I’m hungry — hungry enough to explore even unpromising prospects. I run easily up a skinny trunk without any reasonable expectation of payoff. Reaching the highest point that’s safe for me, I look around. Darn. No leaves. No berries. Well, that should teach me. I’m about to move on, but something catches my eye. I edge along a tiny branch that, by rights, shouldn’t support my weight. Swaying unsteadily, I reach out and pull off a densely packed nugget. One taste and I can hardly believe my luck. What sweet intensity! Now that I know what I’m looking for, I see another one. And another! On the alert for prowling cats, I quickly strip the tree, stuffing myself while the stuffing is good.
The thought of Year 3 has kept me warm all winter. Year 1 — the year of the transplanting — the tree had just barely hung onto its leaves. Year 2 produced one fabulous blossom — disconcertingly lovely, really, especially to an expatriate Albertan more accustomed to choosing plants for winter hardiness than for spring loveliness. Now, as the days lengthen, I can hardly wait to see what Year 3 will produce, but the spring that started a month early has stalled. So, too, have the blossoms on my prized magnolia tree stalled, discouraged by cold days, colder nights, and a totally unnecessary April dump of heavy, wet snow. And so I wait.
Finally, a day that is both sunny and warm. As I raise the bedroom blinds, something catches my eye: well, Something Not There catches my eye. My magnolia tree has gone from merely stalled to totally bereft: not a single bud remains. I don’t quite gasp, but I do swear. Blankety-blank squirrels!
Squirrels. So cute in profile as they scamper by in local parks, bushy tail raised high; so ugly viewed straight-on. Faces devoid of expression reflect brains apparently empty of anything but eating and not being eaten. They are rats with good public relations.
As converts to any religion or ideology are said to be more committed to the belief system than are lifelong adherents, maybe my squirrel phobia is accentuated because I have come to it recently. Not so long ago, squirrels were cute; I marvelled at their undulating progress through the grass, their headlong, hell-bent-for-leather progress both up and down trees. But that was then: this is now. Then, I had never lived in a city with squirrels. Now, I live in a city with too many of the little devils.
I run up a trunk, not even sure what I’m looking for. Just looking, I guess. I like to climb — it feels right, somehow — and with few trees around here, I climb while the climbing is good. I go up as far as I can and stop, swaying a little. Oh, look, a place I can jump to. I like to jump. I run along a narrow path — I can’t get my claws into it, but I keep moving and don’t fall. I wonder if there’s anything up here to eat. I dig through some dirt — Could there be nuts in there? — but all I find are little plants. I try them all carefully, but they don’t taste good. One by one, I spit them out.
On the second floor of our downtown townhouse, a movement at the window catches my eye. Good grief, it’s a squirrel on the window ledge. How did it even get up here — by scaling the brickwork? It jumps to the railing of our neighbour’s balcony and disappears from view. I head out to our balcony to see where it’s gone, and step into a scattering of marigold bedding plants and potting soil. Blankety-blank squirrels!
I’ve been burying nuts for a while. I don’t know why — it feels right, somehow. The plants that usually make it tough to get around are drier now and it’s easier to run along the ground. I hesitate as I come to the edge of the trees. Just ahead, I see a place where the soil looks different. Did I bury something here? I can’t remember. I dig through the loose soil. Something smells good, but it’s a long way down. I dig and dig, and there it is. My goodness, it’s huge! I grab it quickly with my teeth, and run.
In the living room of our new bungalow, I glance out the window in time to see a squirrel charging by with a Huge White Something in its mouth. I sigh. So long, tulip bulb: the only question is whether the little rats will get them all. Blankety-blank squirrels!
Since those early days in Ottawa, I have become wiser in the ways of squirrels. When planting bulbs, I now cover them with chicken wire or sprinkle bone meal in the hole, slowing the depredation if not entirely halting it. But I have not yet learned how to keep a rat that is built for climbing and jumping from climbing up my prized magnolia tree, or from jumping on it from the nearby fence. Nor have I figured out how to protect the serviceberries that will come along a little later in the spring, on a tree planted to attract birds, not rats, damn it!
I don’t remember many things. But I remember what tastes good, and how to find it again.
As I ponder my limited options, I ponder, too, how easy it is to support something in theory as opposed to ‘in practice’, and how attractive a virtue can be in the abstract, when I don’t have to incur the cost of actually maintaining it. An armchair proponent of biodiversity, I admit to being tempted to try to engineer a tad less diversity in my neighbourhood. What else are squirrel guns for? Alas, my restraint is more pragmatic than ethical. I have it on good authority that dispatching these territorial varmints will not solve my problem: new ones will just move in.