Credit: Ed Dunens

In the past year Santa Barbarians have taken up all kinds of new activities. We bake bread, make wine (or drink wine while reading about baking bread), we fix up our house (or just talk about fixing up our house over a glass of wine), and we can finally enjoy a walk down State Street without worrying about getting hit by a car (though, of course, now we have to worry about getting hit by some stoner named Doug riding his bike erratically across the center line while loudly singing “Don’t Stop Believin’”).

Now, all of these are fun activities (especially for Doug) – but, besides drinking wine, I didn’t really pursue any of them. What I did do was become a Chipmunk Rancher. I’m sharing my experiences now before I forget what I learned because my memory is beginning to fade – I can barely remember which wine I drank last night. Or this afternoon.

Chipmunk Ranching is not for the faint-hearted. Actually, no activity is for the faint-hearted. By its very definition, just about any activity will kill a faint-hearted person. But Chipmunk Ranching is for just about everyone else. You don’t have to be strong, or smart, or even know anything about Chipmunks to be successful at it. Perhaps you can see why I was immediately attracted to this profession.

Starting a Chipmunk Ranch is pretty simple. All you need are Chipmunks – which nature provides in abundance in Santa Barbara – and some land. And you really don’t need that much land because Munks aren’t that big. The small size of a Chipmunk Ranch makes it very Santa Barbara friendly because an average size yard in our town is about as big as a card table with two chairs. If you do happen to have a large yard – like one that can fit four chairs – that’s even better.

The only other thing you need is some food to attract Munks to your ranch. You have probably already noted that professional ranchers call their livestock Munks. You may have also noted that I used the generic term “food” because Munks will eat just about anything. So you don’t have to go to Lazy Acres to get an order of Kung Pow Tofu. At least not for them.

Professional ranchers feed Munks primarily seeds, nuts, and lettuce. Lettuce is healthy for them and you can watch them hold it in their paws and eat the leaf’s edges like ears of corn, row by row. Then a bird’s shadow flashes across the ground and suddenly a dozen munching Munks scatter as fast as voices in the wind, vanishing into bushes and hedges without leaving a whisper. At that moment you will find yourself alone in a silent eerie emptiness unlike anything that you’ve ever experienced. Except for the time you were at the James Joyce after closing, reached for another handful of peanuts, and then looked up and suddenly realized that everyone else in the once-packed bar had gone home.

The day-to-day running of a Chipmunk Ranch is simple and worry-free. For example, breeding Munks is not difficult. They pretty much take care of that themselves. All you need to do is what you do at a Santa Barbara intersection when four cars simultaneously arrive at its four stop signs: just wait.

Branding is out of the question. Because it is true that, if animal-loving Santa Barbarians found out that you had burned a logo onto the skin of a small furry creature, they would rise up, pitchforks and scented candles in hand, and drive you out of town (in a Prius, of course). It is also true that you can’t catch Munks. These stripe-suited creatures twitch their tails, jerk their heads, and jitter and dart around like they are starring in a Japanese anime festival at SBIFF. By the way, many ranchers believe that Munks inspired those classic anime haircuts.

Also, there is no need to tag your little livestock because there are no Munk rustlers. No one will sneak through your non-existent fences and steal your Munks. Consequently, there will be no need for you to form a posse. Unless, of course, you live in Montecito and want to go out to dinner.

There is no herding, wrangling, or round-ups in Chipmunk Ranching. You can try herding Munks, but I’d compare it to attempting to herd all the drunk tourists aimlessly wandering around town on a Saturday night into the Funk Zone, and then asking: To what purpose? And since there is no logical or even illogical answer to that question – don’t bother herding Munks. Or drunks.

As for wrangling – if you really want to stay up all night thinking of ways to train your Munks, let me save you some time: use food. You can train them to stop and eat food. Believe me, I’ve done it.

And why do a round-up? Do you want to try to count your Munks? FYI, that is about as possible as trying to count wine-tasting rooms in Santa Barbara – they appear and disappear so fast you can never get an exact number.

Munks’ main predators are hawks. But hawks prefer pigeons and doves. And if you are crazy enough to put seeds and nuts on the ground for your Munks, then you will also have all the pigeons and doves you’ll ever need to feed the hawks.

You should be aware that Munks communicate with each other by squeaking. You can tell who is talking because they twitch their tails as they speak. Never turn your backs on them when they’re squeaking. No one knows what they are saying.

Do NOT individualize your Munks. You will anthropomorphize them and begin to form attachments to them. So, whatever you do, DO NOT NAME THEM. The mornings when Braveheart doesn’t show up makes me concerned for his safety. I call him Braveheart because he is the first to show up each feeding and comes closest to my feet. I think he trusts me. Rocky – the one who eats the organic romaine I put on the rock – and Smiley – the one who poses for the camera – usually show up at the same time. I think they might be a couple but they could also just be best friends.

At this point you may be asking yourself what financial benefit there is to Chipmunk Ranching. The answer is, once again, very simple: there is none. Thus there is no need to call your accountant, consult with your business manager or meet with your banker for a loan – you’ll never have to worry about making any money being a Chipmunk Rancher. In fact, it’s similar to being a writer – it’s lots of fun just as long as you don’t think you’re ever going to make a living at it. The joy of observing innocent creatures thrive doesn’t have a price tag. Unless they get into your house.

For those who may dismiss the impact of Chipmunks on human culture, I refer you to Eli Grobers’ speculative piece in the New Yorker on 7/29/2021, in which he describes the effect of climate change on the 2876 Olympics as consisting of  humans “sprinting away from giant, radioactive chipmunks.” He then adds apocalyptically, “Who knew that chipmunks would one day rule the world?”

So, for all of you, a word of advice – be kind to our ubiquitous squeaky furry little friends. You never know who’s going to run things. But, frankly, I’m not worried – I’ve got Braveheart on my side.


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