Thursday, February 4, 2010

First Squirrel

I woke slowly, feeling a strange sensation that incorporated itself into my dream. The dream was soon gone, but the sensation of little tiny feet starting on my right shoulder and scampering down the right side of my body, continued. At my ankle, the feet seemed to push off, like a diver off a diving board. After the third time, I realized that it was not a dream. I sat bolt-upright while my heart began to pound out a war song.

Sitting perfectly still in the inky darkness, not daring to breathe, I listened. I could tell my husband was sound asleep. To my left, I heard the sweet snuffles and grunts of my three-month-old daughter, her night movements causing her wooden cradle to creak reassuringly. And then from the far end of our long rectangular bedroom, I heard the noise I’d been dreading. Scritch-scritch-scratch. I knew it was not one of our two house cats. I slowly reached to the floor for the Maglight, which I kept by the bed in order to check on the baby in the night without waking her with a room light. With the heft of cold metal in my hand, I clicked the button and shone the light toward the sound. The beam rested on a small animal with huge eyes. He froze in the light and for a second, we stared at each other.

At this point I was still amazingly calm. But I could afford to be. I knew my fearless protector husband would rush to my aide in the face of this ferocious beast. Keeping the light trained on the creature, I reached over and shook my would-be hero. He sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and looked to the end of the room. At this point my husband had the gall to say, “It’s just a flying squirrel. He can’t hurt you. Go back to sleep,” and promptly flopped his head back down on his pillow in an effort to take his own advice. A vain effort, I might add. “What are you talking about?” I hissed. My blood was beginning a slow simmer, but I didn’t want to wake the baby. “I am NOT going back to sleep and neither are you until you catch that thing! What if it gets into the cradle? You need to get up and catch it now!!”

With a resigned sigh, my husband hauled himself out of bed. He inched slowly down the length of the room making some strange chirping-kissing-clicking noise. “Quit goofing around and catch that thing!” I hissed. This must have scared the squirrel, as he moved for the first time since the flashlight beam hit him. The squirrel scampered up the side of the room and disappeared into the closet. My husband, clad only in his boxers, with a T-shirt doubling as a net in his hands, dove in after it.
Now as far as closets go, mine isn’t much of one. It is very long—probably ten feet, but not very deep. It has no doors and is really more like an alcove than a closet. When my husband went in after it, the squirrel must have decided its best escape route was up. Suddenly I saw the rodent climbing up my clothes and then it was running along the top of the clothes, like they were some above-ground railroad to freedom. Did I mention that my closet is parallel to the bed? It is, and by this time, the squirrel had stopped directly across from my head and turned to look at me.

Between us, in the middle of the room, was the baby in the cradle. Keeping my eyes trained on the squirrel, I scrambled off the bed and to the cradle. I realized I was repeating “not on the baby” like a mantra. As fast as lightning, I snatched the baby from her cradle and dove back into my bed. I put the pillow in front of us like a shield. “Jeff, it’s going to jump!” I screamed, no longer concerned about the peaceful slumber of my first born. As my husband wrestled his way out of the bottom of the closet, the creature tensed. It crouched. It waited. I swear it squinted. Then it leapt straight at me. It glided through the air, its fur webbing stretched out, giving it the appearance of a kite with a head. I screamed and at the last second, the squirrel veered right and landed on the window sill, not two feet from my head.

From this point, the squirrel gave another spring and landed on my shoulder. As I hoarsely squealed “Getitgetitgetitgetitgetitgetitgetitgetitgetitgetit!” with my eyes shut tight and my body protecting the baby, it seemed to find joy in its original trick of scampering down the side of my body and launching itself off my feet. With this launch, the squirrel landed on the side of the baby cradle. As my husband inched toward it from one side Besa came ambling from the other direction to investigate with an inquisitive ‘meow.’ Besa is a fair mouser, so I had high hopes that she would end this nightmare. But Besa walked to the cradle, touched noses with the squirrel and then turned and left the bedroom. What a traitor!

Bonding with the cat seemed to make the squirrel even bolder, as if he’d been personally welcomed into the fold. The squirrel eluded my husband and yet again made its circuit around the room and down my body, while I huddled under the covers wondering if I was some sort of squirrel magnet. This circuit, however, turned out to be its last, as my husband was finally successful in dropping his T-shirt net on the defeated squirrel. I let out a sigh of relief and asked my husband what he was going to do with it. I relaxed back into bed as my husband took the squirrel downstairs, saying he’d take care of it.

The next morning, I should not have been surprised to find the squirrel in a cage. I had assumed that ‘taking care of it’ would involve an end to the squirrel. I should have known that ‘taking care of it’ to my husband meant providing it with food and shelter!

Word of the humane treatment my husband provided must have spread somehow. After this incident we became over-run with flying squirrels. Luckily they kept to the attic where my husband set up a live trap. Each time he caught one in the live trap, he added it to a big cage that he kept in the bath tub. (Luckily we have two bathrooms! This tub has seen its share of adventures—even a bear once. But that is a story for a different blog post!)

Once this tub-cage had over 30 flying squirrels taking up residence, it seemed we must have caught them all. We could no longer hear their scratching or chirping coming from the walls and attic. So my husband loaded the cage into his truck and relocated them 10 hours away, releasing them into his brother’s barn in the Upper Peninsula. That has been 13 years ago and we still get the occasional squirrel, like the one in the last post. But thankfully they haven’t come back in the numbers with which they began!

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