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Cheeky Chipmunk Sneaks To 1st Place In 11th Annual Squirrel Week Photo Contest

The winning photo of a chipmunk emerging from the snow in Virginia. (Mary Rabadan)
The winning photo of a chipmunk emerging from the snow in Virginia. (Mary Rabadan)

The barrage of headlines that Here & Now tirelessly covers can seem impossible to grasp, difficult to process and marked by dread and hopelessness. In the show’s morning meeting Wednesday, levity and lightheartedness were in scant supply, until these four words stuck out: Squirrel Week Photo Contest.

Washington Post columnist John Kelly runs the annual competition, where amateur photographers send in their snapshots of the bushy-tailed rodents as part of Kelly’s week of appreciation for squirrels. But this year, the 11th year of the contest, a smaller mammal took first place.

A chipmunk, poking its furry dome above a sheet of snow, cheeks chubby from the winter’s hibernation, eyes bright and eager, was this year’s winner.

Mary Rabadan, 72, took the winning photo back in 2010, outside her home in Annandale, Virginia, during the “Snowpocalypse” that overtook the Washington, D.C., region with several feet of snow.

“There was this little head popping up out of the snow, and when I saw it was a chipmunk, I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots of him,” Rabadan says. “To see this little guy, looking like, ‘Oh, let me out of here!’ ”

“I know I titled that photo, ‘Is It Over Yet?’ ” she adds.

But intrepid readers might be wondering, did Rabadan skirt the rules? It is squirrel week, after all, not chipmunk week. But Kelly, who picked her photograph to win the contest, is setting the record straight.

“Yes, chipmunks are squirrels,” Kelly says. “Groundhogs are squirrels. All sorts of things that you might not think of as squirrels are part of the squirrel family. So I feel like, if I’ve done nothing else with Squirrel Week, I hope I have informed people that chipmunks are squirrels.”

Kelly chose the winning photo for obvious reasons — how cute the little fella is and the surprised look on its face.

“I thought that was applicable to us now, popping our heads up through this blizzard of torpor that we’ve been in for the past year,” he says.

Rabadan agrees, adding, “There’s been kind of a more hopeful feeling with the vaccines that people are starting to do normal things.”

As April begins its slow slide into May, summer is around the corner for Americans — and so is the end of lockdowns, the end of isolation. Vaccines are making their way into arms, and for perhaps the first time since this long and terrible journey began last March, people are looking forward to the company of friends and family once again.

“I hope to see some of my kids,” Rabadan says. “I have a daughter who lives in Hong Kong, she’s been there a very long time, and one in Roanoke, I haven’t seen either of them in over a year.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.