The Persistent Squirrel

“The squirrels will eat you out of house and home,” my dad predicted when we told him we were putting bird feeders in our backyard.  He spoke from experience.  Living in the country in a cold climate, he routinely put out bird food to entertain my homebound mother. In the summer it was bird food in bird feeders.  In winter it was whole ears of cow corn strewn through the frosty back yard. And there was nothing more amusing to my mother and I than the sight of one of those big ears of corn bounding upright through the snow, precariously attached to the mouth of a brash grey squirrel.

Now my husband and I were not worried about being eaten out of house and home. We laughed together as we returned from our annual visit to dad in Pennsylvania.  We would only be eaten out of house and home, we agreed, if we filled the bird feeders whenever the squirrels emptied it. But we could persevere; we would fill the feeders once a week and whoever got it, squirrel or bird, would win the prize.

But the birds were beautiful, and they only came when there was food in the feeder, so maybe we did find that we needed to fill it more often. Well, there are other ways to thwart the squirrels. Almost ten years ago we got a dog.  Otis loved nothing more than to be put on squirrel patrol.  “Squirrel,” we would hiss by the back door and he would come crouching over until we opened the door wide.  Then he would bound out after the squirrel, happy and proud as could be when he returned empty.  Our only fear was that one day he might catch the rodent, but we had nothing to fear – those squirrels are fast.

But it was far too hot to leave the dog out all the time, and we couldn’t stand guard at he back door, so we also bought “baffles” which put a wobbly metal barrier around the pole of the feeder. Or, in our case, it provided a wonderful seat for the squirrels to balance while they munched on the bird food – and they got a good core workout too.

The truth was, none of this really concerned us.  Savannah is a nirvana for birds, and there were always travelers to entertain us, even if the squirrels ate much of our bird food each week. But as we started to buy better bird food, to attract more exotic birds and to have less mess around the feeder, we decided to upgrade our gear.  My husband found a technologically wonderful and expensive baffle system at Wild Birds Unlimited that for five years has kept the squirrels safely from our pricey feed. We have bragged that we have it made – beautiful exotic birds at the feeder all year round and squirrels on the ground to entertain us.

Until this weekend. Several weeks ago I saw a particularly bold squirrel stretching as tall as he could get to reach the fancy baffle. But there’s no grip. No way to climb up. He was rebuffed, or so I thought. But I was wrong. This weekend we looked out and there he was proud, fat, and happy above the baffle eating the fancy food by the paw full.

Otis is a little too old these days to chase squirrels, so my husband ran out and chased him off. But there he was back the next morning, his long bushy tail flicking impishly. He even took a few minutes to swallow before jumping down when my husband rushed out into the back yard.  I had to wonder who was really being scolded.

Is he jumping from the roof or an overhanging tree? If so, it’s a very risky maneuver.  That food must really be worth something. Or did he finally, after years of trying, and probably a generation or two of improved brain power, all fixated on solving the fancy baffle problem make it up and over the “squirrel proof” bird feeding system?

And who’s smarter – the squirrel who’s been enjoying some great meals, or the person in the armchair who’s wasted much of a morning of writing watching to see if she can catch him in the act?

For now, I love this squirrel, who can get me out of my head to just sit and contemplate a miracle for a while.  Ask me again when he’s eaten us out of house and home.

Squirrels seem to be the bane of bird lovers everywhere. Do you find them to be a nuisance, or another source of entertainment?  What makes a difference in how you see them? Would that make a difference in how you see other nuisances in your life? What can you to “waste” a morning that might really be lovely spiritual practice, drawing you closer to the Divine?

If you want someone to journey with you as you find the holy in the mundane, Openings: Let the Spirit In offers spiritual direction and retreats for individuals and groups. And now you can book your first free appointment online.

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