QUAIL MUTTERINGS #5. Squirrel Paradox – April 2, 2011
My mom was a total do-it-yourselfer, back to the land kind of person. She knew how to build anything and her can-do attitude served her well, saving her quite a bit of money in the long run. For projects around the farm, which most people would hire a plumber or a handyman, she’d just take the task on herself, usually doing the job better than they would have. She was thorough and conscientious, always.
About twelve years ago, when all three of my children were still young and living at home, my mom accidentally disturbed a nest of baby ground squirrels. In order to soften the dirt for digging she first poked the ground with a metal rod attached to a hose which squirted pressurized water out the bottom. When she and my daughter, Kali, began digging she turned up a shovel full of dirt with three wriggling baby squirrels. They were so young that they didn’t even have their eyes open yet and their skin was translucent. Kali helped her grandmother, Gramaset, carefully brush the dirt off each one of them before taking the newborns inside. Gramaset found an old shoe box and some rags and created a makeshift nest for them next to the warm wood burning stove. One of the wee ones had a broken tail, kinked near the end, where the shovel had most likely nicked it.
Kali ran home and excitedly explained to me what had happened and said, “We need some goat milk for the babies.”
I poured a little into a small glass jar and we quickly walked the quarter mile up the dirt road to my mom’s place. She’d found an eye-dropper to feed them from and some baby cereal to mix with the goat milk. Mom was very talented with animal husbandry. She currently was taking care of four geriatric horses which kept her from leaving the property for any extended period of time. When I was a kid we had a goat that we staked up on the mountain to clear brush. One day a dog came through and severely mauled it. It had left it for dead with a huge, gaping hole in its side where the innards were spilling out. That night, in the dark, my mom and dad carried the goat from the mountainside to the house on a homemade stretcher, with my sister and me holding flashlights for them. Mom stayed up all night carefully stitching that goat back together saving her life.
Now with the baby squirrels, she got up four times a night, just like a mother with a newborn baby would do, and fed them from the eye-dropper and made sure they were warm enough. Kali went up each day to help. They named the one with the kinked tail, Broken Tail. He became the tamest of the bunch. When the younguns got old enough to start getting around on their own they moved from the shoe box to a small cage and began eating dry cat food. From this they graduated to a larger cage outside where they could see other wildlife.
By mid summer, Gramaset and Kali had built an even bigger pen on the ground so that when their little friends were ready they could dig out and be on their own. One day, when Kali was carrying the pie tin with cat food out to them, she noticed that Broken Tail was gone. She was relieved to see him running back to the cage and ducking through the tunnel he’d made. They were all very tame by now and Kali had to be careful not to feed them by hand and get her fingers bitten.
There came a time when the young family dug out for good. Although they still hung around the area and were much tamer than the wild squirrels. In fact, one of them was a little too tame for my taste. In the mornings I’d run loops up to Mom’s end of the canyon. Sometimes, one of those little buggers would stand guard up on a boulder and wait for me. When I’d pass by he’d run out at me threateningly. I yelled and waved my arms at him menacingly, but he kept doing it. It was a game to him. Finally, I threatened him with a shovel and then he quit doing it. But it took me a while to stop looking for him, worried that the little demon would run out and bite me.
Since the Cedar Fire there seems to be an over abundance of squirrels here in the canyon. We’ve had to completely fence in the garden areas, including under the ground as well as the roof. Otherwise we’d have no harvest left for ourselves, thanks to Mom’s little friends. I borrowed a squirrel trap, one that can catch up to a dozen at a time. But I couldn’t bring myself to use it. For some reason, unclear to me, I’m not supposed to hurt them. I’ve gone out and sat on the rocks behind the house and set my intentions on making deals with the enemy such as, “If you leave my garden alone I’ll let you live.” Ha. The neighbors shoot them so they all come here to live.
The squirrels started coming to me. Most of these encounters take place when I’m standing at my bedroom window looking out at the ledge above the brick wall and the rocks behind the house, literally a yard away. One time, a squirrel was there looking at me. It vomited and then laid down on the wall for a two hour nap. Another time, one looked in at me, dug a hole, relieved itself, covered it back up and walked away. Last spring, a mother squirrel raised her new family on those rocks below the cistern encouraging the babies to come visit me. They were quite entertaining. Other times, they have come and stood on their hind legs and gawked in at me as if trying to tell me something. “What? I don’t understand!” I guess I’m too dense to comprehend their message.
I’m now working on a children’s book about the squirrels. I wrote the text and gathered some pictures of my mom and Kali to give to the wildlife artist who’s doing the illustrations for it. She wanted some photos of ground squirrels too. I went outside with my little 35 mm camera and noticed one of my small friends up the hill. I explained to him that this was for The Squirrel Book and asked if he would cooperate. I swear, that little bugger let me follow him around and he kept posing for me: standing up on his back legs on a stump, eating a blade of grass, scratching himself on a rock… Go figure.