Here there be Squirrels

Monday, 4:40 a.m. I should know better than to try and get started on laundry before daybreak. As I carry the clothesbasket out through the breezeway, I hear a fluttering of wings, and when I open the laundry room door and snap on the light, suddenly something is trying to perch in my hair, which is still wet from the shower, and beating its little wings against the back of my head. Something else is madly circling the tiny room. Carolina wren fledglings! I watched them take their first, do-or-die flights from their natal nest in the eaves just last week. They’ve made it about as far from home as I have.

While the one manages to extract its feet from my hair and flutter over to the window, the other bird falls down behind the dryer. And I no sooner set the basket down than the first one is clinging to the back of my head again. I haven’t had a haircut in about six months, and I guess it makes sense that a terrified and disoriented young wren would seek refuge in the only brown thing in the room. I reach back and shoo it off, and it flies over to the hot water heater and gets tangled up with the pipes.

Neither bird seems likely to go back outside until dawn. The dumber of the two is still fluttering madly in the corner behind the dryer. I could go ahead and start the wash, but the noise and rocking of the machine would probably scare the crap out of them – what crap remains. This has been a real shit storm, did I mention that? I back slowly out of the room, leaving the door open, and snap off the light.

I examine myself in the bathroom mirror. My quilted shirt seems to have taken most of the damage. There’s bird shit on my sleeve and bird shit down my back, but my hair looks O.K. Did St. Francis have days like this? Did he ever just tell the birds to bugger off?

*

Tuesday, 5:45 a.m. While I drink my coffee and listen to the dawn chorus, I’m watching the smaller of the two porcupines that lives in the crawlspace under the house eat my elm tree. The poor thing looks sparser every year, but what the hell – if the porkies don’t get it, Dutch elm disease will.

By the way, did you ever notice how many weird things we blame on the Dutch? Dutch oven. Dutch courage. Double Dutch. Dutch uncle. What is it with the fucking Dutch? I could go on, but I’d better stop out of respect for my ancestors – who were, I’m sure, quite normal, albeit Dutch.

The porcupine waddles out along a small branch and stands on its hind legs, freeing its forepaws to grab and stuff nearby twigs into its mouth. This reminds of the way the Baltimore oriole that I photographed two weeks ago used one foot to pull leaves in range of its bill. Unlike the porcupine, though, it was interested only in what was on the leaves, not the leaves themselves.

As I watch the porcupine, I find myself imagining in great detail what might happen if it fell. This is not unheard of, and evolutionary biologists hypothesize that the danger of impaling itself is high enough to account for the presence of an antiseptic chemical in the porcupine’s quills. There’s a lesson there, I think: if you write with a poison pen, make sure you have the antidote. There’s nothing that bothers me more than someone who can’t take what they dish out.

*

Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. Here there be Squirrels. One of them keeps looking in the kitchen window at me while I write; it has to hang upside-down off the drainpipe in order to do so. Every time I hear it rattling against the screen, I whirl around and stare back. Call me paranoid, but I can’t help thinking it’s looking for nesting material. I feel its beady little eyes boring into the back of my head.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

18 Comments


  1. My, you are an early riser – “the early bird gets the worm”!

    Yesterday while sitting at the kitchen table near an open door, a bird (looks like a small robin – forgot the name) flew against the door frame, picked a bug off the wall, and dropped to the grass with it, probably as startled as I was. No damage to my hair and clothes, thank gawd.

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  2. Now I’m seeing St Francis doing his chores at the monastery, humming “Momma said there’d be days like this” under his breath.

    Wonderful post, Dave, thanks!

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  3. Ha! Very funny. And I’m with MB. My first thought was: Get a haircut, you hippy. And second: Good Lord, you get up early.

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  4. MB – Long past time. But I think I’m going to grow it out to the point where I can tie it back and forget about it. Unsightly to be sure, but very low-maintenance.

    marja-leena – As you probably know, some birds (though not the one you’re describing, I guess) do battle with their reflections. It occurred to me just now that the squirrel in question might be doing just that, as I watched him (?) clawing at a different window right next to where I sit.

    dale – Glad you liked. I didn’t mean to imply that I had anything substantial in common with the good saint, of course. A poet is the antonym of a saint, really.

    leslee – Since I love to make fun of hippies – or at least the airheaded, self-absorbed types that pass for hippies these days – it seems only fitting that I resemble one. As for getting up early, how else did you think I got all this blogging done? I catch up on sleep after lunch. The siesta is a highly civilized custom.

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  5. You know I understand if you wash your hair but don’t ever comb it you’ll get dreadlocks. Then you can be rasta instead of hippy.

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  6. Been there, done that. I had dreads down to my waist. But i wasn’t rasta; i was a dreadlocked metalhead – like Rob Zombie, I guess (though i never liked his music).

    This time I think I’m gonna aim for a look I always used to think was pretty lame: balding greybearded dude with thin ponytail. Sans Harley. I’m working on the gut.

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  7. Might or might not be unsightly. Probably more importantly to you, might or might not be low-maintenance — in my experience, it’s not!

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  8. Great photo, and the way you make us wait for it until the end.

    Don’t listen to these women, Dave. They’re not quite old enough to be into long hair on men. (but do you want a fanbase of women in their 50s?). MB’s probably right, though, about it not being low maintenance.

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  9. Dave, at the bar you can do the ponytail flip eye contact thing!

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  10. O.K., the truth is I’m a cheapskate. All that money I was spending on barbers could be going toward used books and homebrew supplies.

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  11. If you don’t fancy the dreadlock look at present, though I think it might find great favour with the squirrels, and at the bar too, this is what I do to have low maintenance long hair. Apply lots of conditioner in the shower after shampooing and comb your hair then; it’s easy. Rinse. That’s it. I don’t comb or brush my hair any other time. Way easier than short hair. And anyway, why do you think God or Evolution made hair? Why, do be long of course. :o)

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  12. Hi Brenda! Thanks for the tip, but I think I already do that – minus the conditioner, which strikes me as another unnecessary expense, and after using a towel to more-or-less dry it. This undoubtedly results in a lot of split ends, but I’ve never understood why that matters, or who even notices other than beauticians. (I dated a beauty school graduate once. Very briefly.)

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  13. Great writing and description. The Wren episode is choice.

    As to the squirrels, a few weeks back I heard a commotion coming out of our bathroom. I went in, opened the lid, and there was a young squirrel scraping desperately at the sides. Now out where we are, we’re used to animals and reptiles getting into the house but I’ve never had one come up the toilet before (think of the embarrassing circumstance this could have been if….nah, don’t want to think about it).

    Went to the garage, got one of the small live animal traps, opened the lid, and stuck the opening in front of drenched squirrel. To my amazement, he jumps up on the cage, on to my shoulder, on my head, and to the floor. Fortunately I had the foresight to have closed the door. Our three dogs are going beserk in the living room trying to figure out what’s going on behind that door.

    I put the opening next to the squirrel who is now in the corner and try to speak his/her language which comes out quite surprisingly like the language I speak to the dogs. Up on the cage, on to my shoulder, and to the bath mat.

    The little fellow is exhausted by this time. I look at him and he/she looks at me.

    “One more time,” I say to the furry interloper.

    Amazingly, the squirrel walks right into the cage. I take it outside and turn him/her loose into the trees. It scampers to the highest limb before stopping and beginning its grooming process which I am sure took quite some time.

    By the time I get back in the house, all the dogs are back on their pallets asleep. A peaceful kingdom if there ever was one until….the belligerent male Cardinal begins pecking at its reflection in the upstairs window. The dogs are off!

    I refill my coffee cup and sigh with immense satisfaction.

    Edge of the Earth Rd.
    Lexington, OK.

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  14. One reason I never get up before 9 a.m. This was hilarious, Dave.

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  15. Phil – That’s a great story! Thanks for dropping by (and sorry your comment got held in moderation so long).

    Thanks, Patry.

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  16. I’ve never dated a beauty school graduate but I once read a newspaper article about a woman with waist-length hair who had her hair cut 5 times in the space of a day- each hair stylist she went to said she had bad split ends, and this, unbewknowst (sp?) to the stylist, within hours of a previous hair cut. So never mind split ends. Perhaps they’re the hair stylist version of lactic acid and muscles (& I can’t do a strange metaphoric connection, no).

    But I was wondering what sorts of shampoos and conditioners you might be able to make from your garden. There must be recipes on the NET… or maybe even some of that home brew… and then there is the option of opening your own bar to flick that hair back… :o)

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  17. Aha! If that story’s true, it definitely confirms my suspicions about hair stylists.

    Most good shampoo recipes include human urine, or so I’ve heard. Probably better than the chemicals in the cheap stuff I buy.

    I was thinking of starting a virtual brewpub in one of the pages linked to from the top bar (probably replacing Reference) – a place to post recipes and such – but that might be more of a tease than anything.

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