Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Squirrely Situation

When we moved here, I found it odd that there was not a squirrel to be seen. Lots of trees, lots of open space, I would have thought that would have meant lots of squirrels. But no, not a single squirrel sighting-- at least not until one sunny day in August.

The first time I see the small red squirrel, he (she?) darts into the dilapidated sheep barn through a hole in the back wall. The second time I come across it, I don't actually see it. I hear it chattering away in one of the evergreen trees that line our driveway. Muscade hears it chattering too. She looks longingly at the branch where the squirrel sits, but he/she won't climb down to play.

The third time I see the squirrel, it's scaling the cinder-block wall in one of the spare stalls in the barn-- not good. I've heard all about the damage squirrels can do indoors, including chewing through plastic feedbins, and through electrical wiring. So, I decide the squirrel must go.

Now, before I continue, I should point out that I had one previous encounter with a Nova Scotia red squirrel, and it didn't end well.

It was about seven years ago. Dave and I were walking in Halifax's Point Pleasant Park on a crisp spring morning. We passed by a red squirrel sitting on its hind legs, chattering incessantly on the side of the trail. I decided to take a picture.

I slowly knelt down a few feet away from the squirrel, and quietly raised my camera to my eye. I looked through the viewfinder and saw only an empty patch of snow. The squirrel had disappeared. I shrugged, and stood up. That's when I felt a slight tug at the bottom of my left pant leg. I looked down to see the would-be object of my photo nibbling at the bottom of my jeans.

Taken by surprise, I did what anyone would do, I started hopping up and down on my right leg and violently shaking my left leg. Within seconds I sent the squirrel cartwheeling through the air. The moment his little paws hit the slushy, muddy snow again, he made it clear that he was offended by my uncivilized actions.

He started chattering again-- loudly, angrily. He was probably hurling a litany of squirrel obscenities my way. Then, I'm sure he shook his furry fist at me. After that, he charged. Yes, that tiny red squirrel, smaller even than most Hollywood celebrities purse-dogs, started running straight toward me-- a hundred+ pound human. And what did that human do? I turned and ran away.

Now, bear in mind that I wasn't alone. Dave was with me at the time. Did he rush to my aid? Did he try to fend off the furry fiend? No, while I engaged in battle with the swarthy squirrel, he slowly backed away. And when I started running down the path toward him, he started running too. When I caught up with him, he put his arm out and shoved me behind him. So much for a knight in shining armour.

As we take off, the squirrel is hot on our heels, chattering madly all the while. After a couple hundred metres or so, our out-of-shape lungs burn and legs turn to jello. We're beat, but we're lucky because it seems we've made our way outside the borders of this particular squirrel's territory. We glance over our shoulders to see that the squirrel has stopped in the middle of the trail, tail puffed to its fullest extent. He continues his angry tirade, but ends his pursuit. We sheepishly continue our walk, and I ask Dave for an explanation as to why, in the face of grave danger, he shoved me back toward our pursuer.

So, when I see the squirrel scaling the cinder-block wall in the spare stall, my heart rate spikes. I know his kind, and I don't trust this little bugger; however, luckily the stall does have a door which opens directly outside onto one of the small paddocks. Surely, if I open this door, the squirrel will happily let itself out. Right?

I step out of the stall and walk around the outside of the barn. With a bit of effort, I slide the warped bolt across, and yank open the stall door. Then, I go back inside and stand at the doorway leading into the barn. The squirrel doesn't make any kind of move toward the wide-open, inviting door. I decide to offer a bit of encouragement.

I grab a broom and wave it toward him. He doesn't even flinch. I suppose I should step a bit closer. I do. This time, when I wave the broom, he scurries down the wall and hides behind a bag of shavings. I wait.

A minute or so goes by, and still the squirrel isn't enticed by the sunshine streaming through the recently opened door. I decide to prod him along just a bit more. I lift the broom in the air, and then heave it down on top of the bag of shavings behind which the squirrel is squatting. The impact sends out a loud thud. The squirrel darts out of his hiding spot. But instead of scrambling for the open door, the crazed animal makes a frenzied dash straight toward me.

The next thing I know, he leaps from the floor to my leg, landing at about knee height. I shriek. Before I have time to shake him off, he's already at hip level. I drop the broom, and am about to start dancing around like some ancient tribal warrior. But the squirrel (perhaps a distant relative of the Point Pleasant Park clan), leaps from my leg of his own accord. He lands on the wall next to me, and climbs straight up, through the rafters and into the hayloft. He never even considers the open outside door. Clearly, he already knows his way around.

When my heart rate settles, I pick up the phone and call Dave: "We're getting a barn cat. Not a kitten, but a full-grown, lean, mean hunting machine."

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