Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 13, 2013

Autumn amazing in southern W.Va. — despite the evil chipmunks

— — Brilliant reds. Bright oranges. Amazing hues of rust and chestnut. The 64-color Crayola pack has nothing on fall foliage in the two Virginias.

I walk the dogs on a recent afternoon and become stunned by Mother Nature’s display. The trees are ablaze in a fiery burst of color. Closing my eyes, the sound of leaf litter underneath our feet is a lyrical tune signaling fall’s arrival. And the smell ... well, it’s one part woodland, two parts autumn with a smidgen of wild, wonderful West Virginia thrown in for good measure.

It is more than a scene, it’s a feeling.

It’s warm biscuits and gravy on a cool Sunday morning, and a Saturday afternoon spent munching chinquapins — or “chinkypens,” as locals know them.

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West Virginia is so much more than a place. It’s an atmosphere. It’s the overwhelming sense of nature’s wonder when one drives Route 460 from Bluefield to Princeton and sees fall’s glorious display in the woodlands flanking the road. Residents of metro areas would pay big bucks for a view like this. We get it for free.

On Route 52 the seasonal display is evident in the hills and valleys. Topping over a curvy, mountain road, it’s hard to keep eyes on asphalt when the scenery is so spectacular.

And for those who meander up Route 20, the vistas are incredible. One often hears the words “postcard perfect” but rarely sees it. During this time of year it’s on display on the drive from Princeton to Hinton.

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The seasonal display of color and abundance of wildlife make autumn a special time in Four Seasons Country. Deer graze brazenly in backyards, while wild turkeys flock beneath the darkening hues of chestnut trees.

On a recent weekday evening, I spy no less than a half dozen chipmunks scurrying about my driveway and yard as I arrive home at dusk. They are busy gathering nuts and other goodies. I eye them with suspicion.

I have issues with chipmunks. My problem with the woodland critter stems from a dramatic incident some 20 years ago that left me with a maimed finger and a distrust of Chip and Dale, and all their furry friends.

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I was in my early 20s and leaving my house for an afternoon outing. Headed toward my car, I saw my beautiful cat, Jubiles, skulking in the yard.

Much to my surprise, sweet “Jubbies” had become a predator. She had attacked a chipmunk that was now limping, though still running around in frenzied circles. Quickly, I shooed Jubiles away.

Crouching down on the lawn, I began thinking of where I could take the ground squirrel for emergency medical care.

As I pondered this thought the most amazing thing happened. The chipmunk jumped into my hand that was resting on the grass.

“Awwww. Poor thing,” I said, raising my hand up to look the chipmunk in the eye. It should have been a magical Disney moment. Instead, the chipmunk promptly bit down on my hand, driving its tooth deeply beneath fingernail and flesh on my index finger.

The “Awwww” quickly turned to a screaming “Arrrgghh!” I attempted to drop the chipmunk to the ground but he would not let go.

I imagine the next few minutes were quite the sight: Me shaking my hand frantically as I attempted to dislodge a crazed chipmunk attached to my finger.

Ten minutes later I was back in the house holding paper towels to my bloodied hand and attempting to explain the incident to my mother.

By end of day — after a tetanus shot and thorough sterilization courtesy of our small-town doctor — I had a new distrusting view of seemingly cute forest creatures.

That evening, my dad — unaware of the day’s events — arrived home and strolled into the kitchen. “Just saw the damnedest thing,” he said, eyeing me and my freshly bandaged finger quizzically. “Did you all know there’s an injured chipmunk limping around the garage?”

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Despite my wariness of evil chipmunks, I still appreciate the splendor of autumn and the breathtaking scenic views that abound in Appalachia during mid October.

From Pinnacle Rock to Pipestem State Park, it’s the best time to explore our wondrous region and fully appreciate the hills and valleys covered with deciduous forests awash in color.

But one word of advice: Steer clear of the cute, Disney-esque woodland habitants.

They do bite.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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