So, I promised a blog about my experience as a chipmunk curator. Here ya go...
Our backyard in Atlanta was home to a couple of chipmunks. They dug chipmunk-sized holes all over the place, and I, in my feverish quest to capture the little blighters, made the holes even worse by trying to dig them out. The holes became so big and so deep, that our Yorkshire terriers, Trinket and Ber Bear*, would fall into them, and they were either too small, or too stupid to get out. Too stupid, I should think; the breed has never struck me as being particularly intelligent. The first time one of the dogs fell down a chipmunk hole --- Trinket, I believe it was --- my mother panicked, convinced a hawk had taken her, and it wasn't until my father started calling Trinket's name that he got an answering bark from somewhere near the gates of Hell. After that, when a dog or dogs went missing, we searched the holes before blaming the local birds of prey.
Once I realized that digging to China wasn't going to snag me some new pets, I constructed a trap made out of a plastic washtub, a forked stick, a long length of twine, and a blob of what I considered to be the epitome of rodential delicacies: dog food and bologna, which are pretty much the same thing. The tub was propped up in the "Y" of the stick, with the twine tied around it, and waiting impatiently at the other end of the twine was me. The few times one of the chipmunks would get within smelling distance of my contraption, it would glance back at the house with a look that clearly said, "You think I'm gonna fall for this crap?"
One afternoon, I was met with success: one of the animals edged its way warily under the tub, sniffing at the revolting blob of food, and BANG! down came the tub, with the little sucker neatly trapped underneath**. Flushed with success, feeling like Marlin Perkins from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, I ran out to the overturned tub. But how to get Alvin (duh!) out from under the tub and into his cage? My 8-year-old thought processes had not taken me that far. While I contemplated this conundrum, Alvin was banging around like a deranged pinball inside the tub, wild to get away from either 1) the human girl who was probably, at that very moment, plotting some weird Satanic ritual involving his head and liver, or 2) the aroma of the dog food/bologna mix that had gone over from too long in the sun. Or both. Every collision with the tub moved the thing an inch or two; it was only lightweight plastic, afterall, and even a little chipmunk, especially one fueled on terror and adrenaline, had the strength to move it. As I scratched my head and tried to think of a way to safely transfer my new pet to his cage without contracting rabies, Alvin, to my chagrin, managed to maneuver the tub over one of the many holes that dotted our backyard, and FLOOP! he was gone, down into the dark recesses to safety. If only I had placed something heavy on the tub to keep it from moving; if only the yard didn't have so many holes. If, if, if. Score: chipmunk - 1, human girl - 0.
After this fiasco, my parents took pity on me and bought me a Havahart trap for my birthday. How many little girls can truthfully claim to be the recipient of a live animal trap for their birthday? The one pictured above looks very much like the one I had. You placed the bait on the small metal plate in the middle, rigged opened the doors, and set it outside. The unsuspecting animal would enter, and as soon as it put any weight on the plate the doors would crash down and trap the critter. I was thrilled with this present, and with my father's help, immediately booby-trapped it and set it out in the front yard just before nightfall. I can't remember why we elected to set the trap in the front yard, when it was the backyard that was slowly becoming one big sinkhole, but that's what we did. Maybe because it was a test run. Or maybe because my mother didn't want to add more trauma to the dogs' already fragile psyches.
Anyway, as the story goes, my parents awoke in the wee hours to an ungodly screeching coming from the front yard, and it must have been loud considering their bedroom was in the back of the house. (Mine was in the front, but being mostly stone deaf, I didn't hear it.) It turns out I had caught my first Havahart victim: the neighbor's cat. In quick succession, I also caught a squirrel and a crow. The squirrel, I vividly remember, had gone totally nucking futs from spending the night within the small confines of the trap. Until that moment, I never realized something as small and skittish and prone to car accidents as a squirrel could look and behave like a honey badger. This one, for sure, didn't give a s*** if it gnawed our faces off, if that was what it would take to escape to freedom. Daddy parked me at what he judged to be a safe distance away from the snarling grey dervish, put on some heavy gloves, and gingerly opened one of the doors, pointing it away from anything remotely human. The squirrel bolted for the trees, but not before I was sure it was going to turn and attack my father, and then me, leaving us both in bloody little pieces. Ever since, I have been extremely respectful of squirrels; they have a very dark side.
Eventually, the trap was reassigned to the backyard and in a matter of days, I became the proud owner of two chipmunks: Alvin and Emily. I have no clue what their real genders were; they could have been Alvin and Emilio, for all I knew, although a Mexican of any species in the 1960's deep south was a rarity. In fact, my grade school Spanish was taught by Senorita Rothstein, who later married and became Senora Zablonsky. Her lessons were often sprinkled with Yiddish, and those of us who weren't raised on matzoh and latkes, which was about half of the class, would get confused. Like the time Bobby Barr blurted out "Mazel Tov!" instead of felicidades. Senora called us her bubbelehs, was easily farklempt, and said oy vey! on days when we were being particularly dummkopf, which was most of the time. The upside to this weird bilingualism was that I knew what schlemiel and schlemazel meant when Laverne and Shirley hopscotched their way onto the boob tube.*** It wasn't until we moved to Texas, that I was taught Spanish by actual native Spanish speakers with actual Spanish surnames.
But I digress.
My new pets were installed in a wire cage placed on top of a TV tray that, in turn, was placed next to my bed. The cage had a water bottle, food bowls, and an exercise wheel. Later, we added a small wood house that was supposed to be for the both of them, but Emily had other ideas, and turned it into her personal clubhouse. Poor Alvin; he would sneak in when she was busy gorging on trail mix, only to be chased out a few minutes later. I felt so sorry for him, I convinced my dad to build another and stacked the two, one on top of the other, like a kind of rodent condo. They each had their own bungalows, and it was apparent there weren't going to be any babies, even to me, who didn't know diddly about such things at the time.
*Ber Bear's name came from Br'er Bear, a character from the Uncle Remus stories; this WAS Atlanta.
**I have since learned that this kind of trap is called a drop trap. They are used in TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs on feral cat colonies. They are manually-operated traps, requiring a human at the other end to yank on the cord. Obviously, I was waaaaaay ahead of my time.
***Some other Yiddish words I remember: schmuck, dreck, spiel, goy, nebbish, shmooz, shmeer, plotz, maven, mensch, kvetch, gelt, meshugge, chutzpah, nudnik, shlep, schmaltz, shnoz, klutz, and schlock. It really is a fun language!
Havahart trap: http://www.biconet.com/traps/xlLive.html
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