Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Battle of Wills ….

Okay, I know I’ve been very quiet lately, and for good reason:  I’ve been engaged in a war!  I was going to call this edition “A Battle of Minds,” because, truly, I have been engaged in a war of minds, but when I read all the negative comment running around the net about the brain capacity of my opponent, I decided to be kind to myself and call it a battle of wills.  Either way, it is a battle, one after another, in an ongoing war within my own “sanctum sanctorum,” so to speak, my very own backyard. Okay, so it’s my mother’s backyard, but I’m the one who feeds all the birds, waters the plants and blows all the bird seed off the patio, so I’m planting my flag on it.  Besides, ownership is not the issue here; it’s another set of rights we’re speaking of: the right to feed the birds without interference from outside sources.
I have multiple bird feeders up in the yard, large poles with shepherd’s crooks all over them, each holding different types of feeders for different types of feed for different types of birds.  Yes, the optimal word here is BIRDS!  I mean, it’s my money.  I’m buying the seed; I should be able to say who eats it, right?  Not right!  My friendly neighborhood squirrel and, obviously, his band of accomplices have other ideas. 
I was so pleased the first few weeks of the late spring when the bird feeders were put out there and filled.  Birds were happy, flapping their little wings, singing their melodious little hearts out and eating, as is customary for birds, five times their weight per day in birdseed.  Yeah, that old adage about “she eats like a bird” is really a misnomer!  But then THEY came.  First it was one, then three (I could still name them and keep track of them at that point) and then a whole passel of squirrels.  Now, for those of you who are sticklers for grammar, you may want to point out that a “passel” is not exactly the correct name for a group of squirrels, but in actuality, since squirrels are considered solitary animals, a group name was never given to them, so I hereby announce that I have indeed got a passel of squirrels in my backyard.
Well, I let the first one have its fun for the first couple of days, sitting up on the bird feeder, filling his little face as quickly as he could, but then I decided it was time to make my play.  I had two large-post feeders with multiple mounds situated back there, with one small stick-like hummingbird feeder in between them.  I got out my secret weapon:  Vaseline.  Out I went to “grease” the two large feeders with Vaseline.  What fun it was for the first day or so to watch the squirrels jump up on the feeder pole and slide down, then walk away, shaking their greasy little paws full of Vaseline petroleum jelly.  Really, mom and I laughed and laughed.  Yeah, we don’t get out much.
But on the third day, there she was, Lucy the squirrel, up in one of my prized bird feeders, greedily munching away again.  Mom and I took turns opening the door and stomping out there, probably looking like berserk ape-like creatures to the squirrels, which waited till we got about a foot away from the feeder before they leaped off into the bushes, with their bushy tail disappearing last of all.  They always reminded me of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, and I got almost as much fun watching them do their little acrobatic act as I did in trying to outsmart them.
Needless to say, I went out to the little stick-like hummingbird feeder and gave that a good dose of Vaseline.  That should take care of that, I thought.  And it did … for at least two more days.
Each morning Walter the squirrel would come out and walk around the bottom of the feeders, stopping now and then to ogle them from afar.  At least I though t it was ogling.  Turns out it was a type of reconnoiter, because the next day the squirrel was back in the bird feeder once more. 
That was also the day that mom called me into the kitchen.  “Sandi, come here.  I think this squirrel may be having heat stroke or something.  It’s not moving, and I’ve never seen one act like this before.”  I went out to see Walter lying on his stomach on the patio, still in the sun, with all four of his feet splayed out in front and behind him, just lying there, staring at us through the screen.  Well, I thought, perhaps he needs some water.  I got down my good spaghetti bowl, filled it with water and started out the door.  Whoosh, went the squirrel, quick as ever, with its bushy tail sticking out of the bush the only sign as to where it had disappeared to.  Hmm, for a squirrel dying of heat stroke, it sure was lively.  I put the big bowl of water out there and came back inside.  A few minutes later my friend returned, plopped himself down on his tummy, splayed out his four little legs and cocked his head back and forth as he watched us again through the screen door.  Not one drop of water was touched that day.  Or the next, or the next, or the next.  At which point I brought in my prized, but unappreciated, spaghetti bowl, washed it out and put it back on the shelf.
Subsequently, my little band of madcap friends were found to be climbing the fence nearby, jumping onto a hanging basket of flowers and climbing up the top of the pole (who ever thought I’d have to grease that part) to get to the feeders.  The baskets of flowers were removed and now placed on the patio floor instead of hanging up.
With the flowers gone, the next step was to climb the fence, leap into the air, land on top of the big bird feeder with the rain cover and climb over to the other feeders.  The shaded feeder was put further away from the fence and the top of the poles and other feeders were once again greased with petroleum jelly, along with an extra dose on all of the poles.
The next day the squirrel climbed out on a mimosa branch until it bent over the feeders, then jumped the rest of the way over.  I went out and cut the branch off the tree.
The next day I don’t know how he got into the feeder, but I went to Lowe’s and asked the man working in the aisle with all the food and repellents, “How do I keep squirrels from eating all my bird food?”
“Well,” drawled a passerby, “I’ve always found a 12-gauge shotgun did the trick pretty well.”  The Lowe’s employee stifled a chuckle and said, “Let me go ask someone who is more expert in that than I am,” and disappeared.  He returned a while later with the solution the expert gave him:  A 12-gauge shotgun was the only sure-fire way.
Opposed to that idea, I asked, “How about some of these repellents?”  He then went on to regale me with the anecdote about the time his father-in-law decided to put deer repellent in the backyard to prevent the deer from eating all his flowers and shrubs.  “I’ve never smelled anything so horrible in my life,” he exclaimed.  “And the smell just wouldn’t go away!”  That nixed that idea.
With a heartfelt apology, he left me helpless in the aisle, where I happened upon an idea.  Yes, there it was, a wooden box I could hang on the fence filled with “Critter Food.”  It had a wooden lid that the squirrel could open up to get the food and which shut automatically when he withdrew his little paw.  The food looked yummy, at least by my standards of what appetizing squirrel food should look like:  Dried corn, whole peanuts in the shell and big, fat, giant sunflower seeds!  It even had a picture of a happy squirrel on the front of the package.  Eureka, I cried.  At last a means by which we could coexist, minus the 12-guage shotgun!
I went out in the sweltering heat that evening, took down the hanger my brother had put up years ago for my mom’s one and only bird feeder and which now was festooned with a feeder sock full of thistle food for the goldfinches my mom loved so much.  I dragged out my antiquated 7-pound electric drill and put up the squirrel feeder, filling it to the brim with happy little critter food.  I even put some on the ground so they would figure out where that yumminess came from.  And the result, you ask?
The next morning they were back in the bird feeders.  That’s when I went on line to see just how much intelligence these little critters had.  Do you know that each squirrel buries about 10,000 nuts each year for his winter storehouse?  Not only that, he digs two or three holes per nut, one to deposit his hidden treasure in, and the others are to mislead any other squirrels who might be hiding in the bushes and taking notes from knowing exactly which holecontained the prize.  Then in the autumn an amazing thing happens: the size of the squirrel’s brain grows larger. Why?  Duh, so he can find the stupid nuts!  Apparently he has like a GPS system in his little head so that he can recall where each and every one of those nuts was hidden, and he zigzags all over town finding them and chowing down.  This is very impressive to a girl who can’t keep track of her car keys, or her car for that matter!  Then to top it off, before burying the nuts, the squirrel munches out the germ inside so it won’t sprout and spoil before he gets back to munch down his tasty morsel six months or more later.  Okay, got me beat on the whole GPS in the head thing hands down.
Then I found a couple of videos on You Tube.  You’ve got to check this out because I know you won’t believe me if I tell you:  Made me feel a lot better about losing the battle of wits, never mind the battle of wills.
So, who is winning the battle?  Well, at the moment we are apparently happily coexisting.  The squirrels have found the squirrel feeder and have trained me to keep it full with Critter Food.  The only time any get into the bird feeders is when the squirrel feeder is already occupied by another hungry squirrel.  And remember Walter who spent his afternoon sunning himself on the patio and watching us through the screen?  I’ve decided he thought he was at a zoological park and watching the funny humans locked inside.  He probably named us:  Dumb and Dumber.  Then I’m sure he wondered how intelligent we were as creatures and whether he could train us to do tricks, like keeping him fed.  Well, I showed him!  That feeder is never empty.