Squirrels with tiny shovels?

You know it has been a long winter when the woodland critters start digging themselves paths through the snow.

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

This morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see not just prints but a regular daggone pathway leading from the house to a hydrangea bush.  I figured it was a squirrel route, but squirrels (like my students) don’t have the attention span to dig a pathway.  They just leap and scurry.  No, this pathway must be the work of tunnel digging chipmunks.  In summer, the rock wall by that hydrangea is one of the entrances to their Maywood Metro System.  Yeah, I can just picture Simon, Theodore and Alvin (!!!!! ) with tiny little shovels working their way across the garden.

The snow pack  reveals a lot about who is coming and going out there.  For example, it revealed my brother-in-law’s visit to the front door the other day.  It also reveals all the routes the squirrels take to get to the house. One route is across the patio and over the abandoned hot tub where they leap on the house and into the attic to party until spring.  There are other routes that involve leaping, Tarzan-like, from trees to the roof.

Like the squirrels, the mice have no desire to shelter under a hydrangea bush in the Maywood subway system. No, they want the full comforts of home for as long as  they can get away with it.  Maywood Man keeps tossing snapped invaders and still they come.  You’d think they would  get the message that the one-way track of mouse prints leads to a cozy house of death.

Meanwhile, out yonder, the deer have gotten the message that we are turning the clocks forward tonight for Daylight Savings Time.  They have been seen traipsing across the field, brown against white, as though spring is coming, it isn’t below freezing, and they aren’t walking through nine inches of snow.  Is it the longer days or the lack of men sitting in trees that signals to them that it is safe to use their usual paths through the yard?  It sure isn’t the weather.

So it’s March, and we have no idea who remains in the beehives  because it has been too cold to look inside and they certainly have not been coming out to play in the snow.  We know at least one hive is empty and suspect that a second was not going to last the winter.  It would be great to find the two strong hives waiting for us when the temp breaks 50 later this week. Regardless of who has survived, we ordered four packages of bees for the new season.

Spring is coming.  It always does.  The chipmunks are ready.  And maybe some  bees.

Pets or Pests?

Fluffball aka Prisoner #3

Why is it that a mouse in Shelley’s bedroom results in a cell-phone video of a screaming woman leaping onto the bed while begging her daddy to save her, but a hamster gone missing brings that very same woman to her hands and knees in her son’s room in a desperate search that, please God, will not end with dead hamster number three?

What is the difference between a pet and a pest?  Or a science experiment?

The weather is turning cooler and all sorts of critters are looking for warmth.  The Animal World Reservation Service has been accepting requests from crickets and spiders, mice and squirrels and snakes.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but this is just the listing for our house.  Some people–usually but not always women (I’m thinking of some sons-in-law I know)–shriek over this.  Others–usually but not always little boys and grandparents of little boys–delight in discovering the little “guests,” collect them in jars, and take pictures of them.

My cousin announced on Facebook her horror at discovering in her house two creepy little orange banded snakes.  They sound just like the ring-neck snakes that Harper found in our basement last week.  He put his in a jar and displayed them on the coffee table in the family room.  It is admittedly creepy to find snakes in the basement, but once in a jar, then they are pretty cool to look at.   Plus, what is a wild ring-neck snake going to do to you, squeeze your pinky finger off?  Real snake fear is finding an empty six-foot long snake skin in the basement and wondering where the heck the snake went that outgrew that skin.  John found such a skin in the tool house years ago and stored it in the basement of the house.  One day, the Culligan men found it when they came to service the water system.  I could hear their frightened voices through the floor.  It was great–because I knew there was no snake.

This chipmunk is yet another rodent abusing my hospitality.

What is not so great, though, are the squirrels dancing across our attic floor at night.   They are totally abusing our hospitality.  And by hospitality I mean the many trees that we have left for them to live in.  Woods.  Natural habitat.  But they seem to think that the trees near the house are entryways to the grand log lodge.   I complain often about the squirrels, particularly to my French students who always remember ecureuil as a vocabulary word.  On Friday, a former student stopped by my classroom to tell me about the pet squirrels in her garage.   A tree had come down on their property during the recent storms and with it came a squirrel nest.  Mama Squirrel did not survive but her newborn babies did.   If Mama  Squirrel had been running around the garage, the girl would have shattered glass with her shrieking.  But baby squirrels…they elicit a high-pitched feminine coo.  Awwww, they’re so cute.  Why?  I say it’s because the baby woodland rodents were in a box.

I heard a D-Con commercial this week promising to eliminate mice.  I wasn’t listening well enough to know if they were advertising traps or toxins.  But they promised to get rid of mice.  I was drawn to the promise.  I thought, ” I must stock up on D-Con.”  Later, when I heard that Fluffball, the hamster, had gone missing, I thought of the gruesome possibility that a loose hamster could get snapped by a mousetrap.  This  brings me back to my original question:  What makes one rodent a pest, but another rodent, even of the same species, a pet?   Is a hamster really cleaner than a mouse?  If Fluffball rolled his little blue wheely ball to the pantry and escaped, wouldn’t he go for the cereal boxes, too?

Isn't his little paw cute?

So here is my list of what makes a critter a pet:

1.  It is contained.  It is stored in a box, cage, or jar.

2.  It is provided with exercise, often in the form of a prison-like ball or a treadmill, which is just another form of torture.

3.  It is completely dependent on humans for its food, which dramatically reduces its life expectancy.

4.  It gets a silly little name like Fluffball or Squirmy.

5.  It is loved.  Or, to get the full emo meaning here…luv’d.

Note that point 4 is critical.  Without a name, the critter will most likely be just a science experiment and its loss will not be mourned.  A critter with a name has feelings.  A critter with a name is luv’d.  I’m thinking of a certain turtle named Sheldon who grew up in the wilds of Maywood long, long ago and was taken in a box to Catonsville.  He tried to escape via the sump pump but was discovered and put back in his box.  Oh, he was so luv’d by three little girls.  Ok, so his box got edged behind a chair and the girls forgot to feed him and their mom forgot they even owned a turtle.  But when they discovered him–or rather his shell–months later, they were sad.  And even today, as they read about him, they probably are saying, “Oh, poor Sheldon.”

Fortunately, Fluffball #3 is now back safe and sound in his cage.  As for Fluffball #4?  It’s just a matter of time.   And my advice to Shelley the next time she sees a mouse is this: put it in a box and give it a name.  Feed it once and then shove it behind a chair.  That might kill it quicker than D-Con.