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Cheeky: Retiree turns wild chipmunks into successful models

'My friends wanted to see what I was doing and they encouraged me to put this book together,' says retired nurse

Patience is a crucial quality for success in the health-care industry.

Linda Stoner has continued to apply this skill in her retirement, now working with a completely different group of clients. Her latest endeavour, Chippy's Family Helping Others, is a book about the lives of wild chipmunks in Linda’s backyard.  

"I've always loved telling stories through my pictures," says Stoner. "And Chippy and his family had such a great story to tell." 

The book features photographs that Linda took herself, building sets and using peanut butter (her secret weapon) to capture the wild chipmunks on camera.  

“Some of the sets were pretty simple, the cover of the book is just him standing with the dinosaur, and that didn’t take very long I just put the peanut butter all on the opposite side of the face of that dinosaur, and stuck sunflower seeds in it, and then waited for the chipmunk to come around to the front of them,” says Stoner.

“But others took a little more time to put together. The hairdresser one took me about four days to get the picture because Chippy was all over the set and I was trying to figure out how to get him to stand behind the chair the way a hairdresser would.” 

“It’s a lot of patience and a lot of sunflower seeds.” 

The book tells the story of Chippy and his family and their adventures, with a focus on how they help each other and their community. 

“When I decided I was going to try and start a book I just went through all my pictures and picked out, the ones I liked the best and realized I’ve got them doing all different things; playing a piano, teaching school, flying an airplane, sailing a ship. That's when I came up with the concept of introducing his family members because then they could all be doing different things throughout the story. But, I needed another dimension to it. So, I came up with “Chippy’s family helping others.” 

Writing a book is the latest hobby that Stoner fell into. The Chippewa Secondary School graduate started her professional career as a nurse, working at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto before making a major career change and owning her photography studio in Richmond Hill 

Stoner's interest in photography started when her son was born. She wanted to take better pictures of him and started taking courses. "I just wanted to know how to take better pictures," she says. "I just started taking these courses, and I enjoyed the courses, so I just kept going." 

Stoner says her teacher at the college was selling his studio which she bought and ran for several years doing portraits, weddings and some commercial work, before retiring and returning to North Bay in 2002.  

“When I first started I would tell my customers up front, ‘I’ve never done a bar mitzvah or a wedding but if you tell me what you want, I will do my very best to give you what you want. I really talked to my clients and made sure we had a good relationship.”  

Stoner says she enjoyed the darkroom and working with people, but when digital photography came along, she decided it was time to retire. 

But Stoner’s love of photography never died. She continued to take pictures of wildlife.  

“Well, I kind of fell into that too, because I was watching the news about 10 years ago when a lady was being interviewed that photographed red squirrels and she built little sets for them. And I thought that sounded like so much fun. So, I went off in the backyard and I just started photographing them. My friends wanted to see what I was doing and they encouraged me to put this book together.”  

Linda's book has received rave reviews from those who have picked up a copy. 

“When I’m at these arts and craft vendors shows I bring a treehouse set that I've put a lot of work into because these sets are getting more elaborate. People walk by my table and they do a double take and look kind of confused and I explain to them how I build these sets, and then I coax wild chipmunks into my set, using sunflower seeds.” 

Stoner says people sometimes ask if the chipmunks are photoshopped but she assures them they are real.  

“I show them my board of bloopers and I say this is what I went through to get that. There are pictures of the chipmunk with his head inside the piano, or on top of the mast on the sailboat. So they get a real kick out of that and then they start looking through the book and are usually impressed by the photos I was able to get. 

Stoner’s book has been enjoyed by people in North Bay and around the globe. On her website, there a pictures of children enjoying her book in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and she adds the book appeals to readers of all ages.  

“I've had senior citizens see the day-to-day posts on the website and they’ve ordered books for all their friends in their church group,” says Stoner. “I just find that the younger ones, the little ones, they like the colour and the pictures. The older ones appreciate the work that went into it and the story is relatable to most people.” 

Stoner says that writing a book is not easy, but it's worth it if you have a story to tell. "My advice to anyone who wants to write a book is to just start writing," she says. "And don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it." 

Stoner also has advice for those who want to become photographers. "Take courses, practice, and don't be afraid to experiment," she says. "And most importantly, have fun!" 

For Stoner, telling stories through her pictures has always been important. And she needed to have the book done the way she wanted it. "Because it's photographed, it's different than if I was producing a book of illustrations and I wasn't happy with the quality of the sample that the first publishing company produced," she says. "The only way I could do it was to go with a Canadian company that only allowed me to order 1000 copies at a time, which I did." 

They brought all 1,000 copies to Stoner's front yard on a skid and she recalls laughing saying to them, “I’m all alone here, and I’m an old lady, I’m going to need help getting these off my driveway. I called my friends and they came right away and helped me get the books inside, thank goodness.” 

If you want to get a copy of Stoner's book you can visit the website, but she will be selling copies at local arts and crafts shows this month and next month Including this Saturday, Nov. 18, at the West Ferris Legion Christmas Craft Show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 30 Legion Drive, North Bay. There are more dates on her website.

"I'm excited to share Chippy and his family's story with more people," Stoner says. "I hope that it will inspire others to tell their own stories through their pictures." 


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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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