Musings + Essays

Chipmunks + Semiotics.

By: Jen Shoop

Last week, my three-year-old son returned from the library with a series of board books on emotions — what it means to be happy, what it means to be angry, what it means to be scared. His face contorted into a scowl, then softened into a smile, as he mirrored the imagery of their pages. It was like metal reflecting the sun.

Over dinner one night, we talked about the books.

“What does it mean to be angry?” we prodded.

His eyes, so often these days squinting with mischief or humor or a kind of sardonic “told-ya-so,” widened into enormous dew drops.

“Like chipmunks,” he said, seriously.

“Chipmunks?” We exchanged glances over his head. Had he seen fighting chipmunks in a movie? Were chipmunks illustrated in the book, perhaps?

“Like Dada and chipmunks,” he insisted, the absolute picture of hushed solemnity. The reference clicked into place like a screen in a viewfinder. We burst into laughter. For a year now, Mr. Magpie has lived close to the earth. He has tended to not only herbs and vegetables but fruiting trees, dozens of varieties of flowers, boxwoods, and more. I have watched him learn how to deadhead roses. I have listened to him complain about invasive weeds to the neighbors, then spend time plucking them from the roots up. I have overheard him comparing varieties of lettuce with his father. And persistently, I have heard him swear at the chipmunks, whose population has multiplied in these parts of Maryland with such velocity over the past six months, that we have scarcely enjoyed any of our summer crops. It has gotten so bad that Mr. Magpie has talked about not planting anything at all next year. We have barely enjoyed a tomato and a few fistfuls of berries these past few weeks. They seem not to mess with the cucumbers, and so we have been headily indulging in those, but — all of the tender coaxing and patience and fretting-over-the-frost that has gone into Mr. Magpie’s gardening this year seems like a colossal waste.

So, yes —

Chipmunks and anger are now fused as one in this household. A part of our familial lingua franca, a symbol with no referent outside of our home — one that would not have existed in New York City, and possibly not in Maryland before the onset of this overpopulation. All at once, I felt profoundly rooted to my place, to this season, to the three emotive human beings sitting around the long wooden table in our dining room. It seemed to me that all of us were bound together in a kind of signific circumscription.

One day, I thought to myself, I will remind my son of the way in which the soil beneath my husband’s hands rippled into meaning.

Post Scripts.

+More on my husband and gardening.

+Realizations while watching the birds in our backyard.

+The salt from his hand.

Shopping Break.


+Totally drooling over this boxy bag for fall. Also comes in beautiful solid leather colors that are even more seasonless. Found it for less on Farfetch, and kind of digging this blue-gray color too?!

+Chic tissue box cover.

+This pleated skirt is another fab H&M find. (More here!)

+Chic striped shirtdress for under $50 – reminds me of a style from Frank and Eileen that is like 7x its price!

+Love this collared short sleeved sweater!

+This raffia side table delivers major Serena and Lily Vibes for $130. Same with this $100 woven storage ottoman!

+This Kay Unger dress is very Audrey Hepburn meets SJP. J’adore! Has a Barbiecore element to it, too. LOVE.

+Just ordered these inexpensive but fun return labels to put on bills, cards, etc — I’m tired of writing out our address and now I know we’ll be here for a long time to come! Also love these.

+OOO this quilted denim jacket!

+Fun little dress.

+OK, just shared a bunch of cute kids’ outerwear picks last Friday, and then J. Crew launched these tiny unisex peacoats! TOO cute on a little one!

+Love this ribbon trim on this cardigan.

+How fun are these artist-inspired craft kits for little hands?

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4 thoughts on “Chipmunks + Semiotics.

  1. Those return labels! What great illustrations the Etsy shop offers. Ordered the coconut palm ones, which feels so appropriate and representative for my new life living in the South.

    1. Aren’t they great? I was so happy to find them, too — just a little more interesting than your run of the mill straight-print styles, but still reasonably priced.


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