Ode to Rufus, the newsroom marmot

Published 1:41 pm Friday, January 10, 2020

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Since wandering into Selma more than a year ago, I’ve found a thousand different things to fall in love with – the way the river looks when the sun is high, the feel of the breeze on my face as I walk along Broad Street, the taste of tuna salad sandwiches from The Downtowner or enchiladas from El Ranchero, the mismatched bricks and doorways that line the various alleys downtown and so much more – but perhaps the thing I’ve come to love the most is the porch that juts out from the back of the Times-Journal building or, to be more specific, the friend I’ve made while smoking out there during the work day.

There’s no way of knowing how long he’d been lurking there behind the newspaper building, or how desperate he’d been for some kind of interaction, but I noticed him one day last summer crawling along the rocks by the river.

I called out to him and he looked at me – an inquisitive gaze, I’m sure, as no one had spoken to him previously – and then he darted back amongst the rock, into a tunnel system that I later realized had outlets along the bridge and elsewhere.

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It was weeks before we gave him a name, as he would never tell us the name he was given at birth, and even longer before we figured out his species – Rufus is his name and marmot is his genus.

Rufus is a fat little creature, adorned with bristly hair and a stubby tail, and we are largely unsure of exactly what kind of creature he is – perhaps a groundhog or some other oversized rodent – but we celebrate his appearance wherever he pops up.

For a long time, we only saw him sporadically on the rocks beneath the newsroom deck, but then he started popping up elsewhere – once on the hill drooping down from the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the newspaper loading area and a couple of times bouncing on a branch dipping into the river.

One day when I was walking back from the library, I cut beneath the bridge and connected to the newspaper building – there, on the drooping grass area, not three feet away, sat Rufus, devouring some bit of greenery.

He sat up tall on his back end and glared at me for a few seconds, apparently not recognizing me as the dear friend he’d made from below the newspaper building’s gaze, and he quickly scurried into a crack in the pavement beneath the bridge and disappeared – I hurried inside and rushed to the deck and, sure enough, I caught Rufus struggling to get his fat body out of another crack in the pavement along the back end of the building.

He’s not there everyday – Rufus apparently lives a busy life and has a long agenda of places to go and people to see each day – but I always find myself searching the rocks and overgrowth that abut the Alabama River for my mouse-faced friend with long, buckteeth.

Rufus, the newsroom marmot, may not be on everyone’s list of must-see items in the Queen City, but he’s near the top of mine.