Et tu Brutus?
Life Lessons from a Chipmunk
Earlier this year, I made an unexpected friend. While tiny in stature, his personality was off the charts — warm, friendly, eager to make my acquaintance. In this day and age, it’s a joy to have such a positive interaction, especially when meeting for the first time.
This vibrant soul happens to be a chipmunk.
The chipmunks were out in droves that spring day, as is often the case when they stick their little noses out of their cozy dens and determine that it’s warm enough to take a gander and assess the food prospects. They generally scuttle quickly away from any human interaction — frankly interactions with any critters at all. They have every right to be hyper-vigilant, for sadly, they are food fodder for a wide variety of species. So, it was highly unexpected to have a chipmunk march right up to me, stare me in the eye, and lift up to his hind legs as if to introduce himself.
I got as close to his level as I could, which didn’t scare him off, and said hello. I think he said hello back. And in chipmunk-ese, he politely asked for sunflower seeds. At least that is what I think he said. Of course! I replied and offered a handful. He filled his chipmunk cheeks and scampered off to his den. We repeated this activity several times before I moved on to other projects.
I started calling him Brutus. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps it was the size of his personality, his bravery. Perhaps it was because he was missing a part of his tail, suggesting valor and the ability to (almost) avoid his predators. Perhaps it was just a fun-sounding name for a little chipmunk.
And so began our friendship. I introduced Brutus to my husband, who was as smitten as I was. Brutus strategically leveraged the relationship, persuading both of us to offer seeds every time we were outside. He’d march right up and offer his greetings, looking at us expectantly. We’d drop a handful of seeds on the ground and he’d efficiently cart them away to his den for the coming winter.
I imagine a chipmunk’s den as filled to the brim with seeds and other treasures, the result of day after day of non-stop hunting and gathering. I imagine kernels of corn looking like a pile of gold in one room, and shiny black sunflower seeds in another. What I can’t imagine is the chipmunk family looking at one another and saying “don’t you think we have enough?” Given their long days of work, ceasing only when the temperature dips into the freezing range, I sure don’t think so.
We enjoyed Brutus’ company for the entire summer. We met his companion, who was far more wary of humans, and far more aggressive in seeking out food. Lucky that Brutus’ charming personality resulted in bounty, because we regularly chased his pal away from the bird feeders, interrupting his ceaseless focus on emptying them, one mouthful at a time.
Then one day, we realized we hadn’t seen Brutus in a while. We missed this friendly little chipmunk with the shortened tail and wondered what had happened to him. Well aware of the dangers that surround the chipmunk community, we worried that our charming little friend might have been too friendly with the wrong sort.
His partner continued to work like a dog, er chipmunk, to gather food as the days grew shorter. He never ventured near us and, as a result, never capitalized on the sunflower seed arrangement. Where was Brutus, we wondered yet again. Finally, I concocted my own quite positive version of events, deciding that Brutus was a female who was busy down in the den, caring for her last litter before hibernation, in a room next to the gold-colored kernels of corn. We’ll see her next year, I thought to myself.
Et tu Brutus? Why all this love and support for a chipmunk? What interesting lessons might this little animal have for us all? First, smile and say hello when you meet new people — or any people for that matter. I think we all got a little rusty with the people interaction thing during the pandemic. The chances are pretty minimal that we will get Covid if we smile at someone. Second, when making a request, do it with warmth and charm. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, the old saying goes, and that’s true of seeds for chipmunks and all sorts of things for humans. Finally, keep an eye out for all things nature. It’s a fascinating natural world out there and darned if the critters don’t have a lesson or two for us about being our best selves.
As for Brutus, my sincere wish is that he — uh she — scampers out early next spring to say hello in her warm and wonderful chipmunk way. And that she introduces us to her fine furry family.