This above all, from thine own porch be true

There’s never just one chipmunk, of course. 

You know there are families of them, right? Or tribes, or whatever you call them. Flocks of chipmunks. Hordes. Oh, wait: Google says they’re a “scurry.” Well, this should have been obvious.

But how often do you actually see a scurry of chipmunks? I can’t recall ever seeing more than one at a time. 

I’ve seen one chipmunk sitting on the rock wall in the backyard garden, chewing on a seed. 

Or a lone chipmunk flitting about in the summer grass, looking for a seed to chew. 

A single chipmunk poised on a step at the back door, as if he’s posing for an Instagram pic, or he somehow hears a seed, somewhere in the distance, that needs chewing.

I figure they only let one chipmunk out at a time; he scouts the territory, chews a seed or two, and goes back to report to the rest of the family, tribe, flock, or horde.

Meanwhile, our cats love to sit on the screen porch and watch Chipmunk TV. Or maybe it’s torture for them. I can’t tell which.

They line up with their noses pressed to the screen, watching the chipmunk-seed-chewing, the chipmunk-flitting, even the chipmunk-posing, and their feline nervous systems quiver with frustration.

To a cat, there is nothing more delicious than the idea of coming back from a hunt with fresh chipmunk. I’ll have mine rare, please. 

Of course, with our exclusively indoor cats, this idea is total fantasy. Which may make it all the more delicious, I don’t know; I’m not a cat. I’m the cruel cat-owner who won’t let them off the screen porch to decimate the chipmunk population.

This summer, Chipmunk TV has been more or less continuous. There’s always a chipmunk out there offering entertainment, a card-carrying SAG-AFTRA-member chipmunk with obvious theatrical experience. Always doing a solo gig, of course, which for any performer is the best kind of gig there is. Usually on the rough-hewn stone steps leading up to our screen porch. “All the world’s a stage, / And all the chipmunks merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one chipmunk in his time plays many parts.” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Rodent Version.)

So I realize, yes, what happened to me this week was silly.

I’m sitting on the screen porch, laptop on my lap, cats sitting in position, waiting for the next episode of Chipmunk TV. I hear the postal carrier pull up out front, I put down the laptop, stand up, and head toward the stone steps, through the porch door. The cats watch in surly silence; they clearly resent me for always shooing them away from the door and going out alone.

But the porch door isn’t quiet. It squeaks, or screeches — I’m not sure what to call it — it makes a freaky sound every time I open it.

And what I couldn’t know was that a scurry of chipmunks — an entire tribe, a huge flock, our entire massive horde of backyard chipmunks — take their breaks between scenes in a cozy secret place under the stone steps.

So as I plunge out onto the stone steps, the shrieking of the porch door sends the entire chipmunk population exploding into the backyard. It’s way more than scurrying. It’s like fireworks, but furry.

And I’m so startled — a mass of tiny creatures zigzagging like electricity under my feet — that I lose my balance and tumble, sprawling into the grass.

The chipmunks vanish instantaneously.

But before I can recover, another backyard population perks up.

“To bite, or not to bite?” asks the leader of the ticks rhetorically. “No question.”

As I scramble to pick myself up, flicking away the parasitic little arachnids as fast as I can, I can’t help but overhear the cats’ cynical review of the show.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” one sneers. (King Henry IV, Act III, Scene I, Feline Version.)


Doug Brendel lives in the jungles of outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at DougBrendel.com.

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