Squirrels

From http://polydactyle.aminus3.com/image/2009-01-17.html
From http://polydactyle.aminus3.com/image/2009-01-17.html

Before the avocado linoleum was replaced, our kitchen table sprang from it on one hefty leg, like a flattened tree. We gathered round in our designated seats, though I can’t recall how or when they had been assigned. My mother sat closest to the fridge for handy mid-meal retrievals, with my sister and me to her left. Next was my father, followed by my two brothers, their backs to the window, completing the circle. I didn’t envy them; it was often chilly on that side, and accompanied by a view of the sink and the dirty pots on the stove. From my position, I could watch the flakes fall, or the morning glories creep up the strings that dangled over the window–our homegrown awning.

In the absence of some or all of the others, the seating plan still applied. My mother and I often leaned our elbows on the creaky oak to talk about books or logistics or ideas, one eye scanning the backyard.

Mid-conversation, it was not unusual for her to yelp and leap from her chair, grab pots and lids, and run outside, clanging like crazy.

After a minute or so, she would return to her seat, contrite and subdued, but the moment was gone, our thoughts dispersed.

I learned not to take this personally.

Her beef was not with me, but the squirrels who continually ransacked the bird feeder, leaving the cardinals, sparrows, and chickadees to forage elsewhere. No one pitied the greedy blue jays, at whom my mother clucked disapprovingly. They got any scraps the rodents left behind.

My mother greased the pole of the feeder, then sprinkled birdseed on the ground, either as a peace offering or to make the squirrels too fat and lazy to attempt the slippery pole. Nevertheless, the fuzzy little gluttons somehow always managed to shimmy up to the feeder.

Now that I am grown, I have a feeder out for the hummingbirds, but it hangs near the house, pole-less, in just the right spot to torment the cat. The squirrels and I co-exist quite amiably.

And yet, I see myself behaving like my mother, minus the pots and pans.

Half-listening to my girls, I am hyperaware of any unusual activity just past the membrane of our home-space. I’m there, but not fully; I’m coiled to spring.

Wondering,

why is it so very hard to be in a single moment,

instead of watching vigilantly

for squirrels,

or not-squirrels

on the periphery of our daily lives.

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Published by

Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

56 thoughts on “Squirrels”

  1. It is so hard to be present in the moment, especially as a mother. I’m trying to stop always thinking about something else. My husband has me figured out- I will nod and answer and seem to be listening, yet I haven’t heard a thing.

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    1. My kids have it all figured out as well. I overheard one child say to the other, “Did you tell mom and dad about our secret plan?” To which the other responded, “Yeah, but don’t worry. They’re grownups. They’ll never remember.”

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  2. Because squirrels are a safe target.

    When the accumulated frustrations of a disempowered-feeling person mount, the safest way to release tension is to lash out at something that won’t lash back. Inflation, gridlock traffic, the gravity on your ass, squirrels in your garden–all these are socially acceptable “bad guys” you can attack without fear of karmic backlash. You get a free pass to hate, and for a moment, your real issues are superseded while you focus on beating an 8-inch saucepan with a wooden ladle while a fuzzy-tailed rodent stares at you impassively from low branches.

    Ever notice how these same annoyances seem far away when you’re having a really good day?

    Complaining is so much quicker than dealing with whatever deeper issues have you exploding like a caffeinated werewolf on a full moon. Take a lesson from the squirrels: the second you withdraw back into your house, they forget all about you and get back to lunch. If they had the neocortex we do, they’d be giving themselves cancer from all the stress of hating us for building our ugly houses in their neighborhood. Instead, lemonade from lemons: we come with bird feeders. Squirrel, for the win.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. It’s true, I’d certainly be in therapy–if not the hospital–if someone was continually leaping out and scaring me to death. Those squirrels are doing it right, and they don’t complain at all.

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      1. Truth be told, I went out and bought one of those clear plastic umbrella-shaped shields to stop squirrels from descending from the pines down to my songbird feeders. It worked. Then, I added up how much I was spending on the damned birds every month.

        Just hummingbird feeders now.

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      2. I’ve seen a squirrel kill another squirrel in a horrible way. “Rat bastard” takes on a whole new meaning when the drama happens right outside your writing window.

        Red squirrel assassins walk the earth for two to eight years apiece, so they have plenty of time to increase their brightness, literally and figuratively, while culling cuteness points with me. I may have a Buddha candy coating but underneath, it’s all atheist.

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  3. Your story took me right to your childhood dinner table and to memories of my own. I remember how my family crowded around our kitchen table, each person having their own spot to sit. I don’t remember mom jumping up to chase the squirrels away but she seemed to always be on the ready to spring for something. Very enjoyable post!
    –Karen

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  4. We don’t really have a squirrel problem for some reason. We have one really fat one who comes around sometimes, but other than him there aren’t really any. We do have a cat problem. One of our neighbors sort of takes in ferrel cats, but they’re free to roam as they please and they’re not neutered, so there’s lots of them. They’re the trouble makers, and my entire family is crazy. When we see them we chase them.

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  5. I am at the other end of the spectrum and love squirrels. I work at an animal rehabilitation center where we rescue orphaned baby squirrels. Care for these little creatures and your heart will do a quick turnaround.

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  6. My parents put up a squirrel feeder. I think it was a gift rather than their own idea, but the squirrels not only leave the bird feeder alone, they chase each other out of the squirrel feeder. So the moral is: Concentrate on what’s important and let your squirrels chase themselves away.

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  7. I’ve never understood why everyone’s so against squirrels and blue jays. Blue jays are so full of energy and enthusiasm, such intelligent survivors.,they always gave me a boost of inspiration, so beautiful and blue. Squirrels, are the cutest little teddy bears , scampering around, busy as bees collecting their winter rations… Then seeing them get killed by cars,broke my heart, every morning, every night. While I lived in Connecticut, on my way work, I drove by the the mangled, crushed little squirrels on all the roads, run over, killed by the coldblooded, speeding human race. I always was careful and drove the speed limit, and I never once ran over a cute little cuddly squirrel. God bless their l.ittle souls

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  8. I like this post. You have a wonderful way with words. When I was growing up we had “a designated seating plan” too. But, here we part ways: I like squirrels. I know that “the fuzzy little gluttons” are basically rats with bushy tails, but I think they’re charming. I’m sorry that the bird feeder bandits drove your mom crazy.

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  9. Oh my God!

    You just reminded me of a short story I wrote some years back. It was about a squirrel I shot with my pellet gun when I was a teenager, and despite the crimson geyser of blood that arched out of its head like you might see at a drinking fountain (at a School for Vampires), the thing would NOT die!

    Don’t judge me, I was a kid and stuff…and the squirrel was evil and was stealing a nut from my parent’s yard.

    It was self-defence.

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  10. Waging war on squirrels raiding bird feeders is a universal sport. The enjoyment of trying to outwit the critters keeps many of us amused and occupied. Thanks for a warm snapshot of your family.

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  11. LOL, what have I done to my children? Will they share their similar experience someday? I’m a guilty squirrel chaser…no pots and pans though, just the dogs, or me in my pjs, hissing angrily! Don’t worry, the dogs couldn’t catch a squirrel for the life of them. Some days I wonder why I bother, and just throw out and extra handful of critter feed. I think I’d like your mom, :-). Thanks for the smile!

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  12. Hey, those fuzzy little gluttons don’t have such an easy life, you know. They’re always freaked out, for one, scanning for hawks and owls in the trees or cats and coyotes on the ground. It’s a wonder they can relax long enough to chew their food properly. I’m glad you put this generations-old feud to rest.

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  13. Squirrels. Love em or hate em. They are quite a conversation piece. I spend too much of my time taking hilarious photos of upside down squirrels and decided they are North Carolina’s monkeys. We co-exist well. People think I’m nuts in my love of the critters but my photos are amazing. When I make my first million from squirrel calendars, I’ll laugh all the way to the… Thanks for writing about them. I don’t have time as I’m too busy snapping pics.

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    1. Ooh! I’ll have to check them out! I was looking all over for good squirrel pics when I posted this. Like the idea of calling them NC’s monkeys. Maybe North American monkeys. I went to a zoo in Tokyo last summer, and they had this enormous walk-in habitat for–you guessed it–squirrels. So many people were in there, observing, snapping photos. I realized they are pretty darn entertaining. I just forget because I see them everyday.

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  14. I sense your question at the end reveals not so much a focus on squirrels. You ask it seems to me is why is there difficulty in being “in the moment” . Curious isn’t it that you Mom or not your mom set up circumstances in life that require us to periodically throwing our skirts over our heads, sending us screaming to the hills…all because we have a poorly engineered bird feeder and neither change it or simply pull it down.

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    1. I think you are right. I called it squirrels, I talk about squirrels, but it’s not really about squirrels. I am a little pleased with my hanging feeder, but ask my kids. I’m sure there are plenty of circumstances that throws my skirt over my head repeatedly–circumstances that I could probably easily change if I took the time to think things through. Thanks for reading!

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