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Notes from open land
by Wendy Lewis

Squirrel Politics

It’s February and I am just not getting anything accomplished. Songs aren’t getting written and I suck on guitar. My new Quickbooks Pro edition lays in its bright green shrink-wrapped package next to my bed taunting me about taxes I refuse to come to terms with. My studio looks like the police ransacked it in search of criminal evidence. The basement is a moldy nightmare piled to the rafters with shit I don’t need in sagging boxes and bedraggled bags. I’m utterly uninspired to write that breakfast scene in a screenplay I’m lucky to be working on with a very patient, focused and intelligent individual whose ability to set goals and meet them is staggering. There is a new baby I need to meet, a birthday card and a sympathy card that need sending, an eye appointment to be made, a car begging to be vacuumed out and washed. Tonight, I just realized I forgot to take the garbage and recycling down and it’s 11:00pm. In short, I sorta hate myself right now. It’s the perfect time, then, to turn my attention deficits toward a virtually unsolvable American obsession: squirrels eating food meant for birds.

The bird feeder hangs from the gnarly branch of an enormous oak tree at the back of my house, just outside the dining room window. I’d not purchased birdseed for many months, but when my screenplay partner was here for a week from Boulder in January, some synchronistic conversation was had involving St. Francis of Assisi. The next morning, after enjoying a satisfying, greasy breakfast at the local truck stop, we swung into the garden store in town where they carry a wide array of designer bird food. This stuff is ridiculously expensive compared to the 50# bags of low-grade millet sporting scant, emaciated sunflower seeds easily acquired at the AG store, but at the time, it seemed spiritually critical to purchase the Cadillac of avian fare after the saint of little furry and feathered forest creatures had all but showed up in the room the previous night.

I laid my check card down and walked out with the large bag of hand-scooped Happy Birdy Mix #2, loaded with peanuts, cracked corn, safflower and sunflower seeds. I swelled with pride as I filled the feeders, but within thirty minutes, grey squirrels were circling and attacking the feeder like sharks, emptying it of its contents within a couple days. After Nick left, I didn’t fill the feeder again for weeks…. until today.

I had been musing about ways to defend the feeder while washing dishes at the kitchen window, watching the empty cylinder sway in the cold wind. I had thought about using one of those half-gallon plastic orange juice containers somehow…. but never came up with a viable plan. Then, the proverbial idea bulb over my head lit up. It was so simple I could barely believe it. Cut the side off a wine box and attach it to the rope. It would be slippery, tippy, and block the squirrels from attaching to the cylinder. Brilliant. Everyone in the house thought it was brilliant. I prepared the barrier, cutting across the cardboard from one side to the center where I punched a hole, and slid it onto the rope above the feeder.

The next thirty minutes we waited for the creatures to get a whiff of what was now available in the feeder. The squirrels arrived first, of course. The chubby one scrambled out on the branch to where the rope was attached and sat over the strange, flopping cardboard square, puzzled. Then he went head down on the rope, as he was accustomed to, but as he neared the cardboard barrier, the wind flipped it up almost perpendicular to the ground, which scared the shit out of him. He instantly retreated to higher branches. Over the next hour, he attempted myriad approaches with no success. Lola, who was enjoying the breakfast show with me, inhaled her eggs when the squirrel finally braved a step onto the cardboard and slid off, tumbling to the ground, just as I had imagined he would. It was a banner moment.

Enter the younger, more daring, less chubby squirrel. He ruined everything. He tried a few dives down the rope with more conviction and less fear than his predecessor, and on the fourth attempt went for it, stretching his body out, sliding down the plane of cardboard until he could grasp the cylinder with his front legs and arrogantly overtake the barrier. He flipped the cardboard back after his descent with his hind legs in dancer fashion and shamelessly pilfered the cornucopia of nutty treasures in full-on security breech. We were pissed…. standing at the window, banging on the panes, redesigning the barrier in our minds as we watched him gorge with the fortitude of a terrorist.

Greed has no fences. I thought about my shotgun.

The rest of the day, modifications were made to the failed homemade squirrel inhibitor; raising and lowering of the cardboard, stiffening agents, washers and duct tape and all manner of reinforcements applied -- to no avail. At the end of the game: Squirrels - 1, Homeland Security - 0. Ironically, during that long, long day while we fought for the birds, I never saw even one junco perched at the feeder.

Those ungrateful, feathery little bastards.....

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers