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Squirrel OUT!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

 The Easter morning squirrel saga continues with more ridiculousness. Ma keeps returning to the box, trying to coax Baby out.

 I'm not ignoring you, Ma. I'm just choosing not to come with you this morning. I have things to do.


 Neither am I! If she doesn't have to I don't have to!

 I would very much like a quick nurse. Why haven't you nursed us this morning? That's mean.

 I haven't nursed you because this morning you are not eating. You are learning how to jump down from the box. You cling with your hinders. And then you just jump down to this branch. Piece of cake.

 That is the most terrifying thing I have ever seen anyone do. Right now I am sorry I was born a squirrel. I should have been born a reptile. Someone who doesn't have to risk life and limb. Someone whose mother isn't CRAZY.

 You're kidding, right? About the jumping?

 I am not kidding. This is how squirrels make a living. By jumping, scrabbling, clinging, wild leaping. You're going to LOVE it.

 To a branch that's one inch wide? On their first ever jump in their whole LIFE?? Down THERE??

 Get over it, Liam. Either you leap or I'm going to pull you out of that box and drag you by one leg.

  Ma!! Say it ain't so! I want to stay in this box. It's cold and gray outside. I hate outside. In here it's soft and warm and cuddly. I need to work on my art. I have homework.

  All right, Mister. I'm done. I'm coming for you.

                                                                     Out you come!

 No turning back this time. You're coming with me.

  Just a little groin grab, not biting down, gentle but firm. Stop ow-ing. This is how we do it.

  Let go your dang hind foot! Mmmmmff...Stop hanging on! You are GOING WITH ME, Mister!

 All right, then, if you're going to hang on, we bite down a little harder. Have it your way. Let go and I'll let up. OW OW OW OW OW!! Geesh, Ma!

 That's it! Down we go!

 Thisisnothappeningthisisnothappening  I'mkeepingmyeyesshut   hoooommmggggg nooooo

In the end, Ma Squirrel carried the babies all the way down the willow trunk and into the woods. I'm not sure how many she had; I couldn't stay at it the whole two hours. I felt really lucky to get a whole sequence of one baby's forced removal. When she had this one moved to her satisfaction, she came back and took five on the roof of the  box. It was 11:34 AM. She had started working with the kids at 9:23 AM, and she had at least one more to go. To my mind, she struck a good balance between coaxing and coercion--always a mother's job. Sometimes coaxing works, and sometimes you have to bite down a little harder.

I put some extra peanuts out on the railing and saw her come collect them a few minutes later.

 Good job, Ma Squirrel! And good luck with whoever else is still to be moved. I hope your second home is warm and dry!

A Squirrel's Easter

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Easter morning is when those who think about such things envision rebirth, everything and everyone becoming new again. What was dead is now risen. For the squirrels in my backyard owl box, Easter morning 2018 was, apparently, a time of emergence. 

I had suspected a squirrel was nesting in the box, because I'd seen one stretched out on its roof a few times, basking in rare spots of sun. I even said, "Liam, I think there are going to be some baby squirrels in that box before long. Keep an eye out."

And, always watching, he called me into the living room. "Ma! Come look! There's something peeking out of the squirrel box!"

Oh!! What a lovely April 1 surprise! The drama began at 9:23 AM on this gray, cold day. Two little squirrels take their first looks at the world outside. No idea how many are actually in there, but the most we saw at one time was two.

Ma comes to keep a watchful eye. The natives are restless. 

And hungry. Come on inside, Ma. Give us a nursing!

If you want to nurse, I suggest you come outside. 

It's nice out here. A bit chilly, but I have another warm dry place in mind. 

Here's how you do it. You cling, decide where you're going, then just...leap! 

You WHAT???!!

There is no way in the world I am going to do that. Nope. Staying here. 

Oh come on. We're squirrels! We were born to cling! If you don't want to leap, you can just scrabble. 

Like...this? You hang on with your claws? And you don't fall??

I...I can't. 

You can. You will. I will be here to catch you if you fall.  

And I am coming in after you if you refuse. You ARE all leaving this box, this morning. 

I'm hungry. You smell good. Come inside and give us a quick nurse. 
I love you. I love to nurse.

I love you too, but I'm not coming back in that box. If you want to nurse you'll have to come out. 

Maybe if I lean out and sneak a teat...

She left again! Ma! I...I...I'm going to try the clinging thinggg...

Brrrrrr woooo that is so scary! Back in with me. Nope. 
Nopeity nope nope nope. 

Cardinal whistles, "You can do it do it do it do it do it!"

I'm going to try again with you. Don't make me come in after you.

You cling with your hind feet and then you can do anything you want with your front feet. Like this!

By now, it's 9:47. The baby squirrels have been hesitating at the box entrance for 23 minutes.  Ma takes matters into her strong squirrely arms.

She's got him by a hind leg, and she's using her teeth now.  Ow ow ow!

I'm gonna get you out if it's the last thing I...mmmfff...

You little stinkpot. Hanging on with every claw you were born with.

I think I need to call for backup. This is like pushing soup uphill with a fork.

It's now 9:52, and Ma Squirrel's been trying to coax and finally manhandle her babies out of their warm box for 31 minutes. Your blogger's been glued to the window the whole time, shooting from inside the house, for none of this would have happened had Ma seen me outside, watching. 

The story goes on, of course, as they all do,  but it's taken me three hours to edit a zillion photos and get them posted,  and I've got to pack now. Because I'm traveling again! 


First: I'll be telling the story of Jemima Jay and my work on Baby Birds for the Explorer Lecture Series Celebrating Women in Science, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 7 pm Friday, April 13. Booksigning afterward.

Second: I'll fly from Cleveland to Atlanta to kick off events with the Baby Birds/Jemima talk for the ten-day Atlanta Bird Fest on Saturday, April 14, 4 pm, Chattahoochee Nature Center. Booksigning afterward. Please note that online ticket sales end at NOON, Friday, April 13, so grab one of the remaining seats now. 

Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing my adventures. 
I hope to see you somewhere farther on down the line. 

In a Vacant House: Wilding with Jen

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Ever see two dogs running loose, getting into trouble? It really takes two. Tongues lolling, tails high, they go looking for adventure. A dog on its own just isn't as inquisitive or fearless. When it comes to going through old houses, I'm definitely a dog. I'm not a fearful person; not given to the heebie-jeebies. I just want to have someone with me. Maybe it's to share the fun and amazement. Maybe it's for that little boost through the open window. Maybe it is a little spooky to go through a vacant house alone. It's a little spooky to go through this one with someone else!

I had a feeling my dear friend Jen would be up for some adventure. I wanted to show her one of my favorite houses. I hadn't been inside it since James came to see me, several years ago. I remember what fun it had been to finally see the inside of a house I'd wondered about for years! I knew there'd be neat stuff in there. She was admiring the house and had noted the open window. "I don't suppose you'd want to climb in there with me, would you?" I asked. "Hell yeah!" Jen answered, and we were off and wilding. 

Carpet was Jen's innovation, after I ripped my good lined trousers on a nail. That is a very small window to fit through. That's another reason to have a friend along--to help you pull your leg up and through!  
 First thing we saw was a mouse nest, which had once been sandwiched in between wallpaper and wall. Oops.  There was some funky wallpaper going down in this house.

Like I said, it was a little spooky from the inside. I've photographed this ancient Hydrangea arborescens from the outside so many times. Now here it is, in winter plumage, from the dark musty inside.

As it was in summer 2016, when Chet was with me. Sweet memories of giving him a cold drink from the well each time we came there. I loved running there with him. I've really only just gotten used to going there without him.

2014. Hydrangea and window behind. He's already so gray. 

Onward. We're in an old house, not hunkered down in the sweet July grass outside it.

I'm diggin' the little framed placard, and the fact that someone long ago rubbed the dirty glass to see what it said. I finished the job with a licked finger.

May the sun smile through your window
From out the skies of blue
Upon the world's sweetest creation
"Mothers just like you."

I think card verse has gotten better with time. I liked thinking, though, that in this house had lived a mother someone thought so well of.

Shaving stuff--a straight razor, Palmolive Lather Soap. Tums, $.30. And Spirits of Turpentine. People put stuff like that on their skin. Not me, not ever!

I looked at the massive old fridge with its supercool funky logo and said, "I bet if you could plug this thing in it would still run. Probably drive you out of the room with noise, but it'd work." Which is more than I can say of the three refrigerators that have died on me in the last 24 years. When I was a kid, you had the same fridge/freezer your entire life. No more. Planned obsolescence and crappy materials are the name of the game now. This thing is built like a dang battleship. You could go over Niagara in this refrigerator. I mean, if you wanted to. 

In the corner of the kitchen is a secret.

It's a cabinet that stays almost closed. The bottom shelf is a tumble of cutlery (I can't really call it silverware). There's a jar of washers. Oh, so many washers. My dad saved washers. Sadly, I am of the cohort that barely knows what washers are for, and rarely ever deploys them.

 On the second shelf are some little dishes and cups.

On the third shelf are some more washers and cotter pins. So many cotter pins. Again...not something most people these days collect for later use. 


The green milk glass coffee mug? Straight out of my grandmother Ruigh's cabinets. That was her dishware. I'm sad that by the time I came along, the last of five, my grandmother Elnora Zickefoose had only a few more years left in her little brick bungalow in Sheffield, Iowa. I never got to go through her cabinets; ate only a few meals at her table. But oh, what a cook she was. As was my maternal grandmother Frieda Ruigh. I never expect to eat so well again. Looking back, I realize what a gift those meals were, and I'm grateful that my parents took us every summer to see our family in Iowa.

I looked hard at the cotter pin can.  Recent enough to have a barcode and be called LeCafe! Somebody tell me what year barcodes happened...On June 26, 1974, at 8:01 a.m., Sharon Buchanan used a barcode to ring up a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. Thank you, Google! So this house was occupied at least through the late 1970's, I'd say, and nosing through the Christmas letters, into the 80's. Situational awareness, my friends. More than 30 years gone from here, the inhabitants, and all this beautiful wreckage, telling of their time here.

On the top shelf is the best thing of all. An electric juicer (Jen thought it might be a coffee press at first and I laughed; this is definitely 8 O'Clock Coffee, ground in a can, country).  But that's not the best thing.

 A Carolina wren nest! It's been occupied for several years that I know of, hidden in that magic cabinet, which I mostly closed back up when I was done snooping. The parents enter the house, I'd think, through a variety of holes, and as far as I can tell they lead the babies out via the window we climbed in. That's on the other side of the house, but a trip like that is no big deal for Carolina wrens. They're brainy--spatial perception kings.  They teach their children well.

Cabinet, ready for occupancy, spring 2018.

Now for the tableaux I love so well.
That massive refrigerator, and some boots and a barrel and bucket and stool...oh my gosh. Andrew Wyeth, bar the door.

I'm always trying to get people to click on the photos in my blog to see them large and in focus. Not going to tell you what this letter says. Trust me, it's worth reading. The things you pick out of a pile of Christmas cards from the mid 1980's! And while you're at it, run through and appreciate the other photos at full size, please and thank you.

Tools on the far kitchen wall. I have always wondered if the tools hung here when the original inhabitants lived here, or whether those went up after the house became a sort of storage unit. So I gave it some thought. I'm leaning toward the latter explanation. I mean, I love the way they look but I doubt Grandma would have allowed this in her kitchen. This looks like an after-they-left arrangement to me.

We'll just hang these here where we can git 'em. Nobody hangs a saw on the very edge of a corner they're going to walk around (the basement door). Ergo: Put up after everyone moved out.

Eek. This is what I mean by spooky.

Another look through that kitchen door before we go up the creaky freaky stairs.

The light-gathering capability of my iPhone6, my partner in all crime and adventure, is such that the darkness of this stairwell is not adequately conveyed. I went first, you know, in case BATS. Note the wall to the right.

Those are ancient logs, barely covered with plaster and wallpaper. James muses,
"That log frame is something I think about often.

What were the forests where those seedlings began?
Did they know native Americans?"

 LOOK at those logs!! In this humble house, forest giants, felled. When??

Pretty posies, peeling, uncovering the venerable bones of a house that's not going to fall down anytime soon.

An ironing board. Wonder and trepidation in discovery. Gratitude to be able just to look at it all.

An electric clock, strongly reminiscent of the one in my Gram Ruigh's kitchen. Again, I had the strong feeling this one would work if plugged in. "I bet it buzzes like a ...." I said to Jen. I was haunted by the thought that it was 11:10 AM when it was taken off the wall and thrown into a box, to be found over 30 years later by a harmless trespasser. Telechron brand. Sounds so Buck Rogers, doesn't it?

Creepy toys and school papers. Who will ever know?

Hangers, breeding in dark corners. 

Big tropical leaves were in vogue in the 1940's. I wondered why there was no color to these. Understated.

In a corner window sash, a hand-tatted tie for curtains, long gone. Everywhere, hand-made things that are no longer hand-done. I thought at first it was a snakeskin. Jen figured out it was a curtain tie.

Hunters come here. This one, I think, died on its own; the skull mostly gone as it would be had something chewed it in nature.

It was time to get back out into the sunshine. There's been so little of it this spring!

May the sun smile through your window
From out the skies of blue.

We climbed back out the pronky small window, our wilding done for the day.

The golden forsythia, the blue sky, and my favorite tableau of all were calling.

I saw the ghost of Chet Baker stomping across this couch, sniffing for decades-old crackers in the cushions.

The couch is losing color. Chet no longer stomps. A squirrel has taken a large divot of stuffing for its nest. The couch melts away. 

Time can only keep spooling out.

The log cabin stands yet.
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