The most often asked for bedtime tale from my children is a “Squirrel Story.” I’ve written a book about animal encounters in the wild, but this is a whole different matter. As the kids scoot beneath their covers, I tell them about a horde of blood-thirsty, mad-eyed squirrels who’ve built an enormous warren beneath our house called Squirrel Haven. In their secret lair they have laboratories and campaign chambers where they plot how to get my family out of our house so that they can take over, free to leave their robust turds on every dish, ripping our home apart from the inside out. Ostensibly, they are trying to rule the world by unleashing terrifying genetic experiments, building a giant metal squirrel robot, or capturing squirrel farts in balloons and sending them to the surface. But really, before taking over the world, they have to first conquer our house.
These stories are not unfounded. We have a squirrel problem. They’ve chewed holes in every window screen to gain access. One day I walked outside and counted five squirrels on my car, chewing at the weather stripping around my windows. They want in. Nothing will stop them. One summer we live-trapped almost 30 of these marauding beasts, giving each a spot of spray paint before hauling them miles away. The marked individuals never reappeared, yet the population did not appear to diminish. They produce two litters a year, nine young per litter. You do the math, there is no stopping them.
These aren’t fuzzy-eared pine squirrels, but hardened, steely-eyed rock squirrels, Spermophilus variegatus, short-furred and mottled gray. The mottling is a combination of a dense inner coat of fine, dark hairs, and a sparse outer coat of coarse, light hairs. The combination changes over the summer to minimize solar heat gain, and I can see in their penetrating gaze they believe their adaptations superior, frustrated that we somehow got the upper hand by having a house.
In the stories, their plans are always foiled, my boys figuring out how to trick them and send them back to Squirrel Haven defeated. But I wonder if there is an unintentional undercurrent where I’m saying that only one species at a time can be hell bent on world domination. Without opposable thumbs, that would not be squirrels. Am I telling my children that we were born to be number one, and to look back into the simmering eyes of rock squirrels with our own defiance, letting them know we’re still on top?
I have recently introduced an alliance between the squirrels and sewer rats and seagulls, so how the game plays out is yet to be seen.