Yesterday morning I was taking care of the laundry when I took a look outside to see how the pool looked (I had just done a three-day treatment for algae and was admiring how well it had turned out). I saw a chipmunk at the edge of the pool, reaching down as if to drink and then jerking back to keep from falling in. I kept watching in case he did fall in, when I noticed a second chipmunk in the water, swimming for his life, desperately looking for a way out. His buddy was trying to help him.
So I ran out, grabbed the skimmer, and placed it in the water below the struggling chipmunk and lifted him to the concrete. He (she?) took one short hop out of the skimmer net and then lay there, soaked and shivering and exhausted. His buddy had skittered behind one of the large faux terra cotta flower pots along the back fence. I stayed and watched the rescued chipmunk to be sure he would recover, and because in his depleted condition he was easily cat or hawk bait. He was blinking his eyes and panting heavily — both good signs. As he gathered some strength, he slowly walked into some tallish grass at the edge of the concrete. He then scooted under the pool fence and toward the neighbor’s yard. He was fine.
I walked back toward the pool gate and turned to see the other chipmunk, who had been hiding behind the flower pot, come back to the pool and start darting back and forth, desperately looking for his friend, unaware that he was safely away. So I walked toward him to scare him away, afraid he might end up in the water, thinking that his friend was still in danger.
I went in the house to take care of the laundry. Before going back upstairs to tend to my work, I took another look at the pool, concerned the second chipmunk — not one to abandon a friend in need — might have doubled back. And sure enough, the same scenario was being played out, though I had to believe the two had changed places with the the previously rescued chipmunk running back and forth at the pool’s edge and his would be rescuer paddling furiously in the cold water below.
Again I went and fished the little guy out. He lay on the concrete with his legs stretched out behind him. I was worried that there might be something wrong with them. I stepped back so as not to frighten his friend. The soggy rodent slowly pulled his back legs up under himself. He must have been seconds away from drowning when I got to him. Eventually he sat up, wiped his face a bit, and walked into the tallish grass, where his buddy went to meet him, and together they scurried out of the pool area and under the neighbor’s fence.
I imagined them back in their burrow that evening, regaling the other chipmunks with their near-death exploits and starting to piece together a mythology of the soft white cloud at the end of a great blue stick that descended from the sky and lifted them to safety, to recall all the others who were not so fortunate (I had pulled one out of the pool the weekend before) and to speculate on why their new deity had chosen them for saving.
After relating all this to my family over dinner that evening, I went back out to test the pool chemicals. And there was another chipmunk, paddling away, his head barely above water.
“Really?” I said to myself as I lifted this one to dry land. He seemed smaller than the others. He was alone. When I set the skimmer down, he just lay inside it, resting his head on the net frame. I went in to get my family so they could see the latest victim for themselves. He barely moved. I wondered if he’d swallowed too much water or had hypothermia or was having a heart attack. His head shook when he tried to move it. I could see him blinking his eyes, but he would not leave. So I picked up the skimmer and gingerly placed the net atop the tallish grass at the edge of the concrete. He eventually pulled himself out.
I imagined he was part of the same burrow, that he would crawl back to add his harrowing story to the growing chipmunk mythology, and I wondered if they would continue this foolish behavior, believing the soft white cloud at the end of the great blue stick would always save them, or if they would wise up and just stay the hell away from the big pond with the steep, slippery banks.