The Chipmunk Mafia

The Chipmunk Mafia

By Dr. Lorin Swinehart


chipmunkOur daughter Hope, an avid backpacker, flew to Colorado with a friend to visit my wife and me while we were serving as rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park several summers ago. On the morning after their hike deep into the mountains, she was preparing breakfast when a lone chipmunk approached and began to innocently nibble on a wildflower.

The furry intruder seemed to be focused upon a nearby zip lock bag of mixed nuts. It is illegal to feed wildlife in national parks, but the squirrels and chipmunks have learned to appeal to the charitable instincts of many well-intentioned humans. Assuming that the tiny visitor was about to beg for a handout, she ignored him, while legions of his friends converged on the campsite from behind in a perfect ambush maneuver. Each time Hope glanced back at the approaching hoard, the original trespasser would begin to trill and act cute in order to focus her attention on him.  His role was to act as decoy while his friends assembled to raid the campsite.

The mass of chipmunks continued to grow as ever more members appeared. Within seconds, Hope found herself surrounded by the beady-eyed interlopers. When her hiking companion returned to the tent to retrieve a forgotten item, leaving her in the midst of the multitude of cute but ravenous rodents, she surrendered to the inevitable, gave the bag of nuts a toss and fled from the field. The chipmunks won the day.

This incident suggests pre-planning, concentration, effective strategy, the successful scheming of tiny brains, and, yes, reason on a level that we humans but dimly comprehend. It often seems that there is much more to the creatures sharing our world than the preponderance of mainstream science would have us believe.

While hiking through the Montana and Alberta wilderness some years ago, I was advised to hang my food supply on a rope ten feet off the ground to protect it from scavenging bears. By the time I signed on as a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, a mere fourteen years later, the bears had figured it out. They had learned to hand-over-hand, or, rather, paw-over-paw, down the food bags and make off with them, and they had instructed generations of cubs in the procedure. Remarkably, bears as far apart as the Rockies and the Appalachians all seem to have acquired this new skill at about the same time.

British biologist Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a professed scientific heretic, accounts for such phenomena by posing that morphogenic fields are transmitted from past members of a species—bears or chipmunks—through morphic resonance to subsequent generations, resulting in collective, instinctive memory. Sheldrake posits that memory is inherent in nature, that many of the laws of nature are in reality habits. In Sheldrake’s view, morphogenetic fields are not static but evolve.

Bears in Montana learn how to bring down hikers’ food bags, and it becomes easier for bears as far away as Canada or North Carolina to do likewise. Perhaps chipmunks everywhere learned from our Colorado specimens how to better invade campsites to steal peanuts from unwary hikers.

Sheldrake argues that all the laws of nature did not spring into existence at the moment of the Big Bang but that they evolve. As nature evolves, so do the laws of nature. Long years of careful research have convinced him that telepathy is real and measurable and that many species are telepathic.  Telepathy is neither paranormal nor metaphysical. Neither do all memories need to be stored inside the brain. The brain, according to Sheldrake, is like a TV receiver. Through intention and attention, morphic fields of mental activity extend beyond the brain, much as magnetic waves extend beyond a magnet or as gravity extends beyond a heavenly body like the earth.

Morphic fields are middle grounds between genes and evolution. Individual organisms inherit collective memories from past members of the species.  “Things are as they are because they were what they were.”

The late Lawrence Anthony’s memoir The Elephant Whisperer attests to the great sensitivity and telepathic powers of wild pachyderms, causing me to remember my husky dog Lexi, who always stood by the front door when I was headed for home, no matter the time of day or night. Sheldrake explores such incidents of telepathy in his book Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home. Humans, too, can be sensitive to morphic fields. Last September, my wife LaVon sensed the presence of two wild wolf packs deep in the forests of northern Minnesota long before their members began to answer our calls.

Sheldrake has his critics among the mainline scientific community, but his research deserves serious consideration. He causes us to question our presuppositions regarding our animal friends and to view life in the universe from a different perspective.

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