musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

man vs squirrel, a true story...

October is Squirrel Awareness Month. Who knew? I'm not sure who founded this month-long squirrelly love-fest. Even the great Google doesn't provide a definitive source, although there are plenty of squirrel appreciation links and enough cutesy photos to make even the most jaded among us crack a smile. So, are we expected to place tribute offerings of nuts and gourds at the base of the nearest oak? Fly fake squirrel tails from car antennae and flag poles? Post "up with squirrels" avatars on our social media profiles? I'm game, being quite fond of the wee beasties myself. But, I confess, my first thought when the news popped up in my Twitter feed was, "thank goodness my Dad's not around to see this."

Dad, you see, had a great big chip on his shoulder when it came to squirrels. It wasn't always the case. In fact, I vividly remember him laughing along with my toddler self at the twitchy-tailed antics of the troop in our neighbourhood park, even taking along some peanuts to feed the little guys. But that was before The Awful Awning Incident.

This is the awning in question. It graced the front of my childhood home on Haslett Avenue in Toronto, and it was Dad's pride and joy. In fact, everything about that house was Dad's pride and joy. He'd spend hours pruning and mowing, painting and polishing. No weeds need apply to Dad's gardens. Fallen leaves dare not linger on the sidewalk. Windows sparkled, paint gleamed, and the green and white stripes on that lovely canvas awning shone bright in the summer sunshine.

Our neighbours in the other half of the brick semi had no need for awnings, shaded as they were by the towering Norway maple that stood, majestic, in the middle of their tiny lawn. A few overhanging branches are visible in the photo but, for the most part, the tree kept to its side of the shared front walk, thus avoiding arboreal confrontations between Phyllis and Phil, my adorably named parents, and our equally adorably named neighbours Millie and Mel. (It's true. You can't make this stuff up.)

I loved that big tree with its spreading branches and mossy trunk. In spring, I'd spend hours sprawled on the cool grass watching maple seeds helicopter their way to earth. In autumn, the world became a bright kaleidoscope of falling leaves. Best of all, the tree was home to a happy tribe of squirrels who spent their days playing tag and scolding the neighbourhood dogs.

I was eight the year of The Awful Awning Incident. We'd returned late the previous night from our annual family vacation in cottage country. The last few weeks had been rainy and cool but this first morning home dawned sunny, hot, and humid. Mom was sorting laundry in the kitchen. I was at the table, listening to the snap-crackle-pop of my breakfast cereal and looking forward to taking my library book to the verandah and settling in for a morning with Swallows and Amazons. Dad was already out there, sweeping the floor and setting up the folding chairs. I heard the familiar squeak-squeak-squeak of the pulley as he lowered the awning. And then…

A wild, unearthly bellow echoed down the hall, followed by a series of chatters and thumps, and a string of turn-the-air-blue words I can't bring myself to repeat.

After a moment of stunned silence, Mom dropped her laundry basket and ran for the front of the house with me close on her heels. We burst through the screen door and stopped short at the sight of Dad, who was waving his arms and sputtering. "Look!" He pointed a shaking finger at the awning. "Just-just… look at what those bloody squirrels have done!"

We looked. A band of ragged, gaping holes marred the entire width of our beautiful awning. Balls of fluff, leaves, twigs, and fur littered the steps and flower bed. On the lawn, one very large and very angry daddy squirrel chattered insults at my increasingly red-faced father. Mrs. Squirrel and the kits had scrambled to safety in the maple tree but her mister was hopping mad about the abrupt eviction from their squirrelly B&B.

Photo by Doug88888 via Flickr | CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

Dad never forgave those squirrels. He certainly never carried peanuts to the park again. His rage became the stuff of Haslett Avenue legends. No pesky varmints were going to outwit Phil Cooke.

"Leave your awning down all the time," suggested one neighbour.

"Roll it up with mothballs inside," offered another.

"Well, you could always just plant a nice, big tree," said Millie and Mel. (I'm pretty sure their hobby was bear-poking.)

Life quickly returned to normal for the squirrels, high in their treetop den, but the Cooke family went without shade for the rest of that long, hot summer. The following spring, workers arrived to install a shiny new green and white striped awning. Aluminium this time. I can still see my Dad standing on the front steps, one hand on his full metal awning, as he glared a challenge into the top branches of the big maple tree. "Let's see you blighters chew on that," he said.

Happy Squirrel Awareness Month, everyone!

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At 10:13 am, Blogger Tracy D said...

My dad too had an ongoing battle with backyard squirrels, who chose his garden as the neighborhood buffet. One bite out of a newly ripe tomato, then they'd discard it for my dad to find. One day they'd committed some atrocity on his garden, and he'd had enough. Fetching his .22, he took aim. What you should know is that my dad spent 33 years in the army, serving in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. The squirrels didn't know this, I am sure, until one of them ended up dead. My father strung his carcass up by a rope from the branch of a tree near his garden, as a warning for other miscreants of the squirrelly variety. When I realized what he'd done, discharging a firearm within his acre of city-situated land, I had a lawyerly fit. " Dad," I shrieked, "it's illegal to discharge a firearm here!" He was unrepentant. "Good thing I have a lawyer in the family, isn't it?"

The squirrels stayed away, and Dad didn't get arrested.

At 10:46 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

What a story, Tracy! Makes me thankful there was no gun in our house because Dad was THAT mad. Thanks for reading!

At 1:16 am, Blogger Sheila Seabrook said...

Hahaha, too funny! We recently had a squirrel incident at our house too. This year, all spring and summer, we had a single squirrel racing all over the yard, climbing up the sides of the house, the vehicles, and all over the decks and chairs. It was everywhere, and if we dared poke our head out of the door while it was nearby, it would chatter at us till we moved on...or chased it away. :) Then one day, youngest climbed into his truck to head into town to the chiropractor's. When he arrived, he noticed this tail sticking out at the front of the vehicle. Well, the squirrel had caught a ride downtown with him. Needless to say, when he came out of the chiropractor's office, the squirrel was gone. We watched to see if he would find his way back "home", but have not seen him in over a month. I suspect he adopted a new family in town.

At 9:23 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Great squirrel story, Sheila. When he does show up at "home" again, I'm sure he'll have a story of his own to tell: The Tale of the Wandering Tail. (Notice I said "when", not "if".) LOL Thanks for sharing!

At 2:53 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

Just hysterical Cheryl. Had me laughing all the way through. Still hard to figure who won the battle. I think it was a draw really. both one upped the other. I love watching squirrels but not sure about a whole awareness month!!!

At 11:05 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Glad I was able to give you a giggle, Susan. As for who won the battle ...that would depend on who you asked! ;-) Thanks for stopping by.


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