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Rob Jenkins: Could weird animal behavior be a sign of the apocalypse?

I've noticed that the wild things seem to be behaving a bit strangely these days. And no, I'm not talking about politicians. As far as I can tell, they're behaving the same way they've always behaved.

I mean actual wild animals, the four-footed kind, of which metro Atlanta, despite rampant urbanization, still has a full complement and more, especially in our beautiful parks. I've spent a lot of time walking in those parks over the years, so I'm in a pretty good position to compare the way animals are acting now to the way they've acted in the past.

Take chipmunks, for instance. In four decades as a nature lover and outdoorsman, I've never caught more than a quick glimpse of a chipmunk, scurrying with lightning speed from one hiding place to another, cheeks full of nuts. In fact, the only chipmunks I've ever really gotten a good look at are Alvin, Simon, and Theodore.

You might say that chipmunks are kind of like nature's lawyers, rarely seen except when they pop up to grasp at some prize, then swiftly disappearing again into their holes.

Until recently, that is, when I've started seeing them all the time. Chipmunks, I mean, not lawyers, thank goodness. Now they meander across the trail right in front of me, not even hurrying. Occasionally one will stop and squat on its haunches to consider me. That is NOT typical chipmunk behavior.

Sure, squirrels do it all the time. But even squirrels seem to have gotten bolder lately.

It used to be that if you startled one, it would dash off into the branches of some nearby tree. Now they move barely an arm's distance away, then watch me intently until I pass. I get the impression that if I were to lunge at one, instead of fleeing in panic, it might fly at my face.

And then there are deer. One of the great joys of nature-walking is catching an occasional glimpse of a single deer, or better yet a doe with fawns, usually at a distance, perhaps in some sun-dappled glen 20 yards off the trail. Such an encounter used to be something of a prize; many long walks in the woods have yielded not a single sighting.

Now I see them every day, often four or five at a time, sometimes so close to the path that I have to change my trajectory. And they don't move. They just stand there, chomping their foliage, giving me that same appraising look I get from the squirrels.

Could it be that all of this odd animal behavior is somehow an omen? That maybe we're in for long winter? A double-dip recession? The end of the world? A violent election?

I don't know, but there is one thing I'd like to say to my furry friends: If Alvin were on the ballot, he'd probably get my vote.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.