipmunks. If I could catch fish as efficiently as she catches chipmunks I’d get sponsors and join the professional flyfishing tour. She often returns after a brief stint outside with a chipmunk, mouse or mole in her clutches, pawing at the door to show us her kill. Though, ironically, she doesn’t always kill them – at least, not at first. And I often intervene before she finishes the job. When I see her in the yard with a creature in her mouth, I’ll chase her and, when I can catch her, pick her up. She’ll drop her new toy and, though sometimes they land with a thud, nine times out of ten the rodent will hit the ground and scamper off into the nearest underbrush. She always looks at me like, “What’d you go and do that for?!”
Chipmunk, with cheeks full of nuts and seeds, rubs
his hand together while doing an evil laugh.
It’s not like I’m a chipmunk pacifist, I just find it easier and cleaner to break things up at that point rather than be stuck getting rid of the body later, which I have to do often. Trust me; there’s a small stack of formerly-cute little carcasses behind the stone wall in our back yard. So, I try to step in early when possible.
On this particular morning, I was in the garage preparing to do still more yard work. My wife and eldest daughter were out shopping for something critically important, I’m sure. As I came out of the garage with a rake, or shovel, or something yardy in hand, I saw Luna jog by me with a little furry ball hanging from her teeth.
I sprang into action.
Unfortunately, just as I sprang my youngest daughter came bounding out the front door, and prancing in went Luna with her chipmunk.
NO! I shrieked in my head. In that moment, I prayed the little guy was dead.
Before I was in the door, I learned my prayers had gone unanswered. Luna dropped the very much alive chipmunk, and it scurried into the corner of our living room. Game on.
She flew toward it, rearing up and lunging with her cute little paws extended like the villain from a jump-scare movie. The chipmunk, let’s just call him Chip, darted left, then right, and found himself behind a floor-length curtain – momentarily safe. Luna circled around, playfully padding at the curtain from one side and the next.
This continued for what felt like an eternity.
While the animals danced their deadly tango, the children screamed, scattered and climbed on the furniture like 1950s housewives with a mouse afoot.
“It could have rabies!” They each screamed in one version or another.
In that moment I thought how I hadn’t written any blog post lately. Not for a total lack of content, mind you, just nothing had occurred to compel me to break through the daily grind long enough to put pen to paper. Apparently, my inaction had upset the blog gods. And now their wrath was raining down on me with material I couldn’t ignore. I was witnessing, without a doubt, a “blogworthy” event unfolding in my living room. And it would only get better. By better, of course, I mean worse.
Always calm under duress, I began dispensing orders.
Sadie stop screaming rabies and open the front door!
Drew get upstairs and stay on the bed!
Chloe, get to the basement and find an empty laundry basket!
I was going to catch the darn thing or shoo it out the door trying.
“But I’m afraid!” Chloe replied.
Of what!? The basement or the rabid chipmunk!?
She pointed to the basement.
Fine, Sadie go with Chloe to the basement, I barked as I kept an eye on the chipmunk’s little toes sticking out from under the curtain. To think, my kids used to stand in the same spot during hide and seek. For the record, I could see them then, too.
When Chloe emerged from the basement she had the tiniest box she could find.  She clearly didn’t understand my plan. I sent her again for a LAUNDRY BASKET while I kept my eyes on Chip.
She finally came back with a laundry basket, but it happened to be the only one in the house with wide two inch slots on the sides -- clearly not chipmunk impervious. In her defense, it was likely the only empty one in the house.
Forget it, I said. And I took my eyes off the cornered rodent long enough to sprint to the garage and grab my fishing net. When I came back to the living room, where I’d left the Luna and Chip 23 seconds before, the cat was just walking around the big cushy chair that sits a few feet from the curtain.
“Where’s the chipmunk?” I asked, as shrill as I’d ever asked anything of a cat.
Luna just kept pacing around the chair and looking confused.
I looked behind the curtain. Nothing. And the next curtain. Nothing. The corners of the room. Nothing. Under the chair. Nope. The couch. Clear. I kept crawling around the room like a mad man. The cat sat down, looking at me, and then she started licking her underside like there wasn’t a live rodent loose in our living room. Eff-ing cats.
The trail had gone cold. I deduced that there was only three things that could have occurred while I was momentarily out of the room. The first theory, and most hopeful, was that it had run through the living room and out the propped-open front door without the cat noticing. Unlikely, but hopeful. The second, that it had scurried behind any number of pieces of furniture and floor-length curtain and was hiding in this room or another. Or the third, that it had found a way into the underside of the big cushy chair – which has some holes on its underside thanks to Luna’s other bad habits – and had climbed up inside the interior architecture of its oversized framework. I decided that was the most likely.
I promptly carried the chair out the front door, with the help of a reluctant daughter, and set it on its side so that a rodent could climb easily out of one of the underside holes. Then I watched it. And watched it. For some reason I still had my fishing net poised over it, like I had some reason to catch chip outside.
This lasted until it became clear it was about to rain. The raindrops were the real clue. So I carried the chair back inside with the help of a neighbor who’d come over to check on my sanity.
Time passed. The wife came home. I explained the predicament. She laughed and moaned.
We looked online and the good people of the internet told us to leave a door open, because chipmunks often let themselves out. So the front remained opened as we tried to go back to our lives with Chip missing, last seen in our living room.
And that’s when our wonderful, little cat strolled back in the open door carrying yet another chipmunk in her mouth. We’ll call this one Dale.
I could tell right away that Dale was still alive, as I saw his tail unfurl then furl like a paper noisemaker.
Already on alert, the family sprang into action. We all took up positions in the hall and at entrances to various rooms all trying to steer the cat away and herd her out the door. We were cowboys with a loose steer, though many of us looked more like rodeo clowns when the cat and her catch got near.
She tried to dart left to the living room. Blocked. She tried the kitchen and family room. Blocked, herded and harassed. She ran back toward the open front door, yes, and then took a hard right and headed up the stairs.
“Luna! … No!” my wife let out a guttural call.
I sprinted up the stairs behind the cat and corned her in one of the bedrooms.  Dale was still in her mouth, looking at me with its frightened eyes and puffed out cheeks.
I slowly approached the cat, and picked her up gently making certain not to entice her to drop the rodent. I held her carefully in front of me and walked briskly toward the staircase. We made it halfway down the stairs when Dale saw the light of the door and gave a productive shake, falling from the cat’s mouth and landing with an explosion on the fifth stair from the bottom. The chipmunk hadn’t exploded, but the contents of its cheeks had.
Dale was very much alive. And we all watched frozen as he scampered and scurried toward the open door, his rear legs swinging and swerving widely like a drag racer on wet pavement. Then, he was gone.
Two chipmunks came into our house, and one certainly left. All we had to show for it was a pile of nuts.
In other news, if your family’s interested in a cat, I know one that’s free to a good home, has all her shots, and excels at catching mice … and chipmunks.

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