Saturday, October 2, 2010

It All Started With Squirrels

He's staring at me, his tiny sharp claws gripping my porch screen as his fluffed out tail shakes like a silent tambourine.   A few days ago I discovered that when their tails do that it's their way of sending a warning.  He did a 180 on my screen, tail now up in the air, his head cocked and staring.  He was definitely sending out his warning.

"Hey, Moron, put food in the bird feeder or the pool float gets shredded,"

I know he's not joking.  He'll do it.  The noodle is proof of that.

When we moved into the house awhile back, I hung a small, yellow bird feeder on a two-foot shepherd's hook and filled it with the best Wal Mart had to offer.  I, then, lounged on my back porch, sipping coffee and awaited the arrival of grateful feathery fowls rejoicing in the abundance of free food on a mesh platter and chirping my praises.  Not one bird flew in.  I had even added a birdbath in the guise of a giant sunflower so they could splash and drink to their tiny hearts’ content.  Still, no takers.  However, a pack of squirrels swarmed the free buffet faster than senior citizens at a church potluck.

Do squirrels travel in packs?  Herds?  Church committees?  I don't know what the proper term is but I do know they converged on my back yard with the scrabbling of their tiny claws on our wooden fence sounding like a scene from a Stephen King movie.  A giant oak overshadows the feeder, offering shade for the weary travelers. Behind it sits a small tree, still in its black plastic container from the store, which the girls have told me the name of but which I can never remember.  I should plant the tree but then I'd feel like I had to learn its name.  After all, it's an intimate act sticking roots in soil.  I just couldn't do that to a bush I didn't know.

Watching the squirrels is quite entertaining.  It's like watching the Cirque Du Soleil in my backyard.  They are quite the daredevil gymnasts.  I've seen them do leaps that would make Hollywood stuntmen pale at the attempt and for which Hollywood now uses computer graphics.  They fly from branch to branch, swinging as if children on a rope swing, somersaulting themselves from branch to branch to fence to ground.

Except one poor little guy.  I really felt sorry for him for awhile.  He was obviously a young one judging by his size and everything was just slightly out of his reach.  The others could easily leap from the ground to the bird feeder.  He appeared as a two-year old trying to reach the cookies on the top shelf.  While the other squirrels leaped from the unnamed tree to land on the feeder sending it in Tilt-A-Whirl spins, this little fellow fell a few inches short to land on the ground every time.  I bet all of the other squirrels laughed and called him names.  I bet they wouldn't let him play in any of the squirrel games.

Just as I was about to take pity on the runt and put the feeder on the ground, it got entertaining.  Being a true American, I would much rather be entertained than of assistance so I sat back down and watched.  The tiny squirrel knew there was food above him and a nice black pole leading up to it.  It all seemed so simple in his peanut-sized brain.  Climb the pole; get the food.  So, he tried.  One little paw went over the other little paw and soon he had hoisted his little fanny off the ground and closer to lunch - only to slide right back down to the earth.  He was not giving up, however.  With the tenacity born from a hunger, he backed up to the porch and took a running leap at the metal pole.  Into the air he flew reaching halfway up the pole, his Barbie-sized feet climbing frantically to the feeder....only to slide back down as a fireman hearing a five-alarm bell.

He ran off in a chittering tizzy with his tail fluffed and waving and I was afraid of what the warning was about.  I stood again, my conscience elbowing me to help.  As I reached the screen door I saw him racing with Olympic speed towards the pole, chittering louder than my son's rap music.  He leaped with a screech that I'm sure was squirrel for "Bonzai!!!!!" and gripped as high as he could on the pole.  With desperation on his tiny brow he clawed his way to the top until he could stretch one tiny arm and reach the wooden feeder.  As soon as he felt the wood he let go of the pole and clung to the feeder with both set of claws.  It was like a Jerry Bruckhimer action movie.  I searched my yard for terrorist squirrels chasing our struggling hero.  With a chittering cry, he pulled himself into the feeder, his tiny little chest heaving with deep breaths.  I could see the satisfied grin on his whiskered face as he reached down and grabbed a sunflower seed with his front feet.

Just then a larger squirrel leaped from the tree to the feeder, setting it spinning.  My little hero was bounced out and onto his fluffy tail on the ground.  He looked up, shook his head as he sighed and wandered off for a squirrel cocktail.  I was going to join him but the girls say I’m should not drink before breakfast.

Squirrels are a fun group to watch, however.  They chased each other along the privacy fence and then up into the trees, leaping from branch to branch at a dizzying pace until one tagged the other.  Then they'd spin and do it all over again.  The other day, I watched two trip each other and pick each other up and toss them around in perfect WWE take downs.  It was then that a light bulb went off over my head.  These gray rodents were playing Tag and Hide-and-Go-Seek, except they were adult squirrels so they probably called it Squirrel Hunt.  Once you reach a certain age you can’t play Hide-and-Go-Seek without older kids laughing, so we – I mean, my sons – call it Man Hunt.  I had to wonder if this is where kids of old came up with their games, from watching animals play.

I continued to watch, now amazed at what I was seeing.  There it was- Freeze Tag.  Of course, the other squirrels leaped over the frozen squirrel to unfreeze him.  It's a little hard to climb between a squirrel's legs to unfreeze him, which is the human rule in case you didn't know.  Imagine the games taught by otters and lions, kittens and turtles.  Okay, maybe not turtles but you understand what I'm saying.  After all, animals were here before us.  It only seems reasonable that they came up with the games first.

Of course, some games children received from their parents.  Cowboys and Indians.  War.  Cops and robbers.  Headmaster and Miss Ellen the English teacher.

I'm sure that the games the squirrels play are also part of their courting rituals. Every species has them, that song and dance of moves that flutters the heart and ignites the endorphins.  For children, it was done through games.  Doctor, which probably started out as a wholesome game leading a child to pursue careers in the health and medical field, soon gave way to physical discovery and early marriages.  I had even heard adults older than myself talk about playing post office with that nudge-nudge wink-wink that told kids that a juicy secret was being shared that they weren't privy too.  Personally, I never understood how playing post office was erotic to adventurous young adults, unless licking stamps was a euphemism for something else and then I simply became grossed out.  I mean, I remember at Christmas how Mom would make my sister and I put the stamps on the Christmas cards.  The glue tasted gross and you never knew whose fingers were where you had to put your tongue.  It was totally unsanitary.

Then, some parent wised up and invented self-adhesive stamps.  Game over.  "See kids?  Nothing to lick here.  Go play war."

So, kids were left with doctor but even that game confused adolescents.

"Okay, lay down while I take your MRI."

"My what?"

A shrug of the shoulder.  "I don't know.  That's what my mom had done at the doctor's yesterday.  My uncle had a cat scan.  Want me to get Fluffy?"


And so science pushed kids into casual sex at a faster rate because they took the game out of it.  With no prelude, they were left with only the act itself.  Of course, it doesn’t help that kids are no longer outside watching squirrels and climbing trees like monkeys.  Their inside watching former Mickey Mouse Club members prance around in almost nothing and signing soft drink endorsements.  Hannah Montana has grown up and busted out and the little girls who follow her only want to follow her all the way.  I miss the Bugs Bunny days of harmful violence.

When it’s my turn to have grandkids, I think I’ll have them sit with me on the back porch and watch the squirrels.  Unless, of course, the squirrels have learned how to play Spin-the-Branch.

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