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Outdoors North

Wind chimes provide accent to natural world

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Journal columnist

“In the good ole summertime.” — Ren Shields

The soft, warm breeze of the afternoon brushes across my face as I lie here on my back with my eyes closed. The sounds around me are accentuated.

The songs of the birds are sounding off sporadically from all directions around me. Even the rather harsh squawks of the blue jays are softened by this gentle, summer wind. Warblers, flycatchers, chickadees and more.

The warmth of the sun relaxes me. I expect I will likely fall asleep here before too long. A patch of dark clouds floats above but doesn’t produce any rain. The pleasant clang from a set of wind chimes hanging from the clothesline post stirs my soul and washes me over in a bath of harmony and peacefulness.

Wind chimes are one of those very simple inventions that bring me so much joy. For a few years now, I’ve been talking about creating a wind chime garden for contemplation, reflection and relaxation.

I think this may be the summer I make that happen.

There’s a nice, shady place out in the backyard, under the shade of some maple trees, where I could see stretching a hammock or sitting a bench to enjoy the sounds of the chimes and the surrounding hardwoods.

I could hang the sets of chimes from various shepherd’s crooks and other hooks. I have several sets I’ve collected over the years. I envision a swirled stone path, in labyrinth-style leading from the yard up a slight incline into the garden.

The sounds of the chimes and the smell of the garden’s blooms would be heaven absolutely. Perhaps some statuary, minimal and understated. None of those grinning garden gnomes holding cans of beer or clad in leather motorcycle jackets.

Wind chimes date back 5,000 years and are often used to scare away ghosts or bad spirits, while at the same time beckoning good ones. In a similar fashion, the chimes were used by some cultures to shoo birds and other animals away from crops, like a scarecrow.

In America, wind chimes became popularized by Japan via China. Egyptians had them as did other cultures. For me, they are such simple devices that produce sound and contentedness way beyond what I might expect.

Simple idea, simple construction, incredible pay-off. Other items that fit this description for me include kaleidoscopes, popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches and compasses.

Speaking of simple, warm summertime days like this remind me of the carefree days of childhood, when summer vacation was a very big and real thing. Days and days and days to do things outside.

Some of the things I recall that were all the rage were Duncan yo-yos, Bazooka bubblegum, which came with a Bazooka Joe comic, and cap guns. When it came to homemade things, you could fasten a playing card in the spokes of your bicycle tires to make a “boss” sound.

You could also build a “chippy trap.” I can’t recall for certain how old I was when this was popular, but for a couple of summers trapping chipmunks with traps we’d make was fantastic fun. It rated up there with running down to the railroad tracks to see the train and wave to the engineer or the aforementioned riding of bikes.

Why would we want to trap a chipmunk?

I think it was just being able to say that we could.

We would use one of the earliest trap styles. It’s a basic deadfall trap that doesn’t kill its prey.

We used an old cardboard box, raised on one end, with a rope tied to the bottom of a stick. When the chipmunk went inside the trap to get the bait, we would be watching from a distance, pull the string, releasing the box to fall over the animal.

There were kids who made much more sophisticated chippy traps, including wooden box-type structures with mesh wire and other features. Invariably, whatever the trap design was, the bait was assuredly torn chunks of white bread.

This was a bait we were familiar with, not only from our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but from its success as a bait in the old-style metal minnow traps.

After the chippies were caught, we’d let them go.

Other things we used to catch when we were kids were frogs, painted turtles and garter snakes. I often brought them home to show my parents. My mom has some story about going into the basement and finding a snake in a container and freaking out.

“You didn’t tell me that was down there.”

We would face captured crayfish off against each other to see if they would battle using their open and closing pincers. Also popular were makeshift treehouses and forts.

I was reminded of all of this over the past few days as we have discovered a family of chipmunks living in a den underneath our patio. They access the den via a hole dug next to the clothesline post, and possibly another hole in our staircase garden.

The chipmunks in our region are of two varieties: eastern and least. The eastern chipmunks have five dark stripes and four light stripes. The least chipmunk’s stripes extend all the way down the back to the base of the tail, whereas the eastern chipmunk’s stripes stop farther up on the back.

The chipmunk pups, which look alike whether males or females, emerged from the den recently. You can tell which ones are the young ones because they are smaller and have a curious habit of just sitting and staring blankly. It makes them appear daft.

These chipmunks have learned, perhaps instinctually, to be good garden pests. They burrow underground and they nibble on parts of plants we’d prefer not be nibbled. Their den is also located not far from the kitchen door where they might seize on an opportunity to make a quick dash for the house.

That would be no fun at all, trying to catch a chipmunk in the house. So, the idea of a chippy trap came up.

I had used a trap to catch and release a chipmunk that had taken up a brief luxury residence in our garage a few weeks ago. I tried leaving the door open hoping it would leave, but that didn’t work.

I used a Havahart 2-door metal trap to capture the chipmunk and move it out of its comfy digs in our garage. I’ve found that sunflower seeds work even better than white bread as chipmunk bait.

Plans have now been set in motion to put a similar plan into action with the chipmunks living near the steel clothesline pole. Once the chipmunks are relocated, we will likely fill the hole with cement so that this situation won’t repeat itself.

The clouds that had rolled overhead earlier brought some friends. The sky is now overcast, but the day is still warm. I moved some of our cactus plants outside for a while so they could get some sunlight and perhaps now, a drink of rainwater.

I am going to head to the garden shed to untangle the remaining sets of windchimes stored there and get them hung up in the backyard. In the days ahead, I will start planning the wind chime garden. There are at least two suitable locations.

I anticipate days of sunshine and warm summer shower. In a wind chime garden, I could lie or sit in the garden and listen to the tapping of rain gently falling, along with the tranquilizing sounds of the wind chime bells sounded by the passage of the wind.

Keeping the bad spirits away, welcoming the good.

Editor’s note: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.

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