Wednesday, August 09, 2006

hummingbird feeder : From the porch

The great squirrel disappearance mystery
Dwight Otwell

Michael Regan, of Andrews, responded to my latest story about my wars with Freddie the Banana plant.

Mr. Reagan wrote that in return, he wanted to share a tale of mystery. I liked the tale and asked permission to print it, so here it is.

A neighbor came to dinner one evening and reported to my wife and me that he was having a problem with squirrels. We asked how squirrels could be a problem and his eyes narrowed. He tapped into a part of his memory that he reported was painful, ominous and guarded.

He arrived in this area several years ago and immediately became captivated by the color and variety of birds around his house. Bird feeders appeared all around his yard. Filled with different types of bird seed, the feeders drew in a large variety of birds which he attempted to identify from a bird book. As he happily pursued his pastime, he noted that sunflower seeds seemed to be the most popular food item with the exception of the hummingbird feeders that required that special red mix.

He didn't remember exactly when he became aware of the squirrels. It started simply with seeing one squirrel. It didn't seem a problem at first. After some time, he began to notice that he was buying more and more sunflower seeds. And the squirrels were appearing in twos and threes. They would hang upside down on the feeder and drain the seeds like sand running through an hour glass.

His warnings started as chasing the squirrels away by walking out and waving his arms. The squirrels would retreat to the nearby woods for a few minutes until he was back inside his house and then they would return to the feeders, forcing the birds to withdraw.

The neighbor then made a decision that he would chase the squirrels away with a BB gun. His sunflower seed bill continued to go up. And the squirrels seemed to be ignoring his attempts to discourage. So he escalated his offense to the purchase of a pellet rifle. After several shots at squirrels on his feeder, he finally hit something besides the feeder itself. In fact, he killed the first squirrel. And then the mystery began.

The neighbor did not move the squirrel's body that day. It was near nightfall so he left it. Deciding that he would move it the next day, he gave it no more thought. But the next morning, he discovered that the squirrel's body had disappeared. There were no tracks and no sign of how, who, what or when. Two days later, he shot another squirrel at the feeder. He left the squirrel and when he got up the next morning, the squirrel was gone. He reported that over the next four months, he killed perhaps a dozen squirrels and each time, no matter how far apart or random, the bodies would be gone in the morning. He reasoned that since the shootings were so random, that whatever creature was removing the bodies was visiting every night since no squirrel body was ever found the next morning.

The man began to lose sleep. He would lie awake for hours at a time, night after night, listening. What intelligence was out there so quiet, so consistent, so hungry? Or did other squirrels come and take their fallen from the field? He said that any noise at night would send him to a window with his flashlight. Of course, nothing would be there. He began to lose weight.

The sight of a squirrel at the feeder would bring upon him a sense of dread. He would move slowly, head down, into the room to find the pellet rifle. Robotically, he would take his post and drop the squirrel, knowing that there would be another sleepless night. And no, he would not find a squirrel in the morning.

He purchased a high powered pellet rifle equipped with a light and a laser. He sat up at night on the weekends following a squirrel shooting to wait for the creature that came in under the cover of darkness. He never saw the creature. His mind unraveled. No amount of waiting, watching or worrying brought the mystery to a conclusion. A week after relaying this story to us, the squirrel hunter went into therapy and remains in a world apart from us. We have lost a friend and neighbor to a mystery as yet unsolved. Perhaps, the lesson in this is to leave those furry friends alone. Or how expensive can sunflower seeds be?


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