The Common Good
March 2004

Squirreling Away for the Winter

by Ed Spivey Jr. | March 2004

This being our special issue on the environment, I must preface my remarks
about wanting to strangle the squirrel in my bedroom wall by first reassuring
the reader that, here at ...

This being our special issue on the environment, I must preface my remarks about wanting to strangle the squirrel in my bedroom wall by first reassuring the reader that, here at Sojourners, I'm known as Mr. Nature. I consistently put the natural world before self, causing staff members to see me as no less than a modern-day St. Francis. (Or maybe it's because sometimes I come to work in my bathrobe, on account of I forget.)

For me, there are no pro-environment laws too restrictive, no endangered species legislation too protective, no wetlands undeserving of care. Err on the side of Mother Nature, I always say, as I brake for crossing wind gusts. Paper or plastic? It's not a choice, it's an outrage!

That said, however, and with a clear understanding of the biblical call to care for God's creation, I want to wring that little squirrel's neck. I want to teach him a lesson that will say to squirrels everywhere that my home is not theirs to move into for the winter, as cozy as my home may be, compared to - and I might be going out on a limb here - a tree. As a general rule, I believe that undomesticated creatures, with the possible exception of Winnie the Pooh and Rush Limbaugh, should not live in houses.

Unfortunately, I have had little support on this matter from those of my own species. The other humans in the house - those whose side of the bed is not next to Grand Central Squirrel - have been taken in by said squirrel's bushy tail and cute expressions. They stand at the window and smile warmly as the animal scampers about, gathering leaves in its mouth and occasionally stopping, in a Kodak moment, to raise up and look at us. Then it scampers up the gutter spout and poops in our house.

Apparently the cuteness of these moments outweighs any concern for my discomfort during the night, which leaves me coming down to breakfast with baggy eyes and a face gaunt from lack of sleep. (My looking like a jet-lagged Alan Greenspan obviously makes no difference to these squirrel-lovers.)

NIGHT AFTER NIGHT I am kept awake by the sounds of crinkling leaves as the squirrel wriggles in his makeshift bed, perhaps dreaming of a nut he once enjoyed. Or maybe some other nut.

I've tried to see things from the squirrel's perspective, and I imagine it's not easy settling in for the night. You know how it is when you're trying to get comfortable on a pile of dry leaves and fiberglass insulation. No matter how you shift your body, there's always a stem poking you in the ear, or scratchy fiberglass filaments creating a pre-cancerous irritation on your neck.

So my heart goes out to the little guy, and also my fist, as I pound on the wall trying to get him to stop whatever it is he's doing that sounds like somebody digging into a box of Cracker Jacks. (Which is hardly worth the effort these days, since the prize is just a piece of colored cardboard from China.)

Unfortunately, my wall-pounding seems to be making no difference, since the squirrel stops his movements only for a second, and probably says to himself, "There's that pounding again. Dag, some creature must have moved inside the walls."

My plans to leave out poison or set traps have been vetoed by a family that insists on a more humane approach, one that I was similarly required to take some years ago when a mouse had nested under our bathroom sink.

It was a young mouse, too stupid to hide when we opened the cabinet door, and it would raise up on its little legs and sniff at us with interest. My daughters declared this Just The Cutest Thing and placed him under their official protection. Which meant I could neither poison nor squash it, leaving one of those catch-and-release traps as the only option. The mouse was easy to catch (being, as it was in an earlier sentence, still young and stupid), but then the problem became "now what?" So I carried the trap to a vacant lot nearby and, with a motion that I had practiced beforehand, flung out the mouse at the exact moment I opened the little trap door. This was supposed to send the creature several feet away, where it could start a new life, possibly in the lucrative dumpster inspection industry. But my timing was off, and instead I flung the mouse straight down at my feet, where it quickly scurried for the closest dark space.

Which was up my pant leg.

I'd go into more detail but it STILL FREAKS ME OUT JUST THINKING ABOUT IT!

Not wanting to risk a similar incident with a squirrel, I've decided to just wait for spring, when warmer weather should send it outside. Then I plan to curl up on some leaves and fiberglass insulation and sleep until summer.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of
Sojourners. And now we know why his pants are so tight around the ankles. We thought it was a fashion thing.

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