Every year, we go to Portland, Oregon to visit my father and his wife.  Every year, we discover some new and fascinating part of Oregon that makes us think about living there.

For example, I thought hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was the kind of experience that nothing on the mainland could even suggest.  As it turns out, Oregon has Lava Lands National Park.  While you can’t creep out over still crackling hot lava that’s only a couple of weeks old, you certainly can experience walking through a vast stretch of nothing but cooled lava.  Who knew?

The entire area is amazing.  The Three Sisters mountains stand watching over the lava fields, a reminder of where the lava originated from.

But an interesting reality came home to me while we explored the area:  there is something about me that attracts mosquitoes and chipmunks.  To be honest, I discovered the mosquito thing many years ago when I realized that I averaged anywhere from 5 to 10 times as many mosquito bites as the people sitting around me at a campfire.  Anytime I need to feel attractive, I just take a walk in the evening while the mosquitos are buzzing.  But, it wasn’t until we were walking around lava lands that I realized chipmunks seem to follow me wherever I go–especially when I’m carrying a camera.

To be more accurate, these are golden-mantled ground squirrels, but they look like overgrown chipmunks to a mid-westerner.

I have nothing against chipmunks.  They are extremely cute.  I was slightly embarrassed when I tried to identify a bird I kept hearing for about two years until I finally saw a chipmunk making the mysterious chirping I could never identify.  But, I don’t hold it against the chipmunks.

I appreciate their willingness to pose for me when no other wildlife dares to appear.  I particularly enjoy the range of caution these little guys display.  Some seem to be out trying to attract attention while others appear to practice careful camouflage.

They all freeze when they see me swing my lens their way.  I wonder what they think?  I suspect what they think is something like, “I wonder if I sit real still and let that woman take pictures of me if she’ll eventually throw me something to eat?”

The lava fields make for an incredible playground for the ground squirrels.  They have an infinite number of crevices to jump into, tunnels to run through, and rocks to sun on.  If it weren’t for the predators, I imagine there would be a ground squirrel on every rock, every one of them hoping for a hand out.

As it is, they appear and disappear frequently enough to demonstrate that the static field of lava pulses with life.  The rhythm of their movements becomes the heartbeat of a place that might appear dead to the casual observer.  They remind me to stop and look closely.


2 responses to “Squirrel!

  1. What a great story. The little guys are so cute. You are not alone with your positive attraction of mosquitoes. I think my family wants me with them so they can be spared but one of my daughters seems to have inherited whatever it is that attracts the nasty things, too.

    • Isn’t it great fun to be a human insect trap? I am surprised I haven’t had West Nile Virus, but maybe I have and I’ve just built up immunity. 🙂

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