On Chipmunks and Aging

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How do you measure the aging process? Several methods are well known. Hardening of the arteries, gray hair, memory loss and of course: The Ability To Chase Chipmunks!

YOUTH: Coco, our three legged All American Breed dog, (a little bit of everything), is off! Out the front door, across the driveway, onto the lawn–––in hot pursuit of that cute little brown and white chipmunk. Day after day, summer after summer, Coco chases the chipmunk until they arrive at the swamp where the chipmunk disappears under a pile of leaves and Coco takes a dip in the water, then comes home bearing the fragrance of the swamp.

This was an exercise in futility and I often wondered what would happen if Coco ever actually caught the chipmunk. Incidentally, it was probably a different chipmunk every day but Coco never knew. I also wonder, did Coco really want to catch the little creature or was the pursuit sufficient? After all, it’s not whether we win or lose but how we play the game.

MIDDLE YEARS: Time has passed. Tufts of white hair frame Coco’s nose, a beautiful contrast to her deep brown fur. Coco discovers the next generation of the original chipmunk family. This descendant scurries among the bushes alongside our house, thus dramatically shortening the distance necessary for Coco to run. With only three legs Coco has to conserve energy. The bushes are a perfect habitat for Coco. No longer a sprinter, she stretches out in the shade of the Juniper after giving up the chase.

The smell of Juniper wafting through the house is certainly preferable to the smell of Coco bathed in swamp waters.

70 YEARS OLD IN HUMAN TERMS: We never mention age in Coco’s presence but she has become elderly. Too old to chase chipmunks? Actually she is wiser with age which happens to many of us until we no longer remember how old we are. Now, mellow, Coco has discovered a drain pipe near where I write. The pipe also happens to be home to a chipmunk. Third generation chipmunk. Coco patrols the drain pipe and when the chipmunk finishes devouring bird seed from my terrace and heads for the pipe to sleep off the gourmet meal, Coco is ready to pounce. Unfortunately, Coco just misses the chipmunk and the spunky chipmunk stands briefly on her back legs as if to mock Coco. Then the chipmunk disappears down the drainpipe.

91 YEARS OLD IN HUMAN TERMS: Arthritic. Usually sleeping, Coco lies down in front of the drainpipe and the cheeky chipmunk crawls over her back before disappearing into its refuge. Coco doesn’t move. Coco doesn’t even seem to care. The game is over. Coco is content. (They say humans are happiest when they are older. That may also be true of dogs. I don’t know about chipmunks!) Now, Coco, with both eyes closed, dreams—Pleasant dreams about days in the swamp, lying under a Juniper, a drain pipe. For Coco, the chipmunk was so near and yet so far. The time has arrived to give up life’s chase and ruminate on what was. No more running after elusive goals.

Yes, Coco is old, her age measured not by a doctor but by a chipmunk. Old and dreaming, but as long as we have dreams we are really never too old. What was in the past lives on in the present.

So keep dreaming, dear readers, and if you wish to avoid doctors’ bills, get a chipmunk. Coco can tell you where.

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