One squirrel, two problems

The scratching noise was coming from the wood stove.

John Kehe

The TV room at the south end of our house is like a black hole: It’s the place where things tend to wind up if there’s no other place to put them, or if I can’t decide whether to throw them away. As such, it’s a land of perfectly serviceable cardboard boxes (one never knows when one will need a box), old magazines saved for the recipes I will never try, shoes that are just about – but not quite – worn out, a collection of old (and worthless) soda bottles I excavated from the Penobscot River behind my house, a wood stove I rarely light, and other assorted bric-a-brac. The TV itself could actually go, but I turn it on every four years to watch the presidential election returns.

And so my ears perked up the other night when I heard a metallic scratching sound coming from the TV room. I went out to have a look, but of course there was no sound when I got there. But after I had gone to bed it was loud enough to wake me. Once again I inspected, and once again, nothing.

The next morning at breakfast the scratching persisted even as I entered the room, long enough for me to identify the source: the stovepipe leading from the wood stove. Ever so carefully, I approached and opened the stove’s front doors. There it was, a squirrel, looking up at me.

I immediately clamped the stove doors shut and considered my course of action. I was grateful to have the animal contained. Squirrels in the house can do immense damage, gnawing on wall studs, electrical wires, and, of course, making baby squirrels. The racket itself was enough to put one’s teeth on edge. 

So what to do?

I didn’t want to kill it, so at least I knew which path wasn’t open to me. And there was really no humane way to get it back up the chimney. I decided I would give it a more appealing escape route. 

I closed the door to the kitchen and opened the outside door. It was a windy, 10-degree-F. day in Maine, and the frigid air immediately rushed in. I threw the stove doors open, stepped back, and waited – but not for long. The squirrel leaped out of the stove as if airborne, but it was frantic and didn’t head outside. Instead, it tore through my magazine pile, ran up the curtains, and then, like a bowling ball, mowed down my collection of riverine soda bottles, sending several crashing to the floor. The animal was in a complete panic, and all I could do was stand back and plead with it to leave. 

But it wasn’t finished. It bounded through the tower of cardboard boxes and crouched, breathless, behind the collection of old shoes.

It finally dawned on me that I was probably the thing striking fear into that small, palpitating squirrel heart. So I quickly got on the other side of the kitchen door and watched the uninvited guest through the glass. In my absence, it became calm enough to look around and assess the situation. It chewed on a shoelace for a few moments, then raised its nose to the chilly wind coming in from outside. Briskly, but gracefully, it bounded out the door, into the snow, and up the trunk of the first tree it came to.

Job done. 

Actually, two jobs were done that day. Not only did I evacuate a squirrel, but the animal did me a tremendous favor: It made the TV room into more of a mess than it was, to the point where I could stand it no longer. I heaved and ho’d until I finally had the clean, uncluttered, inviting space I had intended to have all along. I wish you could see it now.

2016 is almost here. Election coverage, anyone?

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