Eeking Out a Living
My urban friends may never have to face this horror. It’s not that squirrels don’t take up residence in the city, but they tend to avoid the interiors of fifth floor walk-ups, preferring the safety and sumptuous litter of parks, avenue trash cans and fast-food dumpsters. Here in the New Hampshire hills, however, there is no demilitarized zone for critters, and if you live here long enough, you’ll have to deal with this scenario: Squirrels, raccoons, foxes, groundhogs, skunks and chipmunks all roaming freely outside the house, on the porch, in the eaves, through the gardens, and all using the compost for an all-night combo jungle gym/diner. When the dog is out there, the timeworn ritual ensues: He chases ‘em. They get away. True, they can be a nuisance, but they’ve the same claim to their link in the food chain that we have, and we usually enjoy and respect our mutually exclusive cohabitation. But, recently the rules changed and all bets were off. We doffed the gloves, dropped our guards, stormed the Bastilles and hit ‘em where they live — when a squirrel came into the bedroom. If a squirrel is outside on your porch hanging from a birdfeeder and consuming six dollars' worth of sunflower seeds in as many minutes, it’s a harmless and hungry little prankster. But, when you are naked, half-asleep and can’t see a thing without your glasses and it runs across your headboard without warning, it becomes an incarnate nightmare, a Beelzebubbian mercenary surely sent into your house to slaughter you and your pets, then drag any sleeping child off to a treetop lair and raise it as the first Granite State Tarzan. So, I did the normal thing. Heart racing, I jumped out of bed, grabbed every bulky thing in the room that wasn’t nailed down, and threw them into the hallway. In the grip of the Fight Or Flight Syndrome, this somehow made sense to me. This commotion attracted my housemate in the kitchen, who naturally came to investigate, looked down the hall and watched in disbelief as pillows, blankets and her nightgowns went flying through space. It also cleared a path for the squirrel, and it chose that moment to exit the bedroom through the legs of my approaching Sweetie, leap over the heap of lingerie and linens, and disappear down the cellar stairs. Now, if you recorded all the eeking sounds made by all creatures great and small in all of history and hit the playback button, you’d hear the “EEK!” that shot from the lungs of said Sweetie. She complemented this sound with a twist of evasive body English I can only describe as something I’d theretofore thought anatomically impossible. I grabbed a sponge mop and ran naked down the stairs, the dog hot on my heels. There’s something at once comically futile and terrifying about trying to snare a wild thing that will always run faster than you can catch it. It’s like trying to chase down Superman when he was a runamok toddler and streaking through the house in one of those babyroller bumpercars -- the sit ‘n scoot rolling walkers that turn your precious budding ambulator into a household pinball. The dog snarled and pounced, I lunged and sponged, Sweetie sent periodic “eeks!” downstairs from a safe distance, and the squirrel left the house unscathed two days later after suffering through an elaborate series of diversions made up of bedspread barricades and sponge mop handle bait-sticks. Today, at the birdfeeder — the squirrels can have all they want. Eekonimcally, it’s the better part of valor.