Paranoid? Or Just Plain Squirrelly?
What about squirrels? Small, super-active, furry rodents. Funny! Pests!
One day I was on my way out to bring the garbage barrel up from alongside the alley after it had been emptied and as I walked under the bois d’arc tree toward it, something thudded down onto the grass right beside where I’d set my foot.
Looking down, I see a small squirrel lying lifeless. Looking up, I see a high tree branch from which the little thing must have fallen. And there, looking down from that same branch was a bigger squirrel, obviously distraught and “talking” up a storm at me!
I didn’t know what to do. The one on the ground was motionless. Surely it couldn’t have survived that fall! Going through my mind was a motion picture of me getting some disposable plastic gloves, picking it up and depositing it in the trash barrel. Or maybe the neighbor’s barrel across the alley, since theirs hadn’t been emptied yet.
The adult up there is practically hysterical by now. Wonder if it’s reading my mind?
I proceed to push the trash barrel up from the alley curb to near the accident scene, still wondering what to do about the accident victim. It's early and I haven't had my morning coffee. This was certainly no routine dilemma to be called upon to face coffeeless!
When I get back to the spot where the baby is lying, the adult squirrel has shimmied down the trunk of another tree whose branches intertwine up there and she's all the more frantically fussing at me - perhaps cussing in squirrel talk! Quite vocal in either case and accelerating by the moment. She's perched on the tree trunk near the bottom, not too far from the little lifeless body on the ground. The noisy one in the tree is looking at me with intense meaningful expressions as though to say. “Lady, either do something to help my baby or get yourself out of my way so I can!” Not too hard to read HER mind!
Common sense prevailed and I decided to back off, well out of her way! That critter was in no mood to negotiate, I could plainly see that! Besides, I had no practical suggestions. Obviously she did! After I’d stepped back safely out of her way, momma squirrel quickly made a bee-line to the baby who seemed to be rallying upon hearing her voice. She picked that baby up in her teeth like a momma cat would a kitten and scampered off with it into the bushes. I've never witnessed that exact scenario before or since.
Now, I don't claim to be a squirrel expert and I had no idea squirrels were that maternal and resourceful! But my critter education was starting to progress as I began to find out more and more about squirrels; - more than I wanted or bargained for, in fact!
They are quite a vocal lot, determined, challenging and more than slightly sassy if need be!
Do you really think you can intimidate me?
They're extremely agile and clever, too!
One of the rascals' favorite feats is stealing bird seed out of bird feeders! They will stop at nothing! Such acrobatic feats! If the Cirque du Soleil only knew about this double-jointed rubbery acrobatic talent act!!
And practical, too. If they can't get at the seeds that way, they deliberately knock the feeder to the ground where it scatters - and there they clean it up! Selfish critters!
Sardonic Species ~ A Challenge!
Some of you who've known me awhile may recall the siege of squirrels in my attic and walls this past winter and spring. I know. It sounds seriously like a nut case, and I'm not referring to their preference for acorns, pecans and peanuts! I just didn't yet know how nutso they could make me, though.
I would soon find out how much and via more than one first-hand experience!
Ways They Can Access An Attic.
Once there, they can access insides of walls between the studs and who-knows-where else! And who but the Master Squirrel Himself knows what mischief they can wreak on a poor human and her lair, as we shall see! The tale unfolds. . .
Last fall I'd noticed some points of possible entry and mentioned them to my tree man, who also does minor repairs. But somehow it was addressed only slightly, if at all, at the time. Of course sealing points of entry must be done thoroughly BEFORE the season when they seek entry or else it only intensifies the problems. Access from inside to my attic is very limited for me, the homeowner, so prevention is the better approach to control for me. My options had dwindled by the time the odyssey unfolded.
Various Possible Invasion Points of Entry
The plethora of squirrels who appreciate our neighborhood's amenities love to gather and chatter most of our mild year around here. It's a squirrel paradise, with my bois d’arc trees (also known as osage orange) and my neighbor's giant oak trees and their abundance of acorns. Plus there are no resident cats to keep them at bay. When it does begin to get coldish the critters seek shelter in any possible warm dry place, such as spaces among the unusual gables and roomy wall studs of my house. There lurks the problem!
But fortunately, our winters are late arriving and short-lived normally. But we had unusual snows in mid-February which drove the critters scurrying for shelter! Of course, by then it was too late to patch all the entry points I’d noticed in the fall.. And once they’d moved in and set up housekeeping for the remainder of cold weather, it wouldn't do to close off the access anyway. One doesn't want them to die inside walls or attic. All for me to do was try to deal with it until hot weather when they'd move out and I'd get the repairs scheduled.
But I confess that the squirrel situation was giving me an education about their ways and means, and moving me closer to paranoia!
You're so mean! I'd welcome you to visit MY attic, honest!
An earlier situation had set up the stage for a more menacing squirrelly encounter, though it was a comedy of errors right from the beginning even before the furry critter made his appearance.
You see, there was a leak in the upstairs bathroom shower resulting in water dripping through the kitchen ceiling. No no - that's not the funny! But add old pipes and a complicated plumbing situation upstairs, including a T-shaped plumbing wall which has NO entrance, such as a door or removable covering anywhere into it to gain access to pipes and it takes on a somewhat tragi-comic aura. Surely the architect of this house had to have been a little squirrelly himself!
To make a long story shorter, the only solution to accessing pipes and leaks was to remove some of the ceramic tile off one side of the T-wall to get at them. Whoopee, great good fun - rip the tile off the wall! Every home owner's dream. Ugh.
Leak found. Fixed. Tile replaced. Seemed resolved. More leaking, more tiling, still more leaking. This time we were NOT going to tear out all that new tile.
But the only other access possible to get to the pipes in the floor was from the kitchen ceiling. Yep. Can you believe this? It's enough to make a gal paranoid! But there are even more reasons for that to follow! Oh woe is me!
By now we'd given the plumber not only enough funding for his island vacation but now we were giving him permission to make a hole in the kitchen ceiling large enough for him to get to the leak in the bathroom floor! A rather massive hole, in fact. Say, in the 3'x4' range.
So said hole was knocked out, of sufficient dimensioins for him to get his utility light and hefty upper body through to examine and fix and/or replace old faulty pipes.
So at last! The plumbing was fixed! Whoopee!
But now there was the hole in the ceiling. Our satiation was not conducive to scheduling more remodeling right then, plus needing to give any further leaks time to appear! So I did a temporary cover up of the hole with white poster boards, butt-taped together and tacked it up with push-pins. Not a thing of beauty but practical.
George held on to my legs as I stood on the kitchen ladder to arrange the patch and pin it into the ceiling from that awkward, virtually upside-down position. If I needed an excuse for being squirrelly - there you are!
If I do say so, it was effective for a temporary fix, compared to the gaping hole, at least. It would suffice long enough to make absolutely CERTAIN no more leaks would appear and to give me time to make a plan to proceed.
Time passed. More serious matters dominated attention. The patch became taken-for-granted and relatively unnoticeable so that even visitors said, "what patch?" when asked if they notice it. They may have been just being polite, but George’s declining health at the time far outweighed all of it in importance.
Some of the push pins occasionally gave way and fell to the floor, so routinely I re-pinned it, which proved to be a challenge to single-handedly balance myself, keep the patch straight while getting it pinned securely enough! Made for great exercise,though; and it continued to provide my excuse for being - uh - a bit squirrelly, especially when a squirrel became involved!
Oh, yes! . . . Read on. . .
Squirrel Encounter of a Covert Kind
OK. Early one morning, sitting here in the den with my laptop, I heard a falling sound in the kitchen. It was dark in there so I thought I'd look into it when I got up to refill my coffee cup.
I didn't need to wait long to find out what had fallen! Suddenly there was a commotion in the high window on the left of the couch perpendicular to the bookshelf in the fireplace wall. I jumped up to see what in the world - - and quickly ascertained that it was a panicky squirrel - inside my house! He’d torn around in the bookshelf, knocking nick-knacks off and then he’d dashed behind the curtain onto the windowsill in hopes of escaping, I’m sure. Of course, we have window screens as well as glass sashes here in Texas. No exit for him there!
Anyway, the security alarm system was on so I couldn't just open a window or the patio door and chase him out without setting off the alarm and having the police on the way. So I started chasing him wherever he went, screaming at the top of my voice to keep him from hiding somewhere. He scampered into the breakfast room and tried to hide in a corner but I screamed him out of there, at which point he dashed back into the den and went behind the chairs in front of the patio door. Hoping I'd frightened him enough to stay “put” for a moment, I raced to shut off the security alarm, then tore back and opened the patio door, screaming the whole time, not in fright for myself, but to keep him terrorized and on the move. I was surprised a neighbor didn't come to see what was going on or call those police to investigate!
Well, I’m sure Mr. Squirrel was as happy to get out, as I was to have him out!
After I caught my breath I went to the kitchen to try to ascertain how he got in! Clearly, he'd fallen through my poster-board patch! Obviously he'd gotten into the floor joists up there among the plumbing & stepped on it, pushing out the pins on one side and falling to the floor. As I knew, squirrels take falls in stride!
I'd dreaded the day when the furry visitors found their way past the outer walls and gable spaces into an area like that! And of all things - to find their way to my temporary patch in the ceiling!
I was planning to go out of town for Christmas but thought there was no way I dared leave the house if there was a chance of another critter getting in during my absence! The trip was just days away. So what to do? No time to get major repair work done and too close to the day to get anyone anyway.
I wracked my brain to think of a material strong enough to prevent another invasion, something I could put up with fasteners firm enough to hold it. I'd become quite familiar with the ceiling area's structure and knew It would have to be another patch but a sturdier one.
I hit upon an idea to use window screening and professional staples but discovered I couldn't handle the heavy staple gun at that angle. Who should knock on my door right then but the tree-man who had put off plugging the holes last fall!! He offered to put up the screen wire - and he not only stapled up one layer of wire, but three, and then stapled my poster board back over it so the guts of the plumbing wouldn’t be visible from the kitchen in the interim!
I made the Christmas trip to Austin after all, but a wariness was born. Call it junior paranoia!
I hoped it would be both the first and last of my serious squirrelly encounters. It was not to be.
Another Surreptitious Encounter
A squirrel somehow got into the common wall between the attached garage and the dining room. Bad enough, but it fell down into the wall space and somehow found its way into the intake air vent at the bottom of the dining-room wall!
I’d realized after chasing the one that got in through the ceiling hole that squirrels are terrified of women’s screams. But incessant screaming is very hard on the vocal chords so I had started barking instead whenever I heard a squirrel noise in a wall or trying to get in anywhere. This usually intimidated them at least till they became accustomed to it. With this squirrel, though - it wasn't fazed.
This was bothersome but when I actually saw his fur sticking through the vent I almost fainted!
He'd been qiuite active while he was trying to extricate himself, but soon I realized that the fur protruding through the vent was no longer moving around and it didn't respond to probing.
I admit I didn't feel courageous. What if there had been more than one in there? With all the activity going on, there could have been! I certainly didn’t relish the idea of removing that vent cover and having a frantic live one burst out of there straight at me! I'd surely faint and who would recover MY lifeless body any time soon?
Fortunately, the tree man materialized later to see how the patch was holding up. I was so glad to see him at the door I blurted out the situation about the critter in the vent and asked him to help me get it out of there. I supplied the screwdriver and he got the vent off, picked up the carcass with a plastic bag and carried it outside to the trash barrel. Luckily it was due for regular pickup the next day and It was cold to deter the odor till then.
I look at that vent closely if I hear any noises in that direction. But older houses make their own noises and I don’t want to be too paranoid! eeel! You can imagine how easily my antenna go up!
The Final Straw
One of the culprits is especially sassy. I've run into him outside where he's rooting in the neighbors flower bed now that it's warmer weather. He just looks straight at me, flourishes his tail and gives me "what for", making it clear he knows I'm no threat to him whatsoever. Even though most of the critters are no longer invading since milder weather is upon us, this one has discovered a treasure-trove in the innards of the wall.right behind my couch in the den and he has pursued the sweet stuff in the cool of the mornings.
You see, once long before I lived here, that wall had been infested with bees and there’s undoubtedly still some well-preserved honey residue in there. Honey is, after all, one of nature's miracles needing no preservatives and lasting forever - or until it turns to amber, whichever comes first. Mine is still in the honey stage, it seems, much to the delight of clever critters who locate it. And when that one gets going after that honey, it must act like a drug or a tonic on him. No amount of noise or advancing summer heat seems to scare the rascal an iota. I have worried he might become so bloated he wouldn't be able to climb back out!
So when, on one late spring balmy morning I heard such a loud racket sounding exactly as if it were coming from that wall, naturally I assumed that Mr. Sassy-pants was at it again. But I promise you, I’ve NEVER heard squirrels make that much noise even at their sassiest. Yet it seemed so definitely to emanate from that honey-wall where the sassiest of the sassy loved to feast, I didn't question the origin of the racket. I simply jumped up and ran over closer to try barking toward it, hoping to cause at least a pause or a change in tempo of the cacophony to help me pinpoint the location. It was to no avail, I might add. Frustrating. Too much is too much.
So I went outside to examine the general area for any clues. If I'd known how to use my rifle, I might have taken it along, except that I'd surely have caused major damage to the house and possibly earned myself a night in the slammer. Instead I went unarmed, hoping to confront the furry bandido somehow. The remainder of my plan was fuzzy, I will admit to you. Paranoia does that to a person. Try to avoid it at all costs!
The honey wall faces a narrow strip of yard which is very close to the next neighbors' high wooden fence right beside their house. They also have a narrow strip of yard on their side of the fence between it and their house.
When I got out there I saw nothing amiss. But shortly I burst out laughing at myself, my paranoid self!
Seemed that my neighbor was having some work being done just inside their high fence over there. There was no honey-hungry squirrel in my wall.. I realized it when I heard a workman whistling between the noises of a tool he was using. He even raised the implement up high enough for me to see how paranoid I really was!
Sheepishly, I came back inside still chuckling and feeling foolish. Me - the brave lass who is seldom frightened or alarmed by things that go bump in the night! I'd surely have entertained the thought that a squirrel had assembled an A-team to attack my house, maybe with plans to export the honey to a cooler place for enjoyment with his squirl-friend over the summer – who knew?
It was crystal clear that it was high time to look for the repair team to make sure my house is squirrel-proof so that next winter the critters must seek other accommodations!