Sharing space with squirrels

October 27, 2013 

The squirrel zoomed past me, stopping only once to peer back at me with what looked like a smirk on its face. It scurried up the bricks of our house like Spiderman scales the side of a tall building. The squirrel’s claws clicked and scratched against the bricks until it reached its destination. Under the eaves of our roof and into a small hole it darted, headed straight into our attic. I stood there and shook my head in defeat.

We live in an older home in a tree-filled neighborhood. We love it. Apparently, so do the squirrels. Even though they were definitely here first, for the last 20 years, we have tried to share our surroundings in harmony. I’ve always been an animal lover and certainly would never physically hurt any living creature, but I think the squirrels should stay outside in their environment and out of our attic.

During the years, I’ve pretended to be Dr. Doolittle and attempted to talk to them about our living quarters and theirs.

“Cute little squirrel,” I would say. “Please just stay out of our house and attic. Look how beautiful it is outside.” After our talks, I would think they understood but soon found out they didn’t.

Instead, I realized they wanted to take up residency in our attic where they were sure to be warm and sheltered. They always gloated because they had the upper hand, or paw, on me.

Every fall when the large trees in our backyard began to drop pecans, the squirrels started gathering nuts and taking them into our attic to store. Many a night, I’ve been in the bed staring up at the dark ceiling of our bedroom listening as they had bowling tournaments across the attic floor.

Back and forth, the nuts would roll to what sounded like the gleeful cheering of the other squirrels in the Ballard penthouse. In fact, they seemed to be having so much fun, I was tempted to go join them.

For all the things I’ve seen them taking into our attic with them, I envisioned them decorating the space above us as they made our house their home. I could imagine tiny furniture constructed out of the broken shells of the pecans and luxurious rugs woven with feathers, leaves and pine needles. I often wondered if they had a kitchen or a dining room.

I also wondered if they sublet spaces to other creatures looking for warm shelter. But I never wanted to pull down the steps to our attic to actually see, for fear of starting a war on the ladder.

What could they possibly be doing up there to make such annoying noises all during the day and night? Evidently, they enjoy giving themselves manicures and pedicures by sharpening their nails against the wood flooring of the attic. Those sounds of scratching have just about driven me crazy during the years. Well, that and the sound of them running and scurrying about over the entire attic floor.

A few years ago I did find out they enjoyed gnawing on electrical wires when a section of lights went out in our house. I was warned then by the electricians about how dangerous these uninvited neighbors could be.

We had humane traps placed up there in the hopes that the smell of peanut butter would lure them safely into the cages. We never caught any of them. In fact, I think those smart little critters figured out a way to eat the peanut butter and still not become prisoners in the cages. For the squirrels to be so cute, they sure are cunning and sneaky.

As a last resort, we had to have them evicted. I enlisted help to make sure they were out of our attic before sealing up all the many doors they had created over the years all the way around our house. “The coast is clear!” I heard one of the workers say while the squirrels were out sunning and gathering more nuts. I heard the saws. I heard the hammers. I wondered what the squirrels were thinking. What would they do when they returned to find their penthouse had been boarded up while they were away?

I didn’t want to be inhospitable, but they clearly had a place in nature to live. We didn’t try to invade their trees, so I didn’t think it was fair for them to take over our attic. But still, I worried.

I must admit I felt badly when I saw a squirrel try to dart into one of the entries that had been sealed. The look of the smirk on its face was replaced with confusion. It tried and tried to enter, but to no avail.

I watched as it finally jumped onto a nearby tree branch and began to climb. High into the tree it went without looking back. I continued to watch it until it disappeared from my sight. It was clearly moving on without regrets.

As I stood there in the shadow of the tree, I thought of all the times I, for whatever reasons, have had to move on. At the time, I was scared and unsure but, looking back, I always managed to survive. That’s how the laws of nature work.

I hope the squirrels have forgiven me. They seem to have. I saw a group of them the other day frolicking together high up a tree. They appeared carefree and happy. One stopped for a second, looked back over its shoulder at me as if to say, “Look at me! I’m still living higher up than you!” I smiled. Indeed it was.

More with Mark

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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