I hope you enjoy this slideshow we’ve put together of what we consider to be one of America’s most endearing tribes of inhabitants – the Chipmunks of California! And, I hope your imaginiation has been sparked just enough so that you can look at our photos and see within them a family of very small, very valuable people. We who live in the Western United States are uniquely privileged to co-exist with the majority of the world’s Chipmunks. 23 of the planet’s 25 recognized species live with us here in the West.
I’ve found it difficult to get a concrete identification of our local Chipmunks. Even the State Park workers are apparently uncertain as to which varieties live in local parks, but I have managed to narrow it down to two possible species – both the Sonoma Chipmunk and the Yellow Cheeked Chipmunk inhabit Northern California and both not only enjoy various types of forests, but they are also vital authors of the woodlands we westerners so cherish.
Chipmunks create stores of nuts and seeds which are responsible for some of our great groves of redwoods and oaks. They also help spread the spores of various fungi which are part of a symbiotic relationship with forest trees. Ever busy, Chipmunks have worked to create some of the green places that bring greatest refreshment to the human spirit. They deserve our gratitude for this.
I dream of a day in which the human species has evolved sufficiently to be able to communicate with other species of animals. We are so far from this dream of mine at present that many people remain locked in a speciesist state of ignorance, erroneously believing that animals have no language or culture and are therefore inferior to humans. Many people are unaware that dolphins have spoken names for one another and keep porpoises as pets, that honeybees have a visual quantam mechanics-based sign language that directs their tribe and that groups of sloths have individual cultural cuisines that are passed on from one generation to the next. These are a few of the facts that human beings have been able to observe about our fellow species because the behaviors of certain kinds of animals are similar enough to the behaviors of humans that we are able to recognize them. There are other cultural traits that we have not yet been smart enough to understand and very few languages we have been able to decipher, although some words of Chickadee have been decoded in recent times.
When you realize that our world isn’t simply made up of different tribes of humans expressing their cultures, communicating in their languages and worshiping in their various ways, but that it is very likely that all other earthly creatures are doing this as well, your wonder over the diversity and complexity of our environment increases immeasurably. If even the tiny Chipmunks are a great tribe of Earth’s people with a lifeway, a culture and a purpose of their own – and I hope you can see that they are – what an amazing world we inhabit, endlessly interesting, incalculably valuable.
What I Know About The Chipmunk People
- Chipmunks are only a few inches long from nose to the tip of their luxuriant little tail. They would easily fit in the palm of your hand.
- Like many people, chipmunks are omnivorous, eating seeds, nuts, berries, insects, amphibians and birds’ eggs.
- Most Chipmunk couples have 3-7 children at once and within a year, the young ones are ready to go out into the world, having learned all they need to know to work at survival.
- In places inhabited by Chipmunks, you may see them in trees or hiding amongst groundcover plants. They are small enough to fit underneath the Redwood Oxalis. They also like to come to the cleared edges of paths – perhaps for a clear view of their surroundings – but they are quick to dart back under cover if something appears dangerous to them.
- In public parks, the Chipmunk people have become rather used to the Human people, and provided that you have ability to sit quietly without making startling movements, Chipmunks will often be comfortable enough to share a space in the forest for you for a time. At such times, you can have the great pleasure of watching them and trying to communicate your goodwill by acting peacefully in their presence.
- Chipmunks are frequently drawn to campsites for forage. In general, non-devastated habitats provide plenty of natural food for Chipmunks, but if you are going to share your provisions with Chipmunks, please stick with organic seeds, nuts and berries. Do not feed Chipmunks processed foods like crackers and potato chips or any substance that has been genetically modified as this could endanger their health.
- Chipmunks are incredibly agile and can move with astonishing speed – leaping and dashing through the forest. Taking photographs as a celebration of Chipmunks is challenging. Wait until they feel comfortable with your presence. Let them see that you have a camera. If this does not bother them and they remain busy eating or resting, you may be able to take some beautiful photographs that you will cherish and that you can share with others in hopes of increasing public education about the vital roles Chipmunks play in the health of our environment.
Protecting The Rights Of Chipmunks
It is vitally important that we people take all possible steps to preserve forest lands intact. Beyond this, we must demand that our State and Federal Parks departments become educated about the deadly harms done to Chipmunks and other forest dwelling tribes by the use of herbicides and pesticides. Unfortunately, Western forests are frequently sprayed with these substances as an archaic method of combating bugs or weeds. Dousing our forests with poisons in order to be rid of a grass or a moth is like dropping an atomic bomb on our house because we have a dandelion in our lawn or a spider in our kitchen.
Unfortunately, State and Federal Parks departments are improperly educated about the realities of poisoning the environment with pesticides and herbicides and are often, scandalously, in league with the manufacturers of these poisons because of the monetary wealth available for so-called ‘eradication’ programs. Imbalances in our forests, and in all lands, can be made right through natural, organic methods and ancient forms of ecological wisdom that cause harm to no one. It is only in the past century that people have veered from the time-honored paths of healthy and good stewardship. Turning to pesticides and herbicides as answers dishonors the long traditions of humanity of taking exceptional care of the planet we all call home. If you want to save forests for the many tribes that inhabit them, work toward a zero tolerance policy for pesticide/herbicide/fungicide/rodenticide use in your county and state.
Celebrating The Chipmunk People
We have been honored by repeat visits from various kinds of Chipmunks, including the ultimately tiny Alpine Chipmunks (not pictured here). Each time I meet with them, I am astonished by their smallness, their spirit and their skills. Many people pass through forests every day and are never aware that these little people are watching them from amongst clumps of wildflowers or the ridges of fallen tree branches. I sense a genuinely tolerant, amiable good will from the Chipmunk People towards we humans who are able to enter the forest with respect, quiet and an equal measure of good will. What a blessing!