Day 5 – Chipmunks – Esther Fishman

We wake thinking about leaving. These trips
are always too short. Today we have to
pack up. Somehow, all the equipment that
makes it possible to survive up here—tents,
sleeping bags, propane burners, assorted
rope and tarps and boots—have to fit back
into the tiny, rented car so that
we can drive home. As always, we have too
much food, and it’s not worth taking home,
so David dumps little piles
discreetly around the outskirts of our
camp. Even the dog leaves them alone, full
of last night’s leftovers. “Well, someone will
eat it.” He empties out the pot of old
mac and cheese. It sits on the big rock,
looking utterly alien in its
lurid orangeness. “Nothing’s going to eat
that,” comments the mother-in-law. It sits.
We continue cleaning up the camp. An
atmosphere of melancholy sets in.
Suddenly I see the little chipmunks
that inhabit the area running
around on the rock. Maybe they will
become interested in the mac and
cheese. One is drinking water from the pot,
holding on to the rim with prehensile
back paws. Another one grabs a piece of
macaroni with what can only be
described as hands and nibbles it
tentatively. Then, it seems everyone
wants some, because soon there are six or
seven of them, running up to the pile
of mac and cheese, grabbing a piece, and
running off with it stuffed in their cheeks. Quite
a show, and soon we are all watching,
trying not to scare them away by
laughing too loud or moving suddenly.
“How much can those tiny stomachs hold at
one time?” I wonder out loud. “Maybe they
are squirreling it away,” says the
poet husband, who is responsible
for the feast being available in
the first place. That little bit of wordplay
is all that is necessary—-we
begin free-associating a
mythology for these cute little
creatures as they run around, chewing
furiously. Now that they are in
possession of the orange creamy goodness
that is our discarded mac and cheese, we
imagine a new life for them in the
coming winter, a new group of super-
chipmunks who will worship the orange stuff that
came from above. Isn’t that just like us
humans, making story out of just stuff
that happens. We anthropomorphize at
the drop of a hat, spinning
complexity as if it were the stuff
of nature. It’s easy because we will
not be here to find out what really
happens. We can cast ourselves as
beneficent gods, bestowing some kind
of boon when we really have no idea
what goes on underground in rodent dens
when the snow lies thick over this ground and
the wind blows down the mountain. For all we
know, we have killed them all, poisoned them with
food that we, after all, rejected. 

I have published reviews on the web at and My poetry has appeared in various small magazines, most recently Bloodroot Literary Magazine.

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