28 March 2011

Without a paddle

How did a young squirrel get trapped inside the toilet of a businessman's hotel room in Malawi?

That is, in fact, what happened according to this account, and many others, about traveling entrepreneur Duncan Goose.

In the photo taken by the startled traveler, the squirrel, to say the least, looks distressed, if not altogether disgusted: A ceramic commode is not exactly a treetop in the great outdoors, and there is no material to be found in a toilet bowl that makes for suitable nesting.

The British businessman, however, had the presence of mind (once he overcame the shock) to rescue the little squirrel and set him (or her) free. That was both a kindness, and a commendable move.

This is not the first time a squirrel and a toilet have had a similarly unpleasant encounter. In December, an unfortunate squirrel turned up in an equally flushable situation as related by a news account we wrote about from Oklahoma. In September 2008, a story from Canada told how another squirrel, entrapped in the household plumbing fixture, freed himself and became airborne toward the little boy who discovered him.

Perhaps that style exit was appropriate, seeing as the Canadian rodent in this situation was a flying squirrel.

But what of Duncan Goose's discovery? Did the squirrel know that Goose, by virtue of his career, had an intimate relationships with toilets: His company manufacturers toilet tissue.

However, it was a nearby hand towel - and not a single-ply roll - that proved to be the little creature's salvation. Goose proferred it as a makeshift ladder to climb and I am sure the little squirrel was at least momentarily grateful.

But why do the denizens of oak and maple end up, every now and again, entrapped in the legacy purportedly left by Sir Thomas Crapper?

This will, perhaps, continue to be a mystery well-worth plumbing.

17 March 2011

Assault by rumor

Now it's getting ugly. Enough already. The news is swirling once again with news of yet another squirrel "attack," this one in Bennington, Vermont.

Hide the kids, folks. While you're at it, hide your elderly relatives too: Both print and broadcast reports even are even making use the "R" word (rabies), a virus not commonly associated with squirrels. Squirrels simply don't carry it, they simply don't harbor or transmit the deadly virus. The only thing going viral here is the report of the Mad Serial Killer Rodent of Vermont, the suspect identified as a furry, gray 2-pound assassin who stalks his human victims and then detonates himself as an out-of-control IED.

These reports liken the squirrel to nature's own Weapon of Mass Destruction. But this sounds more like mass hysteria than anything else - and the media outlets aren't helping. At least the Fox channel right there in Bennington, Vermont had the good sense to include the wizened input of one of the wildlife wardens whose words of reassurance seemed somehow to calm the crazed locals. A newspaper did the responsible thing and quoted a local veterinarian who, pretty much, provided the same reassurance. Hopefully that had a calming influence on residents who probably began seeking refuge in whatever bomb shelters were left over from the Cold War era. (Hey, if they were good enough to ward off the Russians, they should work just fine against the squirrels, no?)

C'mon Vermonters. You know better. Your state is probably one of the northeast's last bastions of nature-friendliness.

Know this as a fact: Squirrels are not predators. They rank, unfortunately, quite low on the food chain which places their status at prey. That's "prey," meaning that someone is out to get them and eat them. Sometimes a hawk, sometimes an owl, sometimes a fox. Even a stray cat or, yes, a sports-minded human toting a loaded gun.

Are killer squirrels are out there, clinging to every tree branch, stalking us, waiting to get us? I think not.

They might well ask us to pray instead of prey. Seems they need it, these days. Ignorance can be deadly. Especially in Vermont.

14 March 2011

Time out for squirrels

OK, who took the missing hour? Thanks to Daylight Saving Time, what was 1 a.m. Sunday became 2 a.m. Sunday or - wait - was it 1 a.m. or was it 2 a.m. or was it 3 a.m.? And when does it go back to 2 a.m. or 1 a.m?? In my head, I keep hearing those notorious 1950s lyrics, "Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople..." So it's really 2 a.m. but now it's 3 a.m. and now it's 4 a.m. and now it's 5 a.m. but maybe it should be 4 a.m. or maybe it was really 1 a.m. after all.

Or maybe I'd be better off in Istanbul.
Or Constantinople.

The squirrels, on the other hand (in this case, the hour hand) don't seem to mind. They've adjusted. Delightfully diurnal, they live year round on Nut Savings Time, impervious to humans' machinations surrounding the world's circadian rhythms.

Rise and shine (a little earlier): Here they come. It's half-after Almond, a quarter to Brazil Nut. It's 20 after Walnut. With spring just days away, the squirrels have been working overtime - who has the luxury of looking at the clock?

But the question remains: Where did that hour go? Some suggest the squirrels stashed it beneath a maple tree or stuffed it high in the branches in one of their dreys and are keeping it there until fall.

Other suggest the squirrels took that hour and cracked it open between their teeth, then swallowed its innards whole.

Or maybe that hour never existed at all. Hours and minutes are, after all, the obsessions of humans, not squirrels. And none of it matters, at least not to them: Somewhere between 6 and 12 hungry squirrels have already been at the back door - or the front door - since the sun came up, making their demands.

"The time is NOW," they are saying.

Perhaps they are right: Seize the day. Or at least, the next nut that comes along.

08 March 2011

Squirrels behaving badly

Talk to any avid gardener or overly protective homeowner and they'll swear that the squirrel is the Charlie Sheen of the wildlife community: A squirrel engages in public mating with reckless serial abandon, has a penchant for crack, particularly when the crack is carefully aimed at the outer coating of addictive acorns, nuts and other hard-shelled yummies. And they dig up dirt. Lots of it. Often on a well-groomed lawn and lovingly planted garden.

Let's not even talk about bird feeders, the seedier side of their long rap sheet.

The squirrel scores "Two and a Half Points" for popularity in some people's playbook. Never mind causing the cancellation of a hit TV show; a squirrel, with a well-aimed chomp of those finely honed teeth, can throw an entire metropolitan area into a sea of blacked-out powerless void. Now that's cancellation power!

OK, so their manners aren't exactly Disney or Beatrix Potter. But remember, even Martha Stewart, with her seemingly impeccable manners and teacup-proper taste, ended up making her exit in a hand-knit prison poncho.

Besides, you don't see many squirrels plastered in full color on the covers of the supermarket tabloids, wearing string bikinis, too-small thongs and oversized, obscene tattoos. You don't see them declaring defiantly, in 42-point headline type: "I don't know the father of my last litter of 8 but I'm keeping them anyway!" or "I'm not sure who gave me mange but I know it's curable!"

Does anyone think to thank them for aerating garden soil with those tiny paws, or for planting the world's giant forests by cracking (and then leaving) all those acorns? How many hours of sweet laughter have resulted from sitting on a Sunday morning watching their treetop antics, especially the young ones first finding the balance in their "tree legs."

They're not perfect but in some eyes, they're pretty close. Squirrels ride high in the trees but have just as much appeal when they're showing their down-to-earth side. They lived on the planet before us and will likely - if we don't destroy the planet - outlive us too. Sorry, Charlie. Say what you will about their naughty antics: The sheen will never be off the squirrel.