Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Time to Laugh
I stopped reading articles with the US President’s name in the headline a year ago, around the same time I took time off from writing this blog in order to focus on writing my book. (Still working on Chapter One.) Though I read the local newspaper each morning, but a month ago, I also stopped reading articles with “coronavirus” in the title.
I can sum up the news without reading it anyway: Trump is dangerous, people are sick and dying, and the economy’s a wreck. We don’t know when things will get better. We hope the coronavirus will. We know Trump won’t.
My spirits have generally been good, but a few of weeks ago, I succumbed to the couch and Cheetos. That week, I skipped my writing group.
Fortunately, people in the group called and emailed. That week, two in this group of usually serious writers wrote about squirrels. What a relief it was to read about Sharon’s ongoing battle to shoo a squirrel from her birdfeeder and Elsie’s memory of her family’s birdfeeder as a squirrel swing. Her piece ends with her ferocious orange tabby named Dandelion. Dandelion! It was great to laugh and to remember squirrel stories of my own.
Until the squirrel essays, I’d been writing an essay about similarities between having disabilities and being part of our global community during this pandemic. For now, though, I need to take a break from the pandemic, so I’m reading and writing about squirrels. It sure is fun not to have a goal. Sharon and Elsie have graciously given me permission to share their stories. My piece, Sharon’s, and Elsie’s are below.
Grandmother and the Squirrel by Mary Edwards
My eighty-year-old Grandmother was regal in her faux red-velvet chair, the marble-topped table beside her. She sat straight and tall, her white hair tidy and her stern blue eyes unblinking behind round glasses. As she listened to me talk about my new life as a teacher in Dallas, far from my North Carolina family, her eyes never moved from mine. Her jaw was set and serious, and I felt I was the world’s center.
The living room where we sat smelled familiarly of dust. I suppressed a sneeze.
Then, suddenly, Grandmother whipped her head towards the window in an ungrandmotherly fashion. “Well, I’ll be,” she said.
Outside the window, a squirrel on the birdfeeder returned her stare, the squirrel still except for a small mouth twitch. After a long moment of staring, it returned to nibbling on a sunflower seed. That little squirrel was defying my grandmother, something I’d never imagined anyone would do. I held my breath. How would Grandmother respond to such defiance?
Grandmother raised her voice, gravelly with age, and shouted at the squirrel. “Get down from there!”
The squirrel couldn’t have heard her, but it must have sensed her fury. It looked nonchalantly at her and then looked around, contentedly chewing its contraband. It didn’t move from its perch in the giant pecan tree just above Grandmother’s birdfeeder.
Fascinated, I watched this battle of stubborn souls. Grandmother blew air through her nostrils like a charging bull, moved her slippered feet from the ottoman, and counted to three as she gripped her walker and rocked forward. She rose to her feet and pushed her walker to the front door, a door I’d never seen anyone use.
I stayed on the couch near her chair. When she pushed her walker out the door, I could no longer see her, so I listened. I heard only the sound of wheels on concrete. I looked out the window to see the squirrel still chewing sunflower seeds. Grandmother shouted, “I told you to get away from there,” and then I saw a blue slipper fly by the window. The squirrel still munched.
I heard Grandmother turn her walker on concrete, bump over the threshold and roll across the carpet, moving towards her bedroom. Her feet shuffled. One wore a blue bedroom shoe, and the other was gnarled and naked.
Grandmother didn’t say anything, just moved towards her bedroom. When she was out of sight, I moved to the front porch and because there were no steps on the pecan tree side of the porch, I hopped down. The squirrel looked at me, twitched its tail and zipped away.
Heading towards the pecan tree to retrieve her slipper, I noticed a small pile of shoes. I gathered them and went to Grandmother’s bedroom.
Grandmother was coming out of her closet on the other side of her Mahogany four-poster bed with its white knitted bedspread. She was wearing two blue slippers, and I wondered how many blue slippers she had in that closet. Looking down, trying to move her walker past a bump in the rug, she didn’t see me. Softly placing her shoes on the floor beside her bed, I didn’t look at her but whispered, “Here you go.”
I silently to my spot on the couch where I stared at a brown spot in the carpet as Grandmother returned to her chair.
We never spoke of it.
Squirrel 8, Sharon 0 by Sharon Morris
Curious chickadees, feisty house sparrows and rosy finches flock to the bird feeder outside my study window. Always vigilant, they pick at the suet, crunch seeds and bring me joy while I’m under quarantine.
When the birds quickly fly off, I rise out of my chair. The intruder is back–a Western gray squirrel that ignores the sign: no rodents allowed. He also scoffs at the “squirrel-proof” baffle hanging above the feeder. Although I’m not handy, I’m certainly smarter than an animal with a walnut-sized brain. I will prevail.
I survey my enemy’s route. He jumps up on the barbecue, leaps to the roof, runs along the gutter and swings down to the bird feeder. Putting a slick, waterproof cover on the barbecue solves that problem. Now the squirrel can’t gain purchase and will give up his quest.
Before long I hear a familiar scratching on the metal roof, the birds flee and the fat gray squirrel plops onto the feeder. His back toward me, he gives an arrogant flick of his silver-tipped tail. I bang on the window, he retreats, but I know he’ll be back. The battle is on.
Plotting His Move
His next path is from a wrought iron hanging planter. I get on a stool and unhook the planter while my nemesis watches me from a distance. Am I imagining it, or does he have a wicked glint in his eye? He seems to enjoy our combat.
Cone of Shame
Undeterred, he climbs up a downspout on the corner of the house. How can I block this route? Then I see the “cone of shame” our dog Toby had worn to prevent him from scratching after surgery. That should work. I retrieve my handy stool, some twine, and fasten the large plastic cone around the downspout.
Although the downspout is blocked, my foe is not defeated. While working at my desk, I hear a scratching, not from the roof, but right in front of me. The rascal digs his sharp little toenails into the window screen and climbs to the feeder. Again, this fix is within my skill set. I remove the screen.
When he tries to climb the window frame, I find some decorative ornaments, called “wallflowers.” that my daughter made. I nail several on the wall and tie on bells to scare him off.
Despite my creative efforts, the squirrel always gets to the roof. Perhaps I can make it more difficult to get to the feeder. I cut a hole in an aluminum pie plate and secure it a few inches above the squirrel baffle. He sometimes spins it around but is not stopped.
Each time I block little walnut-brain’s path to the bird food I congratulate myself for my cleverness. And each time he wins. I, too, have enjoyed our struggle, but let’s face it, I’m not getting much work done. Maybe I should admit defeat and just feed my enemy. Away from my window so I can’t watch him gloat.
The Squirrel Swing by Elsie Hulsizer
In the seventies, my husband Steve and I spent several years living in a converted carriage house in Narragansett Rhode Island. We were in the middle of the woods, next door to an old stone mansion and across the street from a bird sanctuary. Having a bird feeder struck us as a natural addition to the house,
One especially snowy winter we bought a wooden bird feeder and hung it from a large tree branch outside our living room window. The feeder consisted of two 1/2 spheres of wood: a larger one on top, open-side-down and a smaller one hung underneath, open-side-up. Bird feed went into the bottom sphere. The storekeeper who sold us the birdfeeder guaranteed it to be squirrel proof.
At first the feeder worked. When the squirrels tried to get at the feed, all they could do was climb on the top sphere and swing back and forth as if on an amusement ride. Eventually, they discovered if they hung by their feet from the top, they could reach into the bottom and get the feed. A good part of the feed ended on the snow below as the squirrels ate and the feeder swung back and forth.
One day we discovered a line of small animal prints in the snow leading from a hole under the house to the bird feed in the snow. A coworker who had grown up in New York city, and therefore claimed himself a rat expert, inspected the prints and droppings and declared we had a rat. The bird feeder promptly went into the trash. A wooden Victor Metal Pedal Rat Trap dispensed with the rat. Our fierce orange tabby, a great hunter named Dandelion, enjoyed at least one of the squirrels as dinner.