A message from Merle

image credit: Bill Peet

image credit: Bill Peet

I was stirred from my soak in the bath and evening-dreaming by rapid-fire tittering on the roof outside.

Cheek cheek…cheek cheek CHEEK!!

I know that sound, and as I heard tiny feet patter away I felt a twinge of guilt mixed with a subtle glint of victory. I know the identity of that cheeky titterer – it’s the squirrel that I recently evicted.

I saw a squirrel – this squirrel? – making use of a tiny entrance last week, dancing over the power line and then disappearing into the fascia. I heard their chirping at night and the cats’ eyes grew wide. Is it inside the house? Outside? Both, and neither.

Yesterday, after making sure that the squirrel(s) were most likely not inside the house, I climbed up onto the roof and plugged their entrance. I watched, and I waited, but saw and heard nothing until their exclamation tonight.

Cheek cheek…cheek cheek CHEEK!! cried the squirrel, in a tone I could only interpret as frantic.

No, I thought. You’re projecting human tone onto a squirrel’s chirps, and just because it’s high-pitched doesn’t mean it’s frantic. There are many other possibilities for what that means.

Maybe the squirrel’s cursing me with all the vehemence of a medieval knight, “you owl-hearted coward, may your winter stores be blighted!” Or maybe I was visited by a blasé roof-surfing squirrel, chirping out “ah man, so much for that sweet pad. Sour grapes, bro” in an indifferent farewell. Maybe it’s a string of obscenities that I wouldn’t understand because they refer to a set of squirrel taboos that are outside my frame of reference. Either way, I’ll never know.

And I do feel badly for evicting the squirrel, or squirrels, this close to winter. Call me cold-hearted or call me an over-sensitive tree-hugging critter-lover – it could go either way. But as much as others have told me that the squirrel is just a rat, a pest, I can’t bring myself to agree and plan poison.

When I hear squirrel, I think Merle.

image credit: Bill Peet

image credit: Bill Peet

Merle the High-Flying Squirrel was a kids book that either lived in my home or visited regularly from the library. It follows a city-dwelling squirrel (that would be Merle) through his daily life up in the trees and on the telephone wires. One day, he’s in the park peeking at papers over people’s shoulders and eavesdropping on conversations like a real creep (I can relate, Merle), and he learns about the big trees out West, and the ocean. After this, he’s no longer content with his wire-hopping life. Merle yearns to escape and see the ocean.

Short story shorter, he catches a stray kite and flies out of the city, over piney forests, and gets his wish. Yay, Merle! (The full story is better illustrated and full of more tension and adventure, near misses, some morals, perhaps, and plenty of squirrel’s-eye views.)

After reading Merle, I was more than a child entertained and momentarily placated. My perspective on the city and its other inhabitants shifted. I think of a squirrel’s-eye view, and I think of how much of a pest I am to all the critters who, like me, are just trying to make their way in this place and survive day to day. We’re all searching for sustenance and warmth through the winter.

And yes, I know it’s just a kids book, and it’s obviously not real because squirrels can’t read. If they could read, I would have sent them a notice that I was plugging their hole and saved us all some grief. They would have had 24 hours to move their store or leave me a turd-pile in retaliation – all fair game considering I’ve been a horrible landlord.

Sadly, the squirrel’s goals of home-making were not compatible with my goals of not having squirrels burrowing through my walls and electrical wires. I got stressed, and they likely got stress too, and it wasn’t an ideal situation for either of us.

If I could give every squirrel a kite to carry them to their dream home, I would. But tonight I’ll settle for not killing them, for remembering Merle.

NaBloPoMo November 2014


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