30 November 2008

Home for the holidays

He is a fat squirrel, but that's nothing new for our yard.

He is also "the tilted squirrel," which is what we call him when we see him - which is quite often - because he is the only one who walks in a kind of sideways fashion, with his head pressing up against an imaginary wall.

His balance is fine, however, and he can scrap with the best and the rest of them when it comes to claiming our tossed pecans and almonds as his own. He runs, he buries, he chatters and he is as able-bodied as he can be under the circumstances. I admire his grace and his spirit.

So it was particularly gratifying to discover, on Thanksgiving Day, where he is living: He has made his home nest in the tallest tree in our yard, the sycamore tree, which hosts one of several wooden nestboxes we have installed on our property. I have seen him sitting atop it, sunning himself, at times, and once or twice have spied his face peering out in inclement weather, as if he were waiting for the green light from some unseen squirrel meteorologist.

I love that he is there, that he has a home, and that he does not have to go far (except to the base of the tree and, of course, our deck) to get what he needs in life. We will happily provide for him during this tough season when "plenty" is hard to come by.

The Tilted Squirrel is home for the holidays - and the home in this case happens to be our home.

What a privilege that is.

23 November 2008

It's criminal that this is criminal!

Caught grey-handed!

A Canadian friend of wildlife, visiting an upscale city park in Montreal, has been fined for feeding squirrels. Bruce Kert is now a marked man, according to this story in the Westmount Examiner. He is branded a criminal for having consorted in a culinary fashion with rodents.

The city, you see, has Zero Tolerance for such nefarious activity. He brazenly brandished peanuts - or so the charges claim - and willfully fed the aforementioned urban vermin. Cuteness factor notwithstanding, he is charged with doing a bad, bad thing.

Presumably the city could probably make good use of the $455 worth of fines levied against in the insouciant Kert. (It's not likely they'll spend it on food for wildlife or even to cover the municipal vet bill, should one exist at all).

Presumably Kert may become sufficiently traumatized by this to subsequently develop a peanut allergy. He fed only two peanuts, according to the city, but at roughly $227 per nut, that isn't exactly.....uh, peanuts.

"It's not like I make a habit of it," the story quotes Kert as saying in his defense.

It's not likely he'll ever do it again, either. Squirrels, you see, are considered a nuisance.

Public Security Officers who stop and issue tickets to people enjoying the municipal park, however, are not.

What's wrong with this picture?

It's nuts.

16 November 2008

Leaving their mark

There is a small scar on the left side of my upper lip that I've had for the past year and a half. It's not something to laugh at but I suppose the way I got it is somewhat comical, mainly because it's the worst injury I sustained in an incident that could have ended more seriously.

I was rushing to the back door to hand a nut to a squirrel who was standing there, staring in.

Let me repeat that: I was rushing to the back door to feed a squirrel.

And I do mean rushing. Rushing so fast and so carelessly that I hooked my leg on the leg of our dining room table and went crashing down, face first, on our ceramic tile floor. I did not even have time to try to break my fall with either of my arms - and perhaps that is a good thing. I at least must have turned my head to the right, somehow doing the right thing, before I hit the floor which soon became splattered with blood, as if a crime scene had occurred.

Yes, even with a Jackson Pollock style outpouring of vital fluids on our beautiful tile, I continued to crawl to the door, nut in hand, and yes, I fed the squirrel (who, by the way, was still waiting there, quite unsympathetically.)

Crazy? Perhaps. But nothing more horrible had happened - and after a trip to the ER to get my seriously split lip stitched back together by a plastic surgeon, I was on my way.

That squirrel, by the way, had been a personal favorite of mine for two years at least. He was a sassy male, a very in-your-face kind of guy, and when he migrated to another territory three months later, I missed him terribly.

I still do.

These animals come and go in all our lives, don't they? When I see the scar on my lip, I think of him. But most of the marks they have left on my life are less visible (I'm grateful for that).

But they are there. Most definitely, they do remain.

08 November 2008

A classless act

Shame on the BBC. And shame on their wildlife show, "Autumnwatch," for broadcasting images of the corpse of a squirrel that had been electrocuted outside the garden shed of Bill Oddie, the show's presenter. The squirrel died after gnawing on electrical wire outside Oddie's North London home.

Yes, this stuff happens. Squirrels gnaw, they get electrocuted, they die horrible deaths. The newspapers are filled with stories about how towns, parts of cities, and other jurisdictions lose power because of squirrels gnawing electrical lines. A squirrel once shut down part of the New York Stock Exchange this way. A squirrel once shut down part of the massive Metro North train system, between Manhattan and Westchester County, in just this way.

And yes, in each case, the squirrel died.

The image would have been disturbing enough but Oddie could not leave well enough alone. He then is quoted as saying to viewers: ‘Better red than dead . . . or grey.’ He subsequently added: ‘Let all squirrels watching be warned, because you can get too cocky.’

I suppose he fancies himself a wit, having said all that. I suppose he thinks he is terribly clever.

I hope the BBC takes a good hard look at him and his show - which is immensely popular among TV viewers in the UK. Any host of a show who can take delight in, or see something amusing, in this kind of death - in ANY kind of unnecessary death of an animal - might need to have his appropriateness (or lack thereof) re-evaluated.

I hope the BBC pulls the plug on Oddie. No doubt he would still feel some kind of shock - but fear not, Oddie fans, it will only stun him a wee bit.

05 November 2008

3 squirrels, 3 wishes

It turned dark around 5 p.m. today and a light rain had already begun to fall, growing more steady with the minutes.

They're out there now, and survival is up to them.

Three little sisters, young orphaned squirrels, who were brought to us in September, have grown so increasingly wild over time I knew it would be unwise to try and overwinter them. We weren't just racing the clock now but the seasons: today was the day they had to be set free.

Ideally you want a day with moderate temperatures, which we had, but a forecast of dry weather is usually best. We released early - got them into the woods by 9 a.m. - because anything less than 7 or 8 hours of daylight for nest-building and checking out the surroundings is simply not sufficient.

Last night they were warm in a nestbox and they could have been kept safe forever, if only I had the time and the space, and if only they were not the wild creatures that nature intended them to be.

So we went forward into the woods this morning together, and their departure was swift and joyful. My wishes for them, then, are for a swift acclimation to their new and natural home, a joyful existence there, and all the safety that nature and their own wits can grant them.