Thursday, November 7, 2013

Here Be Dragons


Ancient cartographers wrote Here Be Dragons to indicate unexplored territories and their imagined dangers. Fair warning, I guess, if you enter mysterious lands.

I’ve lived plenty of places in my life and every one of them is a mapped dot —a city in a county in a state. Nothing mysterious is left.

But I tell you this. No place ever mentions the squirrel hazard. The scary creatures haunt me.

In Oklahoma they chewed through the handle of the hose mobile. An elderly neighbor told me the salt from people’s hands attracted them. That gnawed handle, dangling unattractively, drove me crazy. Cliff said he could fix it, but I’ve been through that before—a man with a roll of duct tape. It’s never pretty.

In Wisconsin they ate my fall pumpkins on the porch our first year there. In subsequent years I carried each pumpkin inside during the night and kept watch throughout the day. Finally I got tired. The squirrels were waiting for me to surrender. They knew my kind.

In Illinois they chewed the pretty wood planters I special ordered.  Their white-picket styling matched our new fence.  Filled with pink geraniums and ferns, they would have caught Martha Stewart’s eye if she’d ever happened by, lost from Connecticut.  The hardware store clerk swore by sour apple spray. It worked, but I couldn’t keep it up.  It rained.  We went on vacation.  The squirrels waited me out.

In North Carolina our yard was filled with birds, so Maggie and I took on an outdoor winter craft project. (I read you were supposed to do that kind of thing with kids.  Otherwise they’d become teenagers with everything pierced and tattooed.) We gathered pine cones, covered them in peanut butter, rolled them in bird seed, and hung them from plant hooks. It was good, sticky fun. The birds were thrilled. 

Then one morning a genius squirrel figured it out. There in our yard, with his friends gathered, he set up Cirque de Squirrel. I couldn’t believe his agility, his relentless approaches. He set that pine cone swinging with his feet, grabbed on, and flew off the hook with it. He had learned well the laws of physics from his time at Harvard. 

In Minnesota I've finally learned that polyurethane spray banishes squirrels from pumpkins until the freezing rain finally wears it off. By then Thanksgiving is over and orange is no longer trendy.  At last.  I won.

But here’s what I didn't know when we bought this house. The real estate description sheet should have been marked: Here Be Squirrels and Such.  Apparently we’re on an ancient wildlife trail that makes our property irresistible.  Something gnawed two places in the new fence in order to pass through. The landscaping crew thought it was raccoons. Then something started eating the new plants, apparently thinking we’d installed a salad bar for their evening enjoyment on their journey through our yard. The same crew figured it was rabbits. I bought 100% guaranteed Bunny Barrier, a mix of despicable bagged herbs. Hung at nose level (One hangs on the arm of our Chinese statue.), it successfully shooed them away.
I was feeling proud of myself until Cliff noticed the hostas at the far end of the yard. The largest leaves were gone; only their stems remained. Clearly the herbal odor didn’t reach that far.

“What will you do now?” he asked.

“Nothing. At the end of the day, we all have to make a living.”

It’s important to know when you’re beaten, when to throw in the towel, when to fold your cards.

I’d take my chances with a dragon any day.

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6 comments:

  1. Just wonderfully funny! Can't think of any creatures except bugs! The kind that come out at night and roam on the kitchen counters that upset & provoke me as squirrels do you! Here im NC they can be scary as dragons, big as erasers & black as tar..They just don't go away! But found some herbal remedies in the arsinal. We'll see when I go on my midnight walk who won!

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    1. That's terrifying! I send you my bravest, best wishes. Battle on!

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  2. This was charming. Squirrels are known as the clowns of the garden. Everyone knows clowns are treacherous and evil. HA!

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  3. This is actually the first place where they don't much bother anything in the yard. But these are country squirrels with a forest and river a block away. They've got their own lavish buffet, far better than ours.

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  4. From Anne Morrow Cooper: I have always been a garden-appreciator, rather than a gardener, but reading this piece brought a smile to my face. Having recently moved south of Tulsa, I've not only drawn closer to an abundance of brown squirrels but also have been subjected to skunks, rabbits, raccoons, opossums and coyotes. I believe I'll stick with my few colorful potted plants and leave it at that.

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