April 21, 2010

Guest post by Black Bear

Tulips

Writing a guest blog entry for Robin is always a daunting prospect.  She sets the bar high, you know.  Not only does she have a great deal to say, she says it very well and interestingly, to the point that I have found myself awake at 1 am on a weeknight doing further research on roses, which I don’t grow, sighthounds, which I don’t own, and bell ringing, which I don’t remotely understand.  That’s a pretty darn good blog, to my way of thinking.  Or so I keep telling her.

Not that getting me interested in sighthounds was a stretch, mind.  I’m an animal lover and always have been, from childhood forward; I tore through all James Herriot’s books at about the age of 12, I think.  (This was probably a bit sooner than I should have, I do remember clearly that All Creatures Great and Small was the first book I ever read that had the word #%@^ in it.  I was shocked to the core– #%@^, right there in print!  I knew I had arrived in the world of adult literature.  Sure, Tolkien was a grown-up author, but he never said #%@^.)  Anyway, so I now read with great entertainment the trials and tribulations of Life With Hellhounds.  I don’t have dogs myself, at the moment—I favor largeish dogs, and I have a smallish house.  But my house is in a wooded area, near a river, so my furry animal needs are met by Cat Within, and Wildlife Without.  Visitors in and near my yard of late have included foxes, snakes, weasels, beavers, muskrats, mink, deer, and squirrels.  Great quantities of squirrels.

I have a real love-hate relationship with squirrels.  I think they’re fantastic  little animals, amazingly smart and strikingly beautiful.  We have two kinds around here; first the red squirrels, which are gorgeous beasts with a bright chestnut color, a shrill call, and a fierce territorial demeanor.  There was a colony of these living in my neighbor’s attic a year or so ago; I could see them busily running in and out of a hole in his soffit, and it made me happy because I had the joy of watching them without hearing their deep philosophical discussions under my own eaves at 5 am.   My personal curse is the larger local species—the Fox Squirrel.  Fox squirrels are big and fluffy and fat; they have salt-and-pepper fur on their backs, but a bright orange underbelly and tail, much like a grey fox.  Thus, fox squirrel.  Fox squirrels, unlike red squirrels, are NOT territorial; therefore, you can have approximately 80 billion of them all in one small yard and they’re all perfectly agreeable.  I, however, am not. 

I have a birdfeeder—and I accept, of course, that “bird feeder” means “squirrel feeder with some left for the birds if they’re lucky.”  I don’t believe in all those elaborate do-dads for keeping squirrels away.  They have to eat too, after all, and there’s usually enough for everyone.  Besides, I have another birdfeeder that’s one of those tube thingys with perches ranged around it, hanging off the corner of my porch, completely out of squirrel reach.  Completely.  Squirrels are happy, birds are happy, I’m happy…

Then a few weeks ago I noticed that my fox squirrel population seemed to have reached some sort of saturation point.  Perhaps my regular feedings ensured that no natural selection occurred over the winter.  Perhaps fox squirrels from other areas had heard of the bounty of my bottomless not-a-birdfeeder and were coming in, by rail or bus, to set up housekeeping in the large silver maples down by the back road.  Either way, it was getting ridiculous.   Every time I pulled into the driveway, 6 or 7 of them would scatter from the feeding area in all directions, all of them fat as butter. Unsatisfied with a half-liter of oil sunflower each day, they chewed through the wooden lid of the feeder in search of some sort of hidden cache of food—as if perhaps the feeder was holding out on them.  I came out on the front porch one morning and surprised two of them—one on the windowsill, one hanging precariously off the top of the aforementioned tube feeder, with his head crammed into one of the seed openings (he’d broken off the perch to allow easy head access.)  “That’s IT!”  I told them firmly, as they dropped swiftly into the forsythia like covert ops agents.  “No more.”  And I stopped feeding them, figuring a few days without the gravy train might toughen them up a bit, encourage them to seek new food sources, and maybe try a few other yards in the neighborhood.

It did toughen them up, in the same way that a childhood spent on the mean streets toughens young hooligans into organized criminal gangs.  It started with a warning—I came out one morning and a squirrel was hanging  on the screen door of my back porch, nearly at eye level.  She fixed me with a steely gaze for a moment, then dropped off and ran up a tree.  I keep the sunflower seed on the back porch, so at the time I figured that was just a longing gaze at the former source of bounty.  But then, two days later, I glanced out a window and noticed a squirrel sitting on my front walk, eating something bright red.  Red?  Squirrels don’t eat red things… I came over to get a closer look, and saw that the object in question was a tulip flower.  He had coldly beheaded one of my only blooming tulips, and was eating it right in front of me in an extremely calculated manner.  When I said “HEY!  You little JERK!” he dropped it rather pointedly on the walk and hopped away.  The meaning was clear—it was as if the squirrel mafia had stopped by to say “Accidents happen.  It’d be a real shame if some of your other tulips had… accidents…” 

Still, I wasn’t too worried. They’re only squirrels, right? But the other day I saw one of them up on his hind legs, directly under the engine block of my car.  Rigging a car bomb?  Or was he just hotwiring it so they could drive to the hardware store themselves and buy a new bag of sunflower seeds?  Then yesterday morning I noticed tiny, muddy footprints all over the hood of the car.  Tiny, squirrelly prints.  And all my tulips are gone.

As James Herriot might say– #%@^.

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