I was relaxing out in the hammock the other day (with my eyes open) and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. At the side of the patio, a chipmunk was doing something with a big pecan, sort of rolling it along. The nut was almost too big for him to get the whole thing in his mouth, although he was trying hard. He’d get it situated just right, make about three hops toward his burrow, and the pecan would pop out, sometimes at right angles to where he was headed. It was an entertaining few minutes, until he finally got the nut to the edge of the hole, where he rolled it in and followed it out of sight. Only a moment later, he popped out of the burrow like a cork, and took off for the pecan tree behind the Store, our guesthouse. I guess he was headed to get another. I thought about walking around to the pecan in the front yard, which has smaller nuts, but then thought, what the heck, he probably enjoyed the challenge. Sort of like hunting for a big buck.
After he left, I tried to recall when I saw my first chipmunk here at Brownspur. We didn’t have them in the Delta when I was a kid, though I had seen them when I visited Jackson, and saw many when I was courting Betsy, who was from Lexington, in the hills.
I had it: Adam was about eight, and we were rabbit hunting along the Mammy Grudge, almost to the old Cemetery, when the beagles struck and turned back toward us. We stopped at the top of the ditchbank, watching for the canecutter to come our way, when the boy punched me and pointed. “What’s that, Daddy?” he asked.
A hackberry tree was growing out of the side of the bank below us, and the first crotch was at our eye level. In that crotch were two chipmunks, obviously watching us and for the approaching beagles with some trepidation. That was in the late seventies, and those were the first chipmunks I had ever seen in the Delta. Why did they come here then?
Big Robert was killed in a wreck in 1983, and he never saw a fire ant mound on Brownspur. Later that fall, I was watching for squirrels in a pignut thicket by the north newground, and noticed a mound at the edge of the grass. I kicked it, and just about then a squirrel barked, so I froze, looking for it. Before I got to a shooting position, my leg was on fire! That was my first introduction to fire ants, and 25 years later, they’re all over!
My father also never saw a coyote east of the River, though we had seen both coyotes and wolves on the islands for years. Now, it’s not uncommon to hear three packs on a clear night in the fall, and we can’t keep yard cats, nor let beagles run loose. Back then, we had a real problem with wild dogs, and had to kill over 100 of them after B.C. was mauled by a pack. After we thinned out the wild dogs, was when we began to see a few coyotes, or even an obvious dog-coyote cross (some of those were awful-looking!). Maybe the wild dogs kept the coyote population in check. Nowadays, we hardly ever see wild dogs, so I reckon the coyotes kill them off, now that they outnumber them.
When I was a kid, we used to go over to the Island in the River, and ride around shooting armadillos. The King of the Island ran horses and cattle, and claimed that the livestock would break legs stepping in armadillo holes, so he encouraged their extinction. Not to be. Now the “Armored Possums” are across the Mighty Muddy, and Betsy regularly fights them for digging up her flower beds. Yet I never saw one east of the River until I was grown, and now they have replaced possums as the Number One Roadkill.
Catfish pond farming has engendered the appearance and proliferation of many aquatic species, especially birds. I never saw a kingfisher until I was grown, except when fishing in the coastal marshes of Mississippi and Louisiana. Now one comes by the Swimming Hole on a regular basis. A hurricane blew a bunch of seagulls this far north 15 or 20 years ago, and they have stayed, though I don’t know the correct term for a seagull this far away from the sea. Cormorants were at one time classed as an endangered species, I understand, but now they are pests for catfish farmers, literally eating up profits.
Nutria migrated up the streams from the coast, and now you can hear the mewing of those big water rats any night in the Mammy Grudge or the swamp woods. I had seen alligators here at Brownspur when I was young, and while they still aren’t common, we see them, or their trails in the swamp, now and then. I’ve heard they were released here in the Delta to try to keep down the beaver population, after the same folks released beavers back into this country in the fifties.
Times change, people change, and the wildlife changes.
Wonder if chipmunks are good to eat? Especially if you fatten them up on pecans!