10 March 2014

Sci Fi at the feeder

This is for all the Sci-Fi fans, devotees of fantasy literature. For if there are any audible sounds that can inspire wild, fanciful impossibility, they can be summoned by uttering these five simple syllables:

"Outwitting Squirrels."

With this optimistic mantra as his book title, author Bill Adler Jr. has launched the third edition of the popular how-to, penned ostensibly to defend the honor and integrity of our nation's birdfeeders. But those of us in the know, the lucky few with the inside track, are painfully aware that this treatise is merely thin disguise for the anthem of a movement to thwart a purported Apocaplypse of American Democracy. By now, it is no secret: There are plans for a coup that will establish Government By Squirrel. (This is not, as some allege, a movement born in the underground. In fact, most of the conspiracy is taking shape in the treetops).

Adler's words serve as gentle propaganda to alert the masses of political overthrow proliferating on our lawns. Why else would his book feature an otherwise handsome visage of a squirrel, brazenly depicted on the front cover, depicting an unsuspecting Eastern Grey Squirrel as Snidely Whiplash, complete with bowler and moustache? This image is obviously PhotoShopped: no self-respecting squirrel would be caught in a bowler, and such stylized facial hair went out in the '60s.

The book's heart and soul, though, is the "101 Cunning Strategems" as its manifesto, many of which make an attempt to be cruelty-free. (The lack of a call for military intervention, by the way, is commendable - not just because most conflicts can, and should, be solved without militia and bloodshed, but because our nation's Department of Defense budget is already strained above its limits, and such open combat with the nation's rodentia has the potential to make the Crusades look like grade-school recess.) The squirrels would win, anyway.

Perhaps, though, if the word "war" is to be used at all in this context, it is best to invoke the image of the Cold War.

Indeed, in one chapter, "What to do if you think squirrels are cute," the author even offers a photo - no PhotoShopping here - of then-Soviet security chief Mikhail Dokuchayev feeding a squirrel on the lawn of the White House in 1988, at the time of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's visit. (No question about the symbolism here, even though none of the squirrels in our nation's capital are now - or have they ever been - Red squirrels.)

And so we say this to Bill Adler: Your rights to free speech (and the freedom of your book's presses) are protected by the same Constitution that safeguards the squirrels' inalienable rights to crack their nuts in peace. And at heart I sense that the science of your fiction is more fiction than it is science. Toward that end, Strategy #101 exhorts us, perhaps a bit breathlessly, to "decide that squirrels aren't so bad after all."

Smart thinking, Mr. Adler, for they are, even now, ascending the trees enroute to the American Presidency. The Revolution will not be stopped. (Besides, a squirrel statesman could do no more harm than the past few administrations.) Therefore, open your heart and the nut-filled palm of your hand and - to borrow a phrase from some old Sci-Fi classics - Take Us to Your Feeder.

28 January 2014

Groundhog's honor

There's no sense in trying to corrupt the incorruptible. No sense in trying to buy what's not for sale. So try as you might, you can’t bribe yourself into an early spring:

Punxsutawney Phil is not accepting PayPal, AmexGold or even plain hard (frozen hard) cash. With our own local New York groundhogs, it could be a different story: Malverne Mel may be malleable, Holbrook Hal may be hedgy and Staten Island Chuck may be swayed by New York City politics, but deep in the heart of rural Pennsylvania where Groundhog Day has its deepest roots, Phil’s going to tell it like it is. If he turns a cold shoulder to your misery, well, that’s his job.

Our nation’s prognosticating rodent is no Polar Pete, he’s no Vortex Vinnie, no Arctic Artie. Phil's the latest in a long line of prediction professionals, proud of the heritage that puts him in the spotlight, and out of the shadows, for one day each year.

What? You’d rather swap him out for Scrat, the prehistoric cartoon squirrel from the hit “Ice Age” films? After all, gregarious, undaunted Scrat not only could foresee the weather that lay ahead of the world, he then went out and actually caused it, and simply by pursuing the beloved acorn of his dreams, he changed the shape of entire continents.

Ah, if only it were that easy. But Phil, you see, is going to keep this game honest. He’ll declare his weather decision at the break of dawn and hours later, that very same day, he’ll decline to offer cold calculations on the Super Bowl. In fact, he’ll probably sleep right through it because spring’s own kickoff is the only one he cares about and that’s still a few weeks away.

You see, Phil is so downright upright that, even when he's curled up in happy hibernation 4 or 5 feet below, he's still a stand-up guy.

01 January 2014

New Year's party animals

The squirrels of New York, it seems, went to bed on New Years Eve 2013 in a singles bar and woke up, New Years Day 2014, in a bordello.

Suddenly the treetops have become X-rated.

Suddenly you have to be 18 years of age -- or older -- for permission to feed the squirrels.

Suddenly the phrase, “Don’t touch my nuts,” takes on a whole new connotation.

It was barely a half-day into the new year and I’d personally interrupted more than a few, uh, baby boom production teams in executive session. And not a single one of these creative confabs was preceded by so much as a candlelit acorn supper or even a movie (“Nut Job,” perhaps? Why not? The animated film is being released later this month under the banner, “No Nuts, No Glory.”)

Anyone looking to get a piece of tail -- even bushytail -- more efficiently than a treetop tryst should perhaps consider online dating.

As if these libidinous visuals weren't enough to contend with, the nonstop squeaking and grunting is enough to make the likes of Larry Flynt blush and send Linda Lovelace to a convent (behind a door of any color).

Admittedly, this is an annual bacchanalian ritual as necessary to squirrels as perhaps the Times Square Ball Drop is to some humans. But even this kind of ball action might have rendered the late Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark speechless.

Remember, dearest rodents: Yes, this is a time of renewal. But the watchwords of the new year have usually been: NEW YEAR, NEW SQUIRREL.

Translated loosely, that means: BE a new squirrel. Not necessarily MAKE a new squirrel.

29 December 2013

Squirrels, a secret weapon no more

For those of us who know the inner workings of squirrels - and yes, there are more than a few of us out there - it should be no surprise that one day this headline would appear in the news:

Police: Woman stabbed man with ceramic squirrel

This version of the North Charleson, S.C., domestic dispute, allegedly aided and abetted by remarkable violence involving rodent statuary, appeared on the WCSC-TV website, as well as on a San Francisco-based news website, and locales even further afield. The world is now nonplussed by what personal harm can come from the possession of an otherwise unassuming rodent figurine.

It seems, friends, the secret is out: Squirrels are, indeed, lethal weapons. In fact, now it is only a matter of time before the U.S. Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms will require squirrels to register their incisors, claws and other body parts. They will be heavily taxed for possessing them and then will have to cough up the acorns annually for renewing the annual permits. Even their bushy tail, by no stretch of the imagination, might qualify as "camouflage" - another tool of battle - falling under the same weaponry regulations, particularly in times of war.

In this one case, the battlefield was confined to the couple's South Carolina home where, according to police quoted in the local news report, the wife, upon discovering her husband had failed to bring home beer on his shopping trip, "hit the victim over the head with a ceramic squirrel, and stabbed him in the inventory of Bud Light and had sent her husband out in search of a few refills. What role the squirrel had in all this remains for the Grand Jury to determine).

Although no live squirrels were implicated as accessories, wild woodland creatures will nonetheless be shocked to learn of the federal licensing process that may take effect, in a hastily drafted emergency resolution, on Jan. 1, 2014. Law-abiding citizens of the forest and the suburbs who have been squirrelling away their larder for the long winter may now find their nut stash depleted by hefty permit fees. And since this declaration comes at the start of breeding season in some parts of the country, it may also put a cork in some libidos, since squirrels will likely no longer be able to afford litters of 5 or 6. (Admittedly, the babies would be issued "learner's permits" since claws and teeth do not emerge until a few weeks after birth. But clearly the cost of raising a litter in this country will now rise exponentially, forcing some squirrels to rely even more on public handouts).

As for us humans, the broader question is this: What will become of those of us who not only know the inner workings of squirrels but also possess abundant likenesses of them in plush toy form, carved wood, fabric and yes, even that most lethal ceramic form? Will we collectors now be subjected to a massive direct-mail campaign to join the NRA (National Rodent Artillery)? Will our vehicles be forced to sport bumper stickers that say "I'm the NRA and I Vote?"

Squirrels haven't been so feared for their military savvy since the capture in 2007 on the Iranian border of 14 squirrels outfitted with espionage equipment. The squirrels were arrested and accused of spying for Western interests.

Consider this, friends. We may have to consider a stealth strategy from this point forward if we all want to keep our squirrelabilia collections and the squirrels want to keep their dignity and their families. We may all end up having to join the underground.

Toward that end, hope is barely more than a month away: On Groundhog Day, all eyes will be on the king of that underground. We may find a ringleader in Punxsutawney Phil. When it comes to the threat of being shadowed, Phil's the pro we need.

19 December 2013

Claus for Celebration

Do you believe in Santa?

We're not talking red-suited corpulent elf, the cold-weather one-day-a-year laborer who, during the rest of the year, is the biggest slacker on the planet. The nation has so many of those, anyway, it's impossible NOT to believe.

No, this Santa is diminutive, gray-suited and only a wee bit elfin. He's a nut-hoarding, tree-climbing, butt-shaking, tooth-chattering, foot-stomping Santa.

OK, so he's a squirrel. But he's still Santa.
And you'd better believe because this Santa's not coming to town: He's already been here a few days. And he shows no sign of letting up. Barely a week before Christmas, right after the northeast's first serious snowfall, Santa landed - first on the rooftop and then on the deck - with barely a clatter (and without any apologies whatsoever to Clement Clarke Moore).

Santa, who carried no luggage with him, wanted what was in our sack instead: Pecans, on this particular day. He showed up the next day wanting what was in our sack again: Almonds, this time, were the nuts du jour. There was no red cap on his head, but below his chin, and just above his chest, was the slightest suggestion of beard: White, fluffy and oh-so-jolly.
In fact, three days into his visits, I thought I could hear him, in fluent squirrel, singing this carol: "Silent nut, holy nut, all is calm, fill my gut."

Fortunately, Santa stayed away from our chimney and fireplace. There is an animal cap up there anyway, so it's Santa-proofed for Santas of every size, shape and species. Besides, chestnuts roasting on an open fire didn't fit his agenda.
Not all squirrels resemble Santa - this is a first for us. And it is something of a Christmas miracle. Whether whether Santa is here for the 12 days of Christmas and into the New Year, or just sticking around for the annual winter breeding season remains is a mystery. But if he is just here to deliver a different kind of Christmas present - in the form of baby squirrels to our resident females - I sure hope Mrs. Claus doesn't find out: Too much ho-ho-ho'ing around, and there's likely to be tough sledding ahead for Santa.

Now dash away, dash away, dash away home - at least until tomorrow.

30 October 2013

Paying the acorn forward

Starbucks, the coffee giant often criticized for the twin sins of presenting jet fuel under the guise of java - and then pricing it like jet fuel anyway - can be proud that it struts some Squirrel Spirit.

That's right: Starbucks is channeling its inner rodent. Something positively bushytailed, and unquestionably bright-eyed, has been happening at baristas' drive-through windows around the region - perhaps the country: Motorists are pulling up to take delivery of their orders and discovering that the previous driver has already paid their tab. Inspired to reciprocity, these drivers are, in turn, extending the same courtesy to the car in line behind them.


They are paying it forward by paying it backward.

Starbucks customers are simply discovering the selfless gesture that squirrels have engaged in for millenia: If you bury a small acorn and then walk away, it will still have been a worthwhile effort, because someone is bound to come along, dig it up and enjoy it. (Smartypants that they are, squirrels are also wise to the fact that it is easier to unearth a well-buried seed of an oak tree than to try and excavate a Mocha Frappuccino Grande decked in whipped cream. With all that dirt flying, there's always the risk of ending up with too much ground in one's grounds.)

Think of this Starbucks phenomenon, then, as humans learning to Pay the Acorn Forward; the hazelnut here may be the flavor of a hand-crafted, blended Frappuccino beverage in a tall glass instead but what's going on here still constitutes the seed of a grand idea. Though squirrels rarely enjoy a reputation for altruistic acts, and even less of a reputation for being baristas with a social conscience, the fact remains that most nuts buried by one squirrel have a pretty decent chance of being consumed by another. Or, if left untouched for an extended period of time, those nuts producing an even greater gift to the world: a forest!

Who says squirrels don't have a giving spirit?

So let the Starbucks customers continue to dig down deep - into their pockets as well as their hearts - and unearth the kernel of kindness, Squirrel Style. It seems the idea isn't nuts, after all.

15 October 2013

No shutdown of their appetites

Disgusted with a government shutdown that’s gone well into its second week, the squirrels of Washington, D.C., are taking the country back, one tomato at a time.

Stubborn, indolent Democrats and Republicans who populate Congress have shown very little fruits for their equally paltry labors but a lively bipartisan bunch of eastern grays has been enjoying the best fruits of all – the Presidential tomatoes – straight off the Pennsylvania Avenue vine.


And it's all occurred while federally funded gardeners are furloughed, reaping only the worst of a bumper crop of shame. Since the start of the shutdown earlier this month, no one has been paid to clean up here, so Washington, D.C.’s squirrels, ever the patriots, have stepped up to the plate. And cleaned that plate well.

Everywhere there are tell-tale toothmarks in the Presidential peppers. In the White House garden, “squash” is no longer a crop but an action verb enacted by brazen bushytails. And as the nation’s debt crisis threatens to mushroom, chanterelles and portobellos are having their caps raised, again and again.

And all the while, Congress sits and vegetates.

A greater crisis looms, America, and it is a direct result of this horticultural coup d’etat: Consider the now-looming threat of squirrel obesity facing our nation as this Harvest Without End continues, and will continue ad infinitum, until Congress takes some action to end it along with the shutdown.

Otherwise, we shall picture soon a nation of squirrels with all the health issues concomitant with binge-eating and obesity, though not a single one of them even qualifies to receive treatment under Obamacare.

The squirrels will not stop until they press some gnawing sense of reality into our lawmakers. We can be sure of it. Because once the White House garden is finally devoid of anything but remnants of the fertilizer so pervasive throughout our nation's capital, the squirrels will discover they are, sadly, no different from most American citizens:

Completely fed up.

07 September 2013

Squirrels, the first to Twerk

The squirrels are up there in the trees and they're twerking. Unlike Miley Cyrus, they don't need a duet with Robin Thicke or the hot, sweaty glare of the VMA's cameras to get them going. Squirrels are naturals at twerking. It's a little-known fact that squirrels were the first to twerk, and were going at it long before the Dawn of Man. In fact, even after humans conceived of the Electric Slide or even the Twist and proclaimed it cool, squirrels had perfected the well-executed twerk, shaking that bushytailed booty and turning "twerk" from an action verb to an action hero!

Sadly the squirrels never trademarked those early rodent gyrations or hired an agent or even an entertainment lawyer, or they wouldn't still be in the parks today, begging for handouts. The squirrels would OWN
 the parks! And we'd be ones begging: "Twerk it again, Sam. Play 'Misty' for me and add some twerk, would you, for old time's sake?"

But squirrels are, after all, pragmatic creatures. Twerking the old-fashioned way might have accomplished a great caloric burn - all that rump-rotation doesn't come easy, after all - but it is largely a nonproductive enterprise. Enter Darwin's little-known theory, Survival of the Twerkiest: Squirrels, through the years, have thus refined the not-so-gentle art of the twerk, moving the critical focal point of the grinding action from posterior to anterior. 

Now the squirrels' most impressive nonstop gyration occurs between their teeth.

Tooth-twerking is hot - but it's not easy on the incisors.

Still, at least the end result is something tangible. Or, more accurately, edible. Squirrels have actually transformed twerking into an agribusiness, and they are the captains of their industry. Where music once celebrated the Sultans of Swing, rodentdom pays homage to these Titans of Twerk.

Human twerkers just don't seem to get this. They still haven't stopped twerking their bottoms long enough to sit down on those same seat cushions and ruminate upon the relative uselessness of their otherwise lazy rumps. It is time to evolve, from the bottom up. Squirrels may not win any VMA awards before music fans and TV audiences, but they're ahead of the game when it comes to the economy of effort expended. They're not lazy. They know you have to move it to groove it and, as such, they have become the twerkmasters of the universe.

As for the humans still mindlessly grinding away at it, the old-fashioned way - just remember that in the squirrels' eyes, this form of the twerk has simply bottomed out.

12 August 2013

Requiem

Sometimes on a bad morning, before I have a chance to remember, I still look for him. There in the rush of gray that greets me with its collective demand for pecans and walnuts, I wait for the eager, open face and the familiar drag of the crimped right front paw.


Ghastly as it was at first, the injury never seemed to hold the same significance for him as it did for me. In fact, few things stopped this squirrel in the year we shared beginning last spring, when he first showed up outside my sliding glass door. As-yet uninjured and enduringly photogenic, he captured me with his robust personality and the steadiness of his routine. Barely a month into our friendship, an encounter with a mystery predator left his right front paw permanently mangled and, for a time, infected and horrifically swollen. He kept his morning appointments and would sometimes add an afternoon encore. But he made it clear he wanted only my food, not my sympathy and most certainly not my help.

Then barely a week later, a new assault, one that left his richly bushed tail reduced to a half-torn flag waving in not-quite-surrender. The encounter had left the tail's disconnected remnant beneath a nestbox he'd called home for a short while in one of our maples. I scooped up the shard, placing it for safekeeping in a plastic bag, and sealed it.

I must have believed at the time this was how I could keep this independent spirit close forever.

And nothing slowed or stopped him. Not the blasting heat of that summer, not the subsequent superstorm of autumn, and not the battering of winter blizzards that escorted the arrival of 2013. As spring marked our full year of feedings and greetings, his wildness was softened slightly by his boldness: He would hang on the screen door, tap on the glass for me, or simply sit and stare in each morning – and wait. If he did not look for me, I would look for him. Somehow, we would find one another.

But for this tough survivor, it was always at a distance he perceived as safe.

The head wound, when it appeared in late spring, was deceptive. The hair loss accompanying it mirrored the onset of mange, not uncommon among squirrels but not necessarily worrisome. He was, after all, not the only male squirrel sporting such patches, the hallmark of inter-squirrel squirmishes sparked by hormones in spring mating season.

It did not take long for infection to rim his eyes with pus and collect in pockets that altered the sculpture of his head. On a Sunday morning, I presented him with an option and he took it: He stepped into the carrying cage - and into my foolish hope of being able to save him.

The freedom he lost that day was only designed to be short-term. By nightfall, mortality had rewritten that plan. After burying him a day later beneath our tallest evergreen, I locked the sliding glass door and turned my back on that insistent, inexorable parade of gray.

But they have proven to be the unstoppable ones, just as he had always been. Undaunted by a population diminished by one, committed to their own troublesome survival, they will not give up on the hope that their collective demands for food will always be filled. And so in their wisdom and their need to go forward into their lives, they have shown far more grace than I ever could.

It humbles me. I thank them for their patience and for the lesson.

I unlock the door and turn to face them again.

15 July 2013

When it ends up in the toilet

It seems that TSS - Toilet Squirrel Syndrome - has reared its watery head once more. If one is to believe the news reports, finding a squirrel in one's toilet is quickly becoming as commonplace as discovering a drippy faucet.

The latest toilet squirrel arrives by way of Canada, where a woman in Winnipeg, alerted by her dogs to a commotion in the commode, lifted the lid to find a drenched creature engaged in an unsuccessful struggle to climb out. Quick-thinking and compassionate, she fished the squirrel out with barbecue tongs, gently and mercifully rinsed him off in her bathtub with a small scoop of water, then set him free.

It is unclear how (or even why) the squirrel ended up a prisoner of the plumbing. Clearly he hadn't been looking for walnuts. This - like all the other toilet squirrels before - remains one of life's mysteries. The woman's concern and presence of mind saved a life (and her careful rinse job hopefully rescued some of the squirrel's dignity as well).

The story was widely covered by various news media, including MSN.com, the Vancouver Sun and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. However, a later news account of this on the CBC website could not leave well enough alone. After relating a somewhat responsible account of the odd sequence of events leading to this highly unusual rescue, CBC chose to create a poll, asking its online readership a most critical, life-altering question: "What would you do if you found a squirrel in your toilet?"

The CBC staff then offered a choice among four pre-selected answers: 1. Get out the BBQ tongs, 2. Rescue it and enjoy my new pet, 3. Free it, 4. Flush!

Clearly Canada's oldest and most respected national broadcast network needs desperately to believe it can be cute, even if it means taking cheap shots at a small, frightened creature.

Fortunately, the little squirrel who'd encountered the kind Winnipeg homeowner managed to be rescued from the depths of the toilet.

The same cannot be said for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

15 April 2013

Let's tax the squirrels!

The sum of $16-trillion is not a pretty number - not unless it's your annual salary. But this is the sum of the United States national debt and that makes things pretty ugly.

Sequestration is not a pretty word either. Not for people serving on a jury, and certainly not for Americans affected by "the sequester," automatic spending cuts designed to trim the ugliness of the $16-trillion debt.

This could all be made to go away overnight, however, if we'd just look to an abundant source of revenue that's just under - or rather, above - our noses: The squirrels. Natives of our nation, from the mid-Atlantic's eastern greys to California's rock squirrels, they enjoy many of the benefits of citizenry with none of the burdens of responsibility: white ones are given police protection in Olney, Illinois; gray ones are North Carolina's official state mammal, and black ones are celebrated in and around Kent, Ohio. They live in the subsidized housing of public parks - those fine oaks and maples cultivated at municipal expense.

And everywhere, they receive handouts. Perhaps even from you.

Meanwhile, when was the last time you saw a squirrel visit the Internal Revenue Service? How many CPAs have told you, at tax time, they are suffering from having a backlog of squirrels wanting help in filing their state and federal returns? Even citizen wildlife rehabbers - volunteers all - have been taking in their orphans as our own dependents to raise in foster care. We also cover their medical expenses and, yes, many of us have incurred motor vehicle expenses after hitting the brakes (or a guide rail or a tree) to spare the lives of those foolish enough to not know the rules of the road-crossing.

The squirrels, bless their hearts, sit in the trees and chitter at us. Or is that hysterical laughter?

So let's tax the squirrels. All of them. Let's put arboreal squirrels in the higher brackets - given their high position in the trees. And the burrow-dwellers be responsible for levies at a more down-to-earth percentage.

True, we run the risk of rodent revolution: Imagine a nation of squirrels dumping their nuts in Boston Harbor.

But it's time. With squirrel taxation we can end sequestration and get our country back on all fours again.

We deserve to be out of the red - and into the black or, at the very least, the gray.

25 March 2013

Justice for Puxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow last month but he's finding himself in an even bigger hole now: He is at the top of the list on America's Most Wanted. The prognosticating groundhog has been charged with perpetration of meteorological fraud, plotting to obliterate the vernal equinox and deliberately trying to snow the public.

In fact, the brazenly wintry mixes in the weeks following Phil’s February forecast for spring has left most folks feeling frosted.

There's no shadow of doubt: this woodchuck has enemies, and plenty of them. Someone's looking to put him on ice. Permanently.

What’s a renegade rodent to do? There is always the federal Woodchuck Protection Program. Let the Department of Justice cloak Phil in a new coat of fur, devise a new identity, and pair him with a career counselor to re-engineer his skills. By bringing his talents up to 21st century levels, Phil can cast off that 17th century mumbo jumbo that reflects the Druids and their devout Groundhoggisms, all those out-of-date practices that got the poor fellow into this meteorological mess in the first place.

Surrender, Phil: In an age of weather satellites and weather apps, the only answer is to give yourself up while there’s still time. Your best efforts have already been outsourced to technology, Satellites do it better from the sky than you could ever do on the ground (or below it).

Besides, now there’s a price on your head.

Would a new career be so bad? Insider information tells us there’s going to be an opening soon for another important seasonal post, a spot that is guaranteed to make you as loved and cherished as Santa Claus: It seems the Easter bunny is in contract for a condo in Boca Raton and anticipates retiring in just a few weeks to a life of golfing, shopping and playing poker. It might take a little surgery (well, your ears were always way too small anyway), and a few Zumba lessons to teach you how to hop, but this might end up being a nice fit.

Punxsutawney Phil, the Easter Woodchuck: now there's a good egg everyone can love.