All summer long the chipmunks dart in and out of the crawlspace through little tunnels they’ve dug under the foundation on every side of my house. Open either door, and a chipmunk will flee, disappearing into a potted plant, up a tree trunk, under the front stoop where they have fashioned their bunkers. Solitary creatures except during mating season, they ignore their own kind, each keeping to its private doorway into the dark unless a predator looms. They are live in neighborhoods where everyone checks the mailbox from the car and then drives straight into the garage, never a friendly word.
In and out all summer long, the chipmunks dash in and out, rarely straying more than a few feet from the safety of a tunnel. There must be yards and yards of tunnels under my house by now, yards and yards and yards of tunnels, with little dens tucked off to the side where the chipmunks deliver their babies in springtime, where they store their acorns in autumn, where they will sleep all winter long.
But they have not yet gone to sleep—deep into October, the temperatures this year remain stubbornly stuck in summer—and my husband has become unnerved by the frantic bustle of chipmunks preparing for winter. “Look at that,” he says, watching them dive for cover when he steps outside. “I really think we need to take them out to the park.”
“It’s too late,” I say. “They won’t have time to get ready for cold weather.”
“It’s ninety degrees out here,” he says.
He sets a Havahart trap outside one of the tunnels, baits it with peanut butter and birdseed, and heads off to the Y. Before he’s even out of the neighborhood, there’s a chipmunk in the cage, digging at the wire with its powerful rodent teeth. “Come back,” I text my husband. “You caught one.”
But he doesn’t come back. Ten minutes pass. Half an hour. Frantically trying to chew itself to safety, the chipmunk is rubbing its little gray chipmunk lips raw.
An hour later my husband regards the empty trap. “Where’s the chipmunk?” he says.
“I let it go,” I say.
Fortunately the kind of man inclined to set a Havahart trap in the first place is also the kind of man who greets with equanimity the news that his wife has set a chipmunk free before it begins to destroy its own body parts, the kind of man who understands that a sunny and suddenly unencumbered Sunday afternoon is a gift.
I think of the little nests the chipmunks have made under our house, the chewed bits of leaves cradling blind babies with translucent skin and only the lightest down for fur. I see them though I’ve never seen them. My own nest is emptying, emptying, emptying, and so I worry about the chipmunks. I want the hawks to stay safely in the trees. I want my neighbors to drive carefully in the road the chipmunks keep scooting across for reasons I can’t yet guess. I want the rat snake that lives in the brush pile to be too fat for the tunnels they have made. I want my house to shelter them.