The Sirenian Chipmunks of Oyster Dome

The Lady Circe replied at last. “Odysseus, I will give you good instructions. First you will reach the Sirens, who bewitch all passersby. If anyone goes near them in ignorance, and listens to their voices, that man will never travel to his home. The Sirens who sit there in their meadow will seduce him with piercing songs.”

Homer, The Odyssey

“Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel!”
Panic flooded over me as I watched Cedar, my 15 month old spaniel careen toward the cliff at the edge of Oyster Dome, the leash that she had ripped from my hand moments before flapping wildly behind her. If she went over, certain destruction awaited on the rocks below. At the very edge a trio of chipmunks danced and chirped excitedly, secure in the knowledge that they were inches from the safety of a deep crevice in the rock.

Several hours earlier Mary, Cedar and I had set out on a day hike to Oyster Dome in the Chuckanut Mountains near Bellingham, Washington. We planned to field test a new harness and saddlebags for Cedar that we intended to use on backpacking trips later that summer. We installed her new gear at the trailhead, anticipating some resistance. After some initial surprise and a “WTF is this?!” look, Cedar was soon into her normal hike mode, romping up and down the trail and off into the brush, oblivious to the added baggage.

The Oyster Dome Trail offers an enjoyable hike of moderate difficulty. The trail climbs, steeply at times, through shady second-growth forests. It crosses several small creeks which offered opportunities for our furry companion to get a drink and a soak. The highlight of the trail is Oyster Dome itself, a rock outcrop with views across Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountains. Beyond the dome, the trail continues, making a loop which passes Lily and Lizard Lakes, a feature that would please my water-loving dog. Just before the switch-backing climb up onto the dome, a short side trail leads to a sizable rock pile at the base of a cliff below the viewpoint. The rocks look like prime habitat for marmots, something that would also be of interest to Cedar, whose day on the trail is always enlivened by encounters with other small animals. On this day however, neither furry heads nor alarm whistles greeted our appearance. We paused for a look up the cliff to our objective and returned to the main trail.

We intended to stop at the dome to eat lunch and enjoy the views. We were aware of the cliff at the edge of the outcrop, having just looked up from its base. I took the precaution of leashing Cedar well before we left the trees. I had not anticipated however, the irresistible lure of the Sirenian Chipmunks of Oyster Dome.

As we walked out onto the dome I heard nothing, a consequence, I am sure, of an excessive accumulation of earwax. Cedar on the other hand, was assailed by a trio of silver-tongued voices singing to her seductively:

Cedar! Come to us! You are well known from many stories!
Glory of the Canines!
Now pause your journey and listen to our voices.
Play with us! Let us give you tummy rubs!
All those who pass this way hear honeyed song, poured from our mouths.
The music brings them joy, and they go on their way laden with bacon-  cheese balls and peanut butter scones!

This last was too much. An instant and she was in their thrall, joyfully launching herself toward her seducers (and the cliff). I was taken completely unprepared. Before I could react, the leash was lost and I could only watch helplessly as the calamity unfolded before me. I stood frozen. I knew that at the last moment the perpetrators would scuttle below the cliff edge and Cedar would hurtle past them and into space, her judgement overcome by the vision of fabulous chipmunks and their promise of an inexhaustible supply of treats. 

Then, when all seemed lost, divine intervention! The flailing leash bounced sideways off of a rock and miraculously wrapped itself around a small tree, stopping Cedar in her tracks a few feet from the edge and averting the disaster. What had occurred was surely the work of the goddess Artemis, the deer-eyed huntress, protector of woodland animals. From her golden throne on Olympus, she had noticed Cedar’s plight, reached out a hand and given the leash the quick flip which had saved my enraptured dog.

The spell was broken, the Sirens discomfited, their honeyed song dissolving into a cacophony of chattering vitriol. Three ordinary chipmunks scattered and vanished into the depths of their lairs, not to appear again. We celebrated Cedar’s rescue with a festive lunch, Cedar remaining securely tethered to the tree which had been her salvation. Her irrepressible good humor restored, she showed no hint that she was aware of how close to disaster she had come. We did not leave however, until she had sufficiently anointed the dome to ensure the future benevolence of her new-found Olympian patron.

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