It’s official. We are the crazy neighbors.
We’ve made the lunatic list because we take in strays. Okay, mostly I take in strays. But the family wouldn’t go along as much as they do if they didn’t like it, too.
From time to time, a stray person will live with us awhile and recover from something. One-legged ducks have paddled in our backyard stream, last winter a fox with a cough slept on our front porch at night, and we have to keep an eye on a stunningly stupid mourning dove who sleeps where the dogs could eat her. We’ve raised a duck, rescued baby birds, pulled screaming orphaned baby squirrels out of trees, and had two raccoons run rampant through our house because the dog door was open. A shoe box or cat carrier with some recovering creature in it is pretty normal around our already crowded two-cat, two-dog household.
After it rains, my daughter and I both pick up earthworms from sidewalks and gutters and throw them back in the dirt. I learned this valuable skill from my mother, who learned it from hers.
Which is to say that lunacy is inherited.
The latest stray incident which is giving some neighbors the horrors is all about your ordinary backyard squirrels. Four orphan babies were raised by a local rescue group volunteer named Rebecca, through a great outfit called Animals in Distress. The babies grew up, needed a habitat, and Boise’s squirrel lady, Toni Hicks, called me to find out how many squirrels I was feeding this year and whether there was room in my habitat for more.
Toni and I are old friends. We met at a lunatics support group.
The squirrel cage containing Pinball, Scrabble, Frank and Fred was delivered on a Saturday, and we had instructions to put it under a tree for two weeks and let the Fab Four get used to the sights and smells and sounds around them. This was lots of fun, as the critters would chatter and chirp, eat nuts from your hand, and perform circus tricks when neighbors happened by.
But their performances grew more frantic, and they started holding up little signs that said FREE THE SQUIRRELS.
So Rebecca showed up a week early with a squirrel box to put in a tree, and the males in the household nonchalantly sidled out to the garage in hopes of getting there first. Arriving at the same time, they brandished a ladder and tools in manly fashion and proceeded to argue with each other about the best way to handle the installation. The merits of various bolts and fasteners was a hot topic, and when one guy would say the other was dead-ass wrong and the proper hardware could be easily found BY A GUY WHO KNEW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT, the latest guy who thought he knew what he was talking about stomped off to the hardware store.
(Honeybear didn’t care who won as long as she could stick her nose in the squirrel business.)
Friends happened by, and at one point there were nine people in the yard. I can’t think why I didn’t serve G&Ts, but it was only noon.
When one of the Males finally installed the box in a nice fluffy pine behind ivy vine camoflage, Rebecca opened a little hole in the cage and Frank immediately took off. Fred wasn’t far behind, but Pinball and Scrabble were napping and didn’t move. Husband insisted on taking smart-phone video of the very moment of squirrel emancipation, and proudly bored anyone nearby with it. (“Yes, I can see that is a squirrel cage standing still.”) Neighbors and friends stood around pointing and going, “Yup! There he is!” until the thrill was gone.
An hour later, with everything quiet, Pinball and Scrabble made their escape.
Now, three weeks later, the older Frank and Fred have moved to a different tree, but the little guys live in the squirrel box and come to our calls. They’ll eat from our hands or sit on our laps or shoulders on the deck. They like to be scratched behind the ears while they eat, and to be petted as much as possible. Head Squirrel Pinball likes to taunt the dogs, and Scrabble enjoys a good leap from the deck railing to a shoulder to look for food in our hair.
Some people think squirrels are pests, and others find them creepy. But I love the little beasties, and hope to always have them – or some other critter who will sit on my lap and chatter – in my life.
If you find an orphaned critter of any sort, Animals in Distress is there to help. But fair warning: soon you’ll be trolling the google for 100 pounds of peanuts, delivered.