So long, and thank you for the corn

An abbreviated version of this was shared at the Easton Pecha Kucha in January 2016.

Our world seems to detest squirrels. They are viewed as the pigeons of the suburbs, forever eating what they shouldn’t despite the squirrel-proof bird feeders and hot pepper seeds added to bird seed. People aim for them in cars. They are invoked when someone wants to disparage an ADHD-like shift in topic. And some people are described as squirrelly, an insult, meant to get them to slow down and focus.

I became a champion for squirrels. My dad was a squirrel hater because they ate the bird seed. My thought was this: cohabitate. Rather than remove squirrels or have them compete for food, we should find alternative ways to feed them. So I started to give him squirrel-oriented father’s day gifts in the 1990s. Over the years he got bungee cord feeders, peanut holders, corn spinners, Adirondack chairs… every unique squirrel gift I could find.

Then I learned my affinity for squirrels ran deeper. When I was teaching college, on the first day of class before an in-class essay, I asked if there were questions. Only one. A young American Indian man asked my three favorite animals. After some confusion about the relevance of the question, out came cat, squirrel and turtle. He never came to class again. Later when reading that student’s in-class essay, inside the front cover, he wrote this: The cat was how I saw myself, the squirrel was how others saw me and the turtle was what I wanted to be.

I took what was written as truth. I liked squirrels. I owned a cat. I was about to resign my position, pack up all my stuff and travel to a new life in the Midwest… very turtle of me. In Fargo, ND, we bought a house and set up a squirrel feeder. Neighbors were perplexed, but neighborhood squirrels were happy. Then I heard the scratching in the roofline of my son’s room. Scratch, scratch, scratch. It wasn’t regular enough to worry about. Scratch, scratch, scratch. And I had never seen an animal enter our house… Until the day I did.

This is the only known photo of my squirrel. I just happened to witness him enter our home. He climbed on a wire that ran between my garage and house. Then he scuttled across the stucco, sat on the eave and ducked inside. I was shocked. But then I noticed the dingy trail his body left on the wall. It was clear he did this often.

Squirrels have a history of going where shouldn’t and being what they shouldn’t. Ben Franklin had one named Mungo and took it to England where it was killed. Franklin wrote a euology for it.

In the Victorian age, cities released squirrels into parks to entertain visitors. A decade later they were shooting them for population control. By the 1900s they were compared to the poor as being lazy and dependent on handouts.

After seven years out there, we were moving to Easton. We were three days away from listing our home for sale. And now I had a squirrel in the eaves. I didn’t want scratching to occur when buyers walked in. My consumer/ business brain took over my spirit brain — this would be the end of our cohabitating.

I borrowed an enormous ladder and saw the metal thatching that had been in place was knocked away. There was a gnawed hole, the perfect size for squirrels. I pried up the thattching and eave boards and looked inside. I said loudly: “Now is the time to exit the building.” I drove to the hardware store.

I returned with SOS pads, expandable foam, replacement wood and new metal grating. I climbed up, looked inside and hoped they listened to my warning. I sealed up the hole. Later when I returned home from an errand with my son, we saw my squirrel sitting on the eave, locked out and mad as hell. Chattering like the devil and gnawing at my handiwork. He needed to move on, so we threw tennis balls at him until he hid, but he never gave up.

The next morning, there was more of the same. I couldn’t ignore the issue any longer. I called a friend who shot everything that came in his yard.

I’m a vegetarian. Been one for 20 years. You know the type: life is sacred, poor quality animal feed, inhumane living conditions, inhumane butchering, environmental impact from grazing and global simplicity.

I killed a blackbird as a child, which scarred me, putting a .22 caliber shell into his meaty breast. When I picked it up, warm and void of life force, I decided to never shoot anything again.

My friend dropped off his pellet gun and the seven pellets left in the ammo tin. One shot was all it should take I was told.

I sat in the backyard still as a stone at the picnic table, gun loaded, waiting for him to start his fresh gnawing at this old home. He came. I aimed. Bang.

He shook his hand like crazy. I took a finger off. Clearly, the gun pulled left of the site. Load, pump, aim and fire. Hit again. In the same arm. He fled off the eave. Down the house and out front. I calmly walked after him.

He ran up a tree. Shot three sailed off course. Shot four hit him squarely. He scurried higher up the tree and jumped to another tree but lacked the spirit. He fell three stories and smacked on the sidewalk.

I assumed the fall took care of him. I put the gun away and went for the shovel. I’d scoop and bury. When I returned, he was sitting up. He was possessed with a will to live. I set the shovel down and retrieved the gun. Shot five was another hit. He dragged himself off the sidewalk and across the neighbor’s yard.

This is were I paused. Afraid to approach. Afraid to watch him die. To cowardly to use the face of shovel to end his misery. I hemmed and hawed. Finally I picked up the shovel, working up enough courage to smack him dead. The neighbor’s window opened. She leaned out and said, “I think that squirrel is sick.” I told her I shot him. She said, “That’s out of character.”

My spiritual character was out of sync. As a spiritual guide, the squirrel brings many gifts and lessons to help us gather the blessings of life for our journey into the next dimension. Squirrels are playful, friendly and chatty. Squirrels are skittish and at the same time trusting, carefully eating out of a hand. The squirrel is fast at everything he does and remains in constant motion, a reminder that good things come from our honest labor. The squirrel teaches us to gather our energies for the important tasks in life and honor the future by preparing for change.

My squirrel was dead. I picked him up and buried him along side of the garage. Passing under the eaves, I heard it though. Scratch, scratch, scratch. I went in the house. I heard it again. Scratch, scratch, scratch. I bolted upstairs and waited. No scratching. It was MacBeth: one voice cried murder. Then another said God Bless us and Amen. I was hearing and seeing ghosts.

The scratching came back that afternoon.

I called my ladder man and borrowed it again. Up I went. I peeled back my metal thatching. Off came the board. I dug at the SOS pads and expandable foam. I shined a light inside and saw… another squirrel. Dead from eating foam and metal. It wasn’t MacBeth. It was Romeo and Juliet.

So I did what any spiritually bankrupt meat eater would do. I couldn’t let it rot in the walls. I went to the BBQ and got the long tongs. I tried to pull its body out. But the arm was still flexible, not rigid from death. The squirrel wouldn’t budge, stuck in the foam and the brillo. I returned to the hardware store bought more foam and encased the body. Sealing the tomb.

We sold the house in three days. Moved here. My lovely wife surprised me with a Mercantile squirrel. But the feeders have remained away. My passion and connection to squirrels gone. They don’t come in the yard often. I still cringe at the roadkill, but I feel no affinity. I killed it that day. While you still might call me squirrely, there’s a shadow inside me. It’s what happens when you separate yourself from your spirit animal.

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