A rock squirrel at the LBJ ranch.
A rock squirrel at the LBJ ranch.
Story #03 for the Story A Day Challenge May 2016
A Moral Victory
They’re everywhere, Tina thought, picking up a package of Circus Peanuts. (She calls them all Circus Peanuts even though more than one company makes the candies and names them differently.) She squished one through the bag. Oh, it’s so soft and fresh. They practically melt in your mouth, all that sugar and orange-y food coloring.
It’s just not fair, Tina sighs. I can avoid them by not going down the candy aisle in the grocery store, but in these other places, they are right near the registers. Why do all these other stores carry them? Tractor Supply, really? I can’t even buy bird seed without being tempted with candy? Cabela’s, too? What do Circus Peanuts have to do with farming and hunting? It’s even worse at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and Crafts. That big long checkout lane where you have to wait for the next cashier. They make me linger with the candy right there at fingertip level. If I could speed past it, I’d be fine, but that is never the case.
Maybe if stores had a checkout stand just for diabetics, Tina thought, or people on restricted diets, or people with no willpower (I’m talking to you, little gray-haired old lady in the mirror), that’d be great. They could stock those shelves with non-sugary stuff, like, oh, maybe cute little notebooks and pens, key chains, camouflaged letter openers, or battery-heated socks. Something, anything other than candy.
Tina moved up in line, Circus Peanuts in hand. I’ll buy this bag and just eat a few. Sure, I can throw the rest away.
Tina is lying to herself, and she knows it.
In the car, she fastens her seat belt and opens the bag of Circus Peanuts, pops one in her mouth before driving out of the parking lot. Oh, oh, so soft. Good thing I got the small bag.
One by one, on the short drive home, the Circus Peanuts disappear from the bag into her mouth. She tries to make them last, saying, “Only one until I pass the big oak tree on the corner. Can’t have the next one until I’m past the STOP sign.”
By the time she arrives at her house, Tina is sick with the sugar overload. But that doesn’t stop her from eating them, no. She puts away the groceries and the bird seed and finally decides enough is enough. She takes the bag and goes outside to throw the remaining candy into the compost pile. She looks down at the bag, reeling from too much sugar, but still tempted. Walking towards the compost pile, she sneaks another candy peanut into her mouth.
She walks faster. Eats another candy. Starts trotting. Pops another one in. Her increased speed is matched by the speed of eating the candy. The faster she nears the compost pile, the faster she stuffs the candy into her mouth. For the last little bit, she sprints, clutching a candy in her hand as a reward for arriving at her destination so quickly.
Finally she reaches the mound and flings the remaining two candies away from her. And that, she announces silently to herself, is what you call a moral victory. I said I wouldn’t eat the whole bag and I didn’t.
Turning back towards the house, Tina sees a squirrel near the bird feeder, watching her.
“What are you looking at?” Tina asks, her words unintelligible, muffled by a mouth full of candy. “I left you some. Don’t complain.”
[Note: This also works with potato chips and those baked cheese fish-shaped thingies. The squirrel loves them, too.]
One morning in early February, I heard the dogs barking. Now, dogs bark, so dogs barking is not unusual. But their bark sounds different when they are focused on something close. And this was their “trying to get to it now” bark, so I went outside to see what was going on.
Clint, our oldest dog at 14 1/2 years, was trying to dig around the end of the downspout while Dusty and Abby were barking at it. I could hear scratching sounds coming from the inside.
Uh oh. It could only be one thing: The Squirrel.
Not “a” squirrel, but “the” squirrel. That’s because we have only one squirrel. Our house sits on what used to be pasture land and for decades the only trees there were Mesquite. Oh, and one dead hackberry, but it’s been gone for more than 10 years. We just didn’t have squirrels.
Until a few months ago. Then both of us saw a squirrel from time to time, usually in one of the oak trees or on the picnic table, eating the bird seed. (Hubby grew the oak trees from acorns. There used to be three oak trees, but somehow our puppies shredded one sapling to bits. It never had a chance against them.)
And now our squirrel was trapped inside the downspout. Over the years, we hadn’t kept the downspout area clear, so dirt accumulated and grass grew there. The exit was blocked and the squirrel couldn’t get out.
I took the dogs back into the house, hubby got out the shovel, and removed the grass around the downspout.
No squirrel came out. Maybe it’s waiting for us to leave, we think, so we do, giving it enough space (we hope) to realize it can make its escape. About an hour later I realize that didn’t work. I think it’s still trapped.
Out come the metal cutters, and hubby slits open the downspout, pulls it apart and has to remove lots more dirt and grass. There was no way the squirrel could have gotten through all of that. With the opening now clear, the squirrel slides down, just a bit. It’s not mobile, however, and hubby has to pull it out.
I don’t know how long it had been there, but probably the time was less than a day, otherwise the dogs would have found it the day before. Still, the temperature was down to freezing that night and the squirrel must have been scared when the dogs tried to get to it.
It was alive, but very still. It was cold and traumatized, exhausted from trying to scratch its way out. I popped some old towels into the dryer to warm them up and wrapped the squirrel in them.
Well, now what? Where to put it? I carried the swathed squirrel around in a bucket for a few minutes, like a kid in a reverse Easter egg hunt: I put the bucket under the rose bush, moved it to under an Italian Stone Pine, then near the tractor, eventually standing in the driveway holding the bucket out, turning this way and that as if it were a magnet and I was looking for the North Star.
We ended up putting it in one of the dog houses in a kennel where we could keep the dogs away from it.
That squirrel didn’t look so good. We kept checking on it and it was just not moving much at all. Taking pity on it, hubby put it in a small pet carrier, still wrapped in the towels, and brought it into the laundry room. After a few hours, it started to look better.
It was time to set it free. There was that question again: Where? We didn’t know where it lived, really, because we had seen it in several different places. The best place seemed to be near the two oak trees, as that was near where we fed the birds (and we knew the squirrel ate the bird seed) and we kept water there for the birds, as well. Hubby set the small carrier near the base of one of the trees, opened the door and let it be.
I checked the carrier the next morning and the squirrel was gone. We didn’t see hide nor hair of that squirrel for more than three weeks. This week I saw it running near the Crepe Myrtles and we’ve seen it a few times since.
Is this “our” squirrel or “another” squirrel? We’ll never know, really. I hope it’s “our” squirrel. I want her to tell her descendants the story of how we saved her life so they know not to get into our attic, chew on the electrical wires, and start a fire. Is that too much to ask?
I went outside and when I stepped off my front porch, I noticed something on top of the utility pole near the house. It had its back to me and I thought it was a bird, a small hawk, with the wind ruffling its feathers. I sneaked back inside and got my camera. I opened the front door slowly to minimize any noise. Tiptoeing to the edge of the porch, I raised the camera and focused.
What?! Not a hawk? Not any kind of a bird? A squirrel?! It’s a squirrel on top of the utility pole. We don’t have squirrels around here. Okay, now we have (at least ) one.
I checked an hour later and the squirrel was still there; an hour after that, the utility pole was unoccupied.