FIRST, you need to know that Elmer Turner has a small florist business in our neighboring town of Pleasantview. After you know that, things will be easier. Next, I introduce you to Mrs. Turner, who is the town librarian two afternoons a week, and feeds birds. Our story is now under way. Mrs. Turner, while her husband is pinching geraniums and watering the coleus, likes to sit in the bay window with a good book (she says our best novelist is Wilkie Collins), and lift her eyes from the page now and then to see the chickadiddles, nutbusters, woodchoppers, and occasional other winter freeloaders disport at the window bounty.
Mr. Turner remonstrates about this generosity, since the cost of the birdfeed goes on his florist account and shows no profit.
Shortly after last Christmas, Mrs. Turner looked up to see a gray squirrel tucking away the provender. The Turners have lived in that same house since they were married in 1922, and this would be the first time a gray squirrel appeared in the vicinity. Red squirrels and chippies, yes, but not a gray. So when Mr. Turner came in for dinner, he was interested to hear about a gray squirrel.
``We need all of those we can get!'' he said, facetiously.
Mrs. Turner said, ``He ate so much! He sat there and guzzled for 20 minutes! I had to fill up after he left!''
Mr. Turner said, ``Maybe he was hungry.''
Mrs. Turner said, ``You'll have to do something!''
The next morning the squirrel was back and brought two friends. The next morning the tally ran to four, all at once, so Mr. Turner hunted up on the beams in the barn and he fetched down the wire humane trap he used in earlier years for woodchucks in the garden. He dusted it, baited it with some peanut butter, and set it under the bay window.
The next morning Mrs. Turner reported that a gray squirrel was enclosed and was running around in great perturbation like a befuddled moth in a teamster's mitten.
When Mr. Turner finished planting a seed flat of ruffled petunias he took the trap, squirrel and all, and in his pickup truck he drove over to West Appleside, three towns away, and released the squirrel at the downhill end of Hillside Cemetery, in a grove of oaks. He came home, set the trap again, and returned to his floricultural affairs.
The next morning Mrs. Turner had another squirrel, and Mr. Turner repeated. And with a third. But when the fourth gray squirrel was apprehended, Mrs. Turner insinuated a disturbing thought. ``Do you suppose,'' she said, ``that the things can home like a pigeon, and we're catching the same one over and over?''
Mr. Turner considered this possibility, now that she mentioned it, and devised a strategy. This time he took the trap into his little greenhouse and he set it on a stool. He looked things over on a shelf, and he reached down a spray can of green paint.
Environmentalists, lovers of nature, and protectionists of wildlife need not rise in alarm. Florists use various colors of nontoxic dye, as harmless as food coloring, in their arrangements, and if need be can give you red daisies.
For the St. Patrick's Day trade they take white carnations and spray them to a lively Erin-g'-braugh emerald green as Irish as Paddy Murphy's pig. And this was the can Mr. Turner now used to spray through the wires of the trap and change the gray squirrel to a vivacious green.
``Now,'' he said in a folksy tone, ``Little Hibernian Adjidaumo, if you chance to come back and haunt me, we'll be on TV!'' Smiling at the thought, he put the trap in the pickup and drove off. This time he went in quite another direction and a longer distance, and he let the squirrel go on the lawn of the First Presbyterian Church at Monroe Four Corners.
Several weeks have passed. The four squirrels, in all, seem to have completed the count. None other has been caught, and the green one did not return like a homing pigeon. Numerous people have suggested to the Turners that gray squirrels, unlike reds and chippies, migrate to some extent, and their appearance doesn't make them residents. Perhaps that is so. Mrs. Turner is pleased that her chickadiddle food is for the birds, and Mr. Turner is, too.
NEWS FLASH! In its latest issue the weekly Bellport Reporter-Gazette says that on a recent nature walk Mrs. Arthur Parker of the East Sennecook Lake Road spied the oddity of a green squirrel.