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The keto-avoiding chipmunks of Lake of the Woods

Lake O’ the Woods (I know it’s “of,” I like the “O” sound) had been on my go list since the summer heat bucket poured into our valley. But, swimming through my head, I saw a disturbing vision involving crowds of exuberant, mask-averse humanoids.

OK, we’ve been restricted in our activities to one extent or another for how long now? Five months? It’s 100 degrees in the afternoon, half of us aren’t working, and the kids have learned a new three R’s — Rocket League (or video game of choice), remote-hogging and running parents/grands ragged. Where else would they all be for a much-needed, wholesome escape but the lake?

Lane and I chose a Monday afternoon, thinking it might be less thronged. We could savor a serene lunch on the deck overlooking gorgeous LOW. Mondays are quieter, but there were plenty of frolickers on and in the water, and it was great to hear everyone having fun.

The resort owners at LOW are completely respectful of current guidelines and our health. As we waited for a table inside the lodge, signs read, “No Mask—No Service.” In addition, every picnic table next to the lodge had a sign stating the distancing and masking requirements. Everyone I saw seemed willing to comply without whining. It made life easier on everyone.

We waited an extra 30-40 minutes for an outdoor table, as they’re using half of those normally available. That was fine with us. Once seated, we took a couple of lungsful of clean mountain air and felt rich as we anticipated a glass of wine and maybe a mushroom Swiss burger with sweet potato fries, for instance.

As we studied the menus, several rotund Townsend’s chipmunks surrounded us as if to suggest some favorites of their own. Unlike myself, they were oblivious to the COVID 15 (ounces) they had packed on. These were clearly keto-avoiding members of the family Sciuridea. Yes, really.

Though they did live up to the family name, these specimens, who not only sat poised to take our order, but to take our order away from us, were not scurrying like they were last winter, I’ll bet. I noticed a small bit of lettuce leaf and slice of tomato had fallen from my burger into their territory. I laughed, thinking the little beasties would spurn the vegetables in favor of heartier fare. I looked down in mid-titter to see a grease spot where they had fallen. Our wait person said she didn’t think there was anything they wouldn’t eat. With wild chipmunks, a group at which these perpetual resort lie-abouts thumb their noses, the squirrel cousins are omnivores, eating berries, nuts, seeds, bird eggs and sweet potato fries, I mean, acorns.

I learned that our pant leg visitors had the capacity to stuff comestibles into their cheek pouches to three times the size of their head. Visions of Dizzy Gillespie appeared. They’re rodents. Think of them as large mice with racing stripes. The males are bucks and the females are does, and they’re supposedly solitary creatures. Ours acted more like hammy extroverts, undoubtedly from being hand fed and filmed by visitors.

While we sat, a sweet young couple wearing masks asked if they could come near to snap pictures of the darling little opportunists. Those chipmunks posed, I swear it. One fat boy climbed up on a rock, sat on his haunches, and looked into the lens while uttering, “This is going to cost you, pal.”

I left them winking at the camera and boxed up my leftovers to their disgust.

After lunch, we spread a blanket beneath firs and pines. Lane sketched while I tried to start The Scarlet Letter, again. But I got caught up gazing at fan patterns from evergreen needles forming patterns against a blue sky. Hawthorne would wait.

Lake of the Woods is a model of well-run getaways. You can tell they love what they do, with a motto that reads, “Rekindling the spirit and tradition of the Great Northwest!” Family fun and quiet retreats coexist there.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com. Just don’t start it with, “Dear beloved.”