Tuesday, June 23, 2009


My friend Joanna just told an online story about her dad and some squirrels. It got me to thinking about my own dad and his adventures with squirrels. My dad has a very complicated relationships with these beasts, which has calmed down in recent years but was once quite intensely violent.

You see, we had bird feeders in the back yard. And the damn squirrels would always get the food. That's what started it all, I think. They learned to tightrope walk on the clothesline, dangle from branches, perform contortions and acrobatics that defied even the pork grease my dad used on the poles of squirrel proof feeders. So he started trapping them.

He had this thing in the yard called a "Have a Heart" trap and he'd bait the squirrels until they climbed in. Once he had his catch, my dad the Deerslayer would (much like Leatherstocking, I'm sure) spray paint them orange and put them, alive and smelling of paint fumes, in the trunk of the Volvo. From there, he would drive several miles down the road and release the little rodents into the park.

Why would he paint them? Why orange? Because then he'd know if they were coming back, obviously. Why drive them to the park? Disorientation! Don't you pay attention?

Do you know what it sounds like when one has a squirrel running around trapped in a Volvo trunk? I think it sounds almost exactly like a room full of 5 year olds when someone brings both Yo Gabba Gabba AND ice cream into the premises. This squirrel painting and trapping habit got old really fast.

Until the squirrels started breaking into our house. They somehow managed to figure out that all they needed to do was eat our window screens and they'd have free access to things like our candy stash and our ankles. I awoke several mornings to find one circling the kitchen and sometimes, we'd hear them climbing around inside the chimney or walls where they permeated the flu. They could have been secret scouts for Santa, such was their skill at B&E.

Dad moved into full SWAT mode, utilizing binoculars and stealth observation from the garage and getting rid of the ethical traps in favor of mini bear traps. Bear traps. Like people use to trap bears.

One day in high school, I went into the basement to switch some laundry from the washer to the dryer. As was my habit, I only turned on the light in the outer part of the basement, allowing this light to guide me in the darker laundry area. So, I stepped into the semidarkness and made a beeline for the washer. I trod on something sharp, something alive, something that squealed when my foot touched it.

Barefoot, as I always was and ever will be, I had stepped on the edge of an engaged bear trap containing a living, suffering squirrel. In my house. In my basement. I have never known such terror and when I finally turned on the light to illumniate the squirrel, I have never seen such terror reflected back at me. My dad's reaction was quite the opposite: jubilation. "I got one! I got 'im! Ha! Gotcha, you sonofabitch!" He was practically dancing.

I fled to the hall closet where I sat and rocked and hid and tried to make my foot not remember the feeling of the squirrels toes, the steel trap.

In retrospect, I view this time as my dad's midlife crisis. He was 45, he was changing to a new job, he hated driving the snow plow, and the squirrels vexed him. Soon after this, he began working with HO scale model trains, designing grand platforms and filling the house with realistically painted tunnels, snowy winter scenes, etc. But during those months of rodent rampage, I saw what could happen to a person if he or she tried to internalize stress. That shit manifests itself and squirts out in strange ways.

And I knew I had enough of my father in me to one day wind up like that, crouched in the garage with binoculars at dusk taking notes on squirrel activity while I found the best bait for my conquests. I think that I have that time in my life to thank for my first real, dedicated and focused writing, which I find to be much more theraputic than animal trapping. I have more journals and stories from that year, more envelopes of semi-autobiographical crap...so I suppose I should let go of my anger at my dad for making me step on a dying rodent in our basement.

I should thank him for the impetus to turn what was before a fond hobby into a life's calling, a career. In a way, that foot full of fur started paying my mortgage. So thanks, Dad. Thank you for mis-managing your anger and turning our home into a theater of rodent war.


Joanna said...

Oh man! You said it way better! Your screen comment triggered another squirrel memory - about the time when, during a spring break in college, a squirrel chewed through my friend des's screen window, and she almost blamed her roommate for the absolute distruction of the room until the beast lept out at her. Oh, and the time I was in my room and somebody called from the outside phone below to tell me to go next door to Emily's room because a squirrel was trying to get it! Oh! And I always screamed whenever they would pop out of the trash bins. Which was often. whew. Great story.

Now my sister wants me to write an extended series of the absurdities of our dad. Beyond the rodents and such.

Em said...

My mother vs. woodland creatures

PeaceLoveMath said...

This is unrelated, but do you have Baby Lev's nursery set up? And if so, why haven't you posted a picture of that?

PS: As I said on Joanna's blog, if you did a compilation of squirrel war stories and PETA objected to it, that would be free publicity and would probably mean instant success for your book! You should do it. And send a copy to PETA posing as a concerned citizen. Then PETA will protest on the grounds that your book teaches cruelty to animals...and then you have a best seller!

Snacky D said...

That is such an awesome story, Katy! It reminds me of my Mom discovering a snake in their garage a couple weeks ago. Apparently their neighbor also found a snake in their yard, and had asked my Dad to take it in a bag with him on a bike ride so that he could dispose of it in some far off land, but for some reason he didn’t do it and the neighbor decided to instead chop the snake in half.