When she returned a few minutes later, she noticed that she already had a customer. Not a squirrel, but a chipmunk. And he had quite an appetite.
“He’d taken a seat like a little person and had gobbled up all the nuts,” recalled Hansberger, 49. “So I decided to leave out some more the next morning, and after that, he kept coming back.”
Hansberger named the chipmunk Thelonious Munk, after the late jazz artist Thelonious Monk. Then she decided to open a fun-size restaurant for him on her porch, since her own dining-out experiences had been put on hold because of the pandemic.
“I was really missing going to restaurants, and because I enjoy tinkering in the kitchen, I started making little meals for him,” Hansberger said. “I cut up an old bandanna I’d been using as a face mask and made it into a tiny tablecloth, and I made him some dishes out of bottle caps.”
From there, she said, things got a little nutty.
“I started digging through my kids’ old toy boxes like a crazy person,” said Hansberger, whose two sons are now in college. “I found a little medieval gold goblet and put it out, and Thelonious immediately stuffed it in his cheeks and stole it.”
Hansberger discovered that, just four feet from her front porch, her regular customer had a small den filled with nuts, grains and a few bottle tops. Chipmunks are foragers, and one chipmunk can gather up to 165 acorns in a day, according to National Geographic Kids. Her picnic table apparently became his favorite place to forage.
And he didn’t mind dining at a table for one. Chipmunks generally are loners and keep to themselves except in mating season.
She was so charmed by his antics that she decided to turn every day into a spectacular dining experience for Thelonious and document it on her Instagram page.
Then, in mid-October, she wrote about Thelonius Munk for Bon Appétit. The story — and her Instagram photos — got rave reviews.
Although squirrel picnic tables were somewhat of a pandemic fad on social media in the spring, Hansberger said she happily took the epicurean experience for the rodent to new heights.
“These quiet little moments of making tiny food in my kitchen and putting it on a table for him became a calm and meditative thing to do,” she said. “It became a time of clarity and peace for me every morning, and it was fun to experiment and find meals that Thelonious would like.”
She was careful to put out bitty portions as not to overfeed him, and Google searches helped her figure out what chipmunks eat.
The miniature meals she’s made for him include: pizza with an almond crust topped with raspberry paste and almond flakes, tacos stuffed with walnut pieces, shredded carrots and herbs — and bowls of millet, farrow and what she believes to be his favorite treat, fresh blueberries.
On one occasion, Hansberger put out a sushi counter with fairy-sized bar stools and handmade clay trays holding pieces of mango, peach, carrot and seaweed topped with grated ginger and individual grains of rice.
She noticed Thelonius avoided yellow bell peppers, cabbage, coconut and peanuts. But he is appreciative when she serves a simple herb salad with the main course.
“He shows up every morning now, and sometimes he’s waiting for me at the table when I bring the food out,” Hansberger said. “Now that it’s getting colder, he often shows up twice so that he can take whatever he doesn’t eat and store it underground for the winter.”
Hansberger said she hasn’t attempted to touch her pudgy-cheeked customer, but she and her cat, Lloyd, have enjoyed watching him eat from behind a glass door.
“We’ve definitely formed a friendship,” she said. “The cat honestly just thinks they’re pals now, and Thelonious doesn’t seem the least bit afraid of him.”
The chipmunk also wasn’t spooked by the graveyard scene Hansberger designed for Halloween, so now she has her sights set on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
“I’m thinking of making him some little gingerbread men,” she said. “In the winter, he’ll hole up and sleep more than normal, but since we’re in Georgia, I’m hoping it will be warm enough for him to still come out and eat.”
“There was a day a while back when I got a little sad thinking about him hibernating,” she added. “What else will I do in the morning, if I can’t make him little plates and chop up the nuts and herbs that he loves? He’s brought joy and hope to a lot of people — especially me.”
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.