SaltWire Network


Constantly amazed by the wildlife outside her window in Trenton, Rachel Goodwin Clark has fostered a special relationship with visiting chipmunks. For the past several years she has been photographing them to produce her own all occasion greeting cards and calendars. “I just love them and want other people to see how cute they are,” she said, adding she currently uses an iPhone 12 and does not even know how to use a photoshop program. She expects it will be late April or May before she sees her little striped friends again. “They don’t exactly hibernate, but they go into a torpor state where they will sleep for several days and then wake to eat some of their stashed food and go back to sleep again.” Happy with some of her early photographs, she had a few printed at the UPS store in New Glasgow. “I wasn’t sure what to expect but they do a really good job and people seem to like the cards.” Over the years she has built and collected a wealth of chipmunk-sized photography props which she uses liberally to get all manner of photos of a chubby-cheeked chipmunk shopping online, potting plants and celebrating the changing seasons as well as a year’s worth of holidays. “The best shots, I always think, are when their cheeks are stuffed full of nuts or seeds.” Retired from Aberdeen Hospital where she spent most of her nursing career in the ICU department, Goodwin Clark did not grow up paying any particular attention to wildlife. “I always enjoyed seeing birds or animals and probably paid a bit more attention to them when our daughter was young but it was not a passion for me until I retired. No doubt it has a lot to do with being less busy but I am constantly entertained by looking out my kitchen window.” From that vantage point she can currently count on seeing nuthatches, pileated woodpeckers and squirrels at a variety of feeders. “It was actually a squirrel I first started photographing. I cut a pumpkin in half and put it out to see if any animals would come to feed and that’s when I attracted my first squirrel. When I saw him I’d go out on the front step and try to get a few photos. I had fun with it when I wasn’t freezing to death.” She quickly realized squirrels are not easy to photograph. “They move so quickly, darting or jumping from one spot to another on a grab and go basis. It was challenging to get good photographs of that little squirrel.” Then along came her first chipmunk. “I’ve found chipmunks much easier to tame. They are smaller but much more curious and generally stay on the ground so are easier to capture in a photo. After a little while they’ll come right to me and if I’m in the driveway or yard there are times I have to be careful not to step on one.” While she has tried a variety of seeds, fruits and nuts, her chipmunks have expensive taste. “They are partial to hazelnuts which are quite expensive. Still, they are the treat of choice so I buy them. If I’m outside and rattle the bag the hazelnuts come in, Chippy will pop right over.” As the average lifespan of a chipmunk is two to three years, all her friends are known simply as Chippy. “If you are lucky enough to have a couple around, it can be hard to tell them apart. I’ve had one who had an injury to his foot and another with a little chink out of his ear so I could be confident with them but healthy chipmunks all look quite alike.” When Goodwin Clark wants to get a photo she sets the scene with a backdrop of scrapbook paper and then sets out her props, many of which she builds and paints over the winter. “I also pick up a lot of small items at Value Village. I’ve found that Barbie doll furniture is just about the right size and I’ve also used items from keychains and jewelry. I’m always on the lookout for interesting miniatures.” Some of her favourite props are tiny Meindl figurines created by Nova Scotia potter Elfriede Meindl between the mid 1960s and 2000. “I believe they were very popular at one time and I am always happy to find them.” For one photo she placed a small gnome in one end of a tiny bathtub and filled it with cotton fluff to resemble a bubble bath. Mind you, there were a few nuts tucked strategically inside. “Chippy immediately jumped in and even leaned back against the tub so it looks as if he and the gnome are enjoying a bath together.” Another of her shots shows a chipmunk standing on its hindlegs, appearing to peg laundry onto a clothesline. “I have taken millions of shots of chipmunks through the years. Sometimes you get a great shot right away, but more often it takes a lot of time. I’ve probably gotten a bit fussier through the years, too.” She has also printed photos of Trenton’s Tim Horton and Sobeys East Side to print on her backdrops. In the Trenton photo a tiny chipmunk sits in a car, apparently parked outside, waiting for a coffee. One season a pesky groundhog played havoc with her sets, preventing her from taking photos. “He figured out I was hiding treats and he’d dive in and knock everything over to get the seeds or whatever. I tried shooing him away with a pine bough but he kept coming back for a while.” Goodwin Clark also considers herself privileged to have seen a number of unusual birds on her property. “I saw a Cooper’s Hawk take down a pigeon in my driveway. Two beautiful birds I’ve seen are an indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager. These are not common birds so it was pretty exciting to see them.” She expects people would be constantly surprised if they took the time to slow down and appreciate the nature around them. Goodwin Clark uses Instagram and TikTok to share her images. Her cards and calendars are available at Stirlings Market.