Every workday morning I drive through a gate onto a U.S. Air Force Base. The lines of traffic creep forward to the guards who view our badges and give us permission to enter. While I’m edging toward the base gate, I watch a colony of prairie dogs foraging, tumbling, scampering, and, seemingly, guarding their territory. Some of the critters stand upright, looking like fat-bottomed meerkats, with their backs to the colony’s home turf. It’s possible they aren’t on guard duty. I suppose they could be watching the cars go by, maybe figuring out when it is safe to cross the four lanes of pavement (never!), or maybe they are asking themselves why one human needs so much metal, glass, and noise to move really slowly into and through their limited, ground-eye view.
Their territory, by the way, is the front yard of an elementary school. School buses use the circular drive that surrounds the yard on the north side of the building. The playground is on the east side of the school and the teachers’ parking lot is to the west. Except for the morning and afternoon bus trips, the yard is a peaceful place for the prairie dogs to dig their underground homes, raise their young, and munch on the weeds and grasses.
The size of the colony has changed over the years I’ve been making my way through the gate. I don’t know if its size is self-regulating or if occasionally humans decide to reduce the numbers. Right now it is pretty small, with maybe a dozen individuals roaming around in the morning. I suppose colony size could be seasonal. Youngsters are born in the spring and stay underground until they are big enough to fend for themselves, usually at about six-weeks old.
My work is useful and good for our country, but it isn’t warm and fuzzy. Watching the prairie dogs go about their business as I get ready to go about mine gives me a boost and puts a smile on my face. I’m sure the guards appreciate that.