Or: I’ve Been Paying More Attention to This Goddamned Squirrel Outside My Living Room Window Than I Have Been to the Revision of My First Novel or the Completion of my Second and I May Have a Touch of Cabin Fever.
For years now I have been mercilessly taunted every time I step into my own back yard. A small creature, which until recently I assumed to be a chipmunk, heckles and screeches at me the whole time I am in the back 40. Pyew! Pyew! Pyewpyewpyew! For hooooooours.
(Out here were we live there is a strange species of chipmunk with a long tail and no fear of death which we call Kamikaze Chipmunks. I have only witnessed their eponymous behavior on our road. They crouch on the white line, waiting for who knows how long for the perfect moment: two vehicles approaching at better than the speed limit (even I speed on our road — if only just a touch), one from each direction. Aha! Now is the time! Run, chipmunk, run! Dodge not one set of four tires, but two! Fly, fleet Mercury! A moment of terror for both drivers (“Shitshitshit!”) but all must hold their course, truck, car, and rodent alike: there is no shoulder, there is not an inch of wiggle room in these narrow lanes, there is no escape. The humans squeeze their eyes shut and hold their breath and pray that their kids didn’t see, then boggle and crane to look in the rear view mirror when the little bump isn’t felt underfoot. There in the mirror, small but sure, a victory dance on four tiny paws on the fog line. Ha ha! Death is forestalled another day! Then stillness as the chipmunk crouches, tenses, hears another pair of engines approach, readies himself to do battle once more against the titans.)
When we went to the peninsula again this fall for our anniversary we were halfway up a mountain (regretting, as usual, the impulsiveness which led us to go “hiking” in Mary Janes and chukkas with espressos in hand) when I heard the familiar litany of abuse coming from a nearby vine maple: Pyew! Pyew! Pyew! I made Matt stop to help me look for the screeching rodent. When I spotted him, trembling with rage on a limb not three feet over our heads, I was surprised to see that he was not a chipmunk at all but a small squirrel with an orange belly, sleek, otter-like grey-brown back, and a tail considerably less poofy and extravagant than the kind one finds on the fat-ass Eastern Grey Squirrels (which I call Dumpster Squirrels). The next time we found ourselves at a ranger station (later that day) I learned that the species of squirrel which I so offended was the Douglas Squirrel, a mid-size native tree squirrel.
After years of hearing but not seeing my own backyard Douglas Squirrel he has suddenly become brazen enough to leave the towering Douglas Fir he lives in in the greenbelt behind our house. He has a new daily ritual of racing along the top of the wooden fence between our house and the next until reaching the line of hemlocks and firs that separate our driveways. He then throws himself up into these trees and scampers around for several hours, hurling abuse at anyone who happens to pass (cars, dogs, birds, people — anyone and anything) while cutting down cones. When he’s had enough of that he flings himself from the end of a branch, Errol Flynn-style, and lands like Spiderman, clinging to one of the supports on our woodshed, which I face when I sit at this here laptop all day. He then commences a complicated OCD ritual at high speed, running up each vertical support and down the other side, in a clockwise fashion. When he has done every vertical support he runs the horizontal supports, back to front, in a zig-zag. That done, he is free to explore the contents of the woodshed, investigating each piece of firewood carefully (shrieking in his usual fashion when he finds that I have had the audacity to remove some for heating the house: Pyew! Pyew!), making snide (and well-deserved) comments about the slovenly manner in which we are storing our oil buckets and tarps (Choo!). He may spend a few minutes on the actual ground (a shocking sight) to nibble a few maple samaras before throwing one down in disgust and leaving in a huff as our wide-eyed cat comes upon the scene. He has fled the scene — back to his big fir via the fencetop expressway — by the time she is looking up at me through the windows in agony as if to say “You knew about this? You knew this was happening in my yard and you didn’t tell me?”
I slide open the window and say “Do what you will to the moles and rats, Ms. B, but leave Doug alone.”
I swear she rolls her eyes.