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Writer’s Voice–Psycho squirrel, by Ellie Henke

by KTNA Staff ~ July 13th, 2014

The story of a squirrel who was…nuts, written and voiced by Talkeetna resident Ellie Henke. Text follows the ten minute audio piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An outburst of chattering and scolding erupts from a nearby spruce tree. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. . . . tell somebody who cares!” I shout back. Obviously the squirrel doesn’t care what I think and continues to read me the riot act.   Ah, squirrels!  Ya gotta love ‘em.   Or do you?  Attitudes toward squirrels are definitely a mixed bag.  People in my own neighborhood are a perfect example. The other day I found a whole peanut, shell and all, buried in one of my raised bed gardens. “Wow”, I thought to myself, “Those little buggers carried that all the way over here.”  I have bird feeders, but I’m not about to offer whole peanuts to anything, except maybe the occasional human house guest. But I have a pretty good idea where that peanut came from. Neighborhood lore tells of a mysterious opening in the woods down by the shores of Section House Lake where the forest floor is carpeted with a deep layer of peanut shells.  A new invasive species??? Not likely. We have a neighbor who falls into the “fond of squirrels” category, and is more generous with his peanuts than I am. And in true squirrel fashion in the face of abundance, if you can’t eat it, stash it, even if it can never be found again.

Our neighbors at the other end of Sunshine Road fall on the opposite side of the squirrel spectrum. “Those mangy little tree rats!” declares Airon. “I keep my twenty-two right by the door and I blast ‘em whenever they come around!”. There are even a few holes in the side of their shed to prove it. That’s one way to keep squirrels off the bird feeders.

So in a bi-polar neighborhood like this one, it’s enough to drive a poor squirrel. . . .well. . . .NUTS!  And that’s the squirrel we ended up with. There was no question when “psycho-squirrel” arrived. You see, we are more “middle-of-the-roaders” when it comes to squirrels. We have an old barn in back of our place, and since we don’t have any animals, we use it to store miscellaneous “stuff”.  We don’t really use the upper loft, so it has become the domain of an on-going series of squirrels. This is a regular “squirrel mahal”, warm and dry and out of the wind. It’s a highly desirable piece of real estate in our squirrel community. Over the years we’ve watched many a territorial dispute as they duke it out for occupancy of the “penthouse”.

Like a lot of people we put out bird feeders, and like a lot of people we also try to keep the squirrels off the feeders – relatively successfully I might add. At between 40 and 50 bucks for a 40 pound bag of bird seed a squirrel could easily eat us out of house and home. You might also recall my previous observation about “if you can’t eat it, stash it”. That’s all I need is to pay for squirrels to bury fancy black oiled sunflower seeds that they don’t even eat. So who gets the most entertainment? Is it Willi having fun creating ways to deflect the squirrels? Or is it the squirrels challenging Willi’s creativity? So far Willi has the upper hand. He put the covered platform feeder up on a tripod of spruce poles, which look enticingly like tree trunks. Then he foiled the little varmints by installing a 3-foot wide metal flashing around the entire feeder platform. The only way the squirrels have ever gotten past it has been during winters of deep snowfall when they can leap to the mother load from surrounding snow banks. He also hung a slick metal lampshade over the spruce log suet feeder that hangs from a tree branch. And he hung the tube feeder under the overhang of the kitchen roof.  For a long time it has pretty much been Willi – 3, squirrels – 0.       Until the arrival of psycho-squirrel. . . . . .

For several years our resident squirrel had been a portly old gentleman. He wasn’t the athletic type, and I never saw him seriously attempt to break through Willi’s feeder defenses. The closest he came was to launch himself off the kitchen roof, slide down the cord, and get unceremoniously pitched off the hanging tube feeder. He pottered around, stashed mushrooms in the trees, and never minded picking through the seeds spilled onto the ground underneath the feeders. He lived a quiet and uneventful life.      He never stood a chance. . . . . .

I was working in the kitchen, probably washing dishes, and gazing out the front window. Suddenly a squirrel appeared out of nowhere. In a move worthy of Jackie Chan he ran up the dihedral corner of the kitchen, did a dynamic twist off the door frame, and latched himself onto the violently swinging tube feeder. As the feeder settled down with him balancing on the edge, he began stuffing himself with seeds. If a squirrel could be said to smirk, this one did.   Psycho-squirrel had arrived.

As the weeks and months passed we got to know and marvel at this squirrel, leading to many exclamations of “Is He CRAZY?????” At first he appeared to be just a normal hyperactive squirrel. He scurried up and down the trees. He scolded us from the branches. He ate holes through the plastic of the tube feeder, and made leaping attempts to get onto the platform feeder. Most entertaining were his slides down the cord holding the spruce log feeder – every time the metal lamp shade dumped him on his head.

But then things started to get weird. When the winter snows got deep enough he started digging tunnels. These weren’t just one or two shortcuts. Soon he had a whole labyrinth of tunnels connecting the trees to the feeders, connecting the feeders to the garden beds, the garden beds to the side of the house. It reminded me of “Bop-a-Gopher” – you never knew which hole he’d pop out of next. And the more tunnels he built, the more territorial he got.  Soon he was leaping out of his holes and chasing the chickadees away from “his” seeds. The chickadees didn’t care. They just hopped out of the way and flew up to help themselves at the feeder. When one bird flew off, he’d chase another one, franticly running back and forth, up and down, in one tunnel and out another.

Finally, something snapped in his little squirrel brain. He took on the magpies! Now, a magpie must be at least three times as big as a squirrel and ten times as smart. And unlike the chickadees, they didn’t ignore that squirrel when he chased them. They played with him! “Come look at this!” cried Willi. “You won’t believe what is going on out there!” As we watched, that psycho squirrel charged after a magpie. The magpie hopped a few feet away. The squirrel came on. The magpie hopped up to a low tree branch. In a flash the squirrel ran up the trunk, out the branch. . . . . .and the magpie calmly hopped back to the ground. Around and around they went, the magpie leading the squirrel on, the squirrel tearing around after him.  When that magpie got bored, he passed that squirrel off to another magpie, and the game continued. This happened not just once, but many times. We spent hours watching a squirrel who was definitely “out of his tree”.

Of course this story had to have a sad conclusion. It ended in March, just about the time the burning of the sacrificial skis called in a dump of snow for the Oosik Classic Ski Race. We never knew the final chapter, but when it stopped snowing, psycho-squirrel was gone. We like to imagine an insane but heroic and dramatic ending for him. What did he do?  Decide to chase an ermine? Or a fox?  Or did he just get careless in his frenzy to drive the birds away? We will never know. But I have to admit, I miss that little guy. Compared to him the other squirrels are. . . .well. . . .boring!

This is Ellie Henke, in fond remembrance of “psycho-squirrel”. Thanks for listening.

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