The Usual Suspects
There is an overly tame squirrel in our neighborhood, which concerns me as a parent and a gardener. I have a Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd relationship with the four-legged mammals on my block. Typically, though, they have enough sense to flee when I run out of the house, waving my arms and screaming obscenities. Yes, I know the moment I return indoors, they saunter back to the garden to resume their meal. But at least they know who’s boss, and that the boss doesn’t like it when they eat his tomatoes.
But this one squirrel last month in our front yard wouldn’t move further than 10 feet from us, no matter how goofy I acted. The boys had lodged a large rubber ball up a tree and the squirrel was eyeing the ball like a prized purple acorn. We tried freeing it by hurling rocks, foam-tipped arrows, walking sticks and Frisbees. Despite the barrage of falling (or newly stuck) toys, the squirrel sat patiently, as if expecting to wrestle us for the acorn once it hit the ground.
After a walking stick expertly javelined into the branches knocked down the arrows and Frisbee (and much later, the ball), the squirrel rushed up to investigate these oddly shaped acorns. We retrieved our toys, but still, he hardly moved away from us. The lack of foaming at the mouth suggested he’d gotten his rabies shots recently, but I still cautioned the boys to keep their distance. If I had to guess, I’d say one of my neighbors has been hand feeding him into domestication. Probably the same neighbor who chastised her dog for chasing rabbits around her yard.
I know this squirrel is going to be big trouble for my 2009 garden. As it is, somebody (and I’m not blaming the neighbor for this one) has consistently bitten the heads off our tulips just after the poor darlings clawed their way to the surface year after pathetic year. Half of last year’s tomatoes either had large chunks bitten from them while still on the vine, or were spirited away to the alley for a stealthy meal. The cauliflower and broccoli leaves were eaten to nubs by what I’m guessing were rabbits early last spring. But after I installed a large fence around the plants, they sprang back and produced vegetables.
Chipmunks, though, are my biggest bane. They dig holes in the lawn and squeeze into impossibly small holes between the garage siding to make good their escape. I once chased a chipmunk around the backyard, pounding the ground just behind his tail with a spade repeatedly as he zigged and zagged just out of reach, while my wife rolled helplessly on the porch floor laughing at me. It was an unfair fight. My mentor, Elmer, was at least permitted to fire a shotgun once in a while. Local ordinances prohibit this, but recent a Supreme Court ruling might make it wewy wewy possible someday. My wife won’t hear of it, though.
Chipmunks (I’m told they might actually be ground squirrels. Don’t know; don’t care.) and squirrels are good climbers, so the 3-foot high garden fence doesn’t stop them. Powdered bloodmeal worked, but I switched to cayenne pepper, which when bought on sale and in bulk is much cheaper. The red powder was effective until the next rain or watering, at which point the soil looked chalky, and I envisioned earthworms hollering for an icy cold one to take the edge off the spice.
Years ago there used to be crows around here who would pick off the baby rodents. West Nile Virus all but eliminated them from the food chain early this century, and the only remaining predator is a neighborhood cat. I’ve seen her prowling the alley many times with a dead thing dangling from her jowls and lauded her with a “You go, girl!” Maybe she’d make a better mentor for me.