There’s a squirrel hanging about in my yard, and I’m not pleased to have him there. Once, I saw squirrels as playful creatures with fluffy tails and great enthusiasm for life, leaping from limb to limb, bounding over lawns, searching out acorns. All bushy tailed and beady eyed, they were amusing characters in the story books of my childhood. But my feelings changed. I came to know them as daring thieves who leapt from the porch railing, or walked perilously across a cable to hang on the bird feeder, displaying their bloated tummies while gobbling up precious seed meant for chickadees and finches. I came to hate them the year they chewed a hole in the roof of my house and moved in under the eaves where I could hear them frolicking at night just beyond my bedroom wall. I tried scaring them off with loud radio music. Tried barricading their hole with extra shingles and chicken wire, but they didn’t mind the music, and they quickly reopened the cavity in my roof and renewed their brazen comings and goings through that illicit entrance. I hired a man with traps. He managed to remove one family, but another moved in bringing with them more friends and relations. Finally, a new roof and the strategic trimming of many trees kept the squatters out of the house. They’ve been gone for years, but I still cringe at the sight of a lone gray squirrel darting across the grass or running up a tree trunk. Who knows what evil he intends?
This has been a hard winter for wildlife. The ground lies buried under stubborn layers of snow and ice. The wind is bitter. Birds flock to my feeder — an endless parade of finches, pine siskins, chickadees, juncos and tufted titmice under the surveillance of this one lonely squirrel with a rather bedraggled tail who hasn’t figured out how to reach the feeder that hangs by my kitchen window. He scuttles around underneath it looking for husks and seeds that have dropped in the snow until I bang on the window to drive him away. He looks up, a pinched scowl on his little rat face and slinks off to an oak tree where he sits and sulks on its lowest limb. “Good riddance!” I think and return to the newspaper I’ve been trying to read.
The news is bleak: Banks failing. Jobs vanishing. Stores closing. Gas going up again. Stocks going down again. Fires, storms, and salmonella. Peanut butter isn’t safe and baseball is tainted. I drop the paper in disgust and look out the window. Birds flutter around the feeder. The squirrel sits on his perch wrapped in his tattered tail.
I find raisin bread in the breadbox. I crank open the window and throw a crust out toward the base of the tree. He is on the ground to snatch it up before I have the window closed. I watch him devour his prize, and, for a moment, I feel better about my world.
Life is hard. This is no time to hold a grudge.