I enjoy feeding a colorful flock of birds in my garden. On the ground, I put out black-oiled sunflower seeds, crushed peanuts and acorns, shelled pecans, wild-bird seed, and cut grapes and apples. Some birds respond for their daily feeding when I call out the names I’ve given them.
From my kitchen windows, I watch cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, sparrows, crows, robins, starlings, an occasional woodpecker and ubiquitous squirrels. The scene is mesmerizing and calming.
About three years ago, I noticed a newcomer to this festive display. It was a baby chipmunk, apparently on its own. Over that summer, I watched it grow. The brown, beige and black stripes on its back darkened.
The next summer, the chipmunk was back, and I wondered whether it would trust me to feed it by hand or let me pet it. I named it Chip.
I decided to employ the tactics I use to persuade feral cats to come close for food: patience, a soft voice, slow motions and repetition.
Before Chip would approach, I’d put down its favorite food, sunflower seeds, crouch down and keep very still. I’d leave my open hand in place, unmoving, so the animal would know I wouldn’t grab it. I continued doing this for a few weeks.
Finally, late in that second summer, Chip did show more trust. One day as I offered a seed in my fingertips, it approached and carefully took the seed into its mouth. He never bit my fingers.
I was elated that Chip and I had made a breakthrough of trust.
After about two months of this routine, I went further. With my index finger, I stroked its back once. I’m not even sure Chip felt it, but it didn’t flinch. I then stroked with two fingers. Again, Chip stayed put, eating seeds, before scurrying into the brush.
Today, the chipmunk comes out of hiding when I call its name, and lets me pet its soft, silky body.
A friend once mentioned that after she adopted a dog, she noticed that her elevated blood pressure had approached normal without medication, she became calmer and could handle stress better. I think I, too, feel calmer from my interactions with Chip.
I’ve also developed a greater respect for nature and its creatures and the opportunity to observe, protect and save wildlife. Most of all, I am amazed by the capacity of a tiny chipmunk to meet me halfway in trust.
When winter arrives, Chip will go into hibernation, but I’ll savor the wonderful memories gathered during these glorious summer months in my Long Island garden.
Celeste Targum lives in Albertson.