Monday, January 03, 2011

Food Chain

Just days before my sister returned from California, I discovered the culprit of shoes stuffed with dog kibble and items being mysterious knocked off of impossibly high shelves overnight (allowing me to rule out earthquakes and microbursts of wind inside my house): a flying squirrel.

Since dubbed “Walnut” (yes, there’s a story behind that, and it involves a friend’s attempt to live trap another mysterious creature causing damage in her garage, but only successfully ensnaring a shrew, a chipmunk and a walnut), the flying squirrel has taken its loss of anonymity in great stride. And unlike most creatures that sneak through holes in the walls to make homes in our houses, this one seems to be a relatively receivable guest. First, its cute. Second, unlike red squirrels or mice, they seem to do relatively little damage. And, their athletic prowess is to be admired. Mine regularly scales walls and curtains only to leap down again from ceiling height without pause. Finally, there’s almost a superstitious feeling about this guy, as this house was once home to another flying squirrel called “Chipper” who lived as a beloved pet among my father’s family. Oh, yeah, and did I mention Walnut is cute?

This would be more-or-less fine by me, except no sooner had I started to make friends, than my sister shows up bearing a cat.

Okay, a kitten, really. But one everybody had had high hopes of forming her into a mouser. And, despite my acceptance of one house guest, I am still suffering with the occasional unwanted mouse, so the idea of a cat had once appealed. But how do you teach a cat to differentiate between a common field mouse and a flying squirrel?

The squirrel has worked out a road system through the house, a part of which involves him trekking through some large storage cabinets above my closet, pushing open the doors, dropping to the hardwood floor with the sound of a tennis ball that doesn’t bounce, and then scurrying off into the kitchen to roust up a snack. Unfortunately, the other morning the cat was there to intercept him. The thud woke me from my dream in time to snap on the light, grab the cat (gently) by the tail and toss her out the door as I shut it behind her. This left the squirrel safe, but trapped in my room.

I sat quietly in bed, contemplating my next move, as he thoroughly explored his possibilities. He scurried up one wall, dropped on top of my dresser, traipsed across to the window, scaled the curtains, tight-roped the curtain rod, dropped onto my desk, ran across my computer, jumped onto my pillow, treaded across the pillow behind my back to the wall lamp on the far side, scaled the lamp, squinted desperately into the light, did a high bar routine on the arm of the lamp, dropped down to the quilt rack, explored my closet, climbed up the moulding but couldn’t make it back to where he came, dropped down to the door, considered trying to squeeze under it (despite the frustrated cat still outside), and restarted the circuit. He repeated the route several times before disappearing deep into my closet for a nap. The cat rousted him again later that day when I carelessly left my door open, only to be saved by me once again.

Add to the mix our Labradoodle. A Labradoodle that believes that anything smaller than himself has been placed on this earth to be chased. Cat meet dog - dog mee------ oh, never mind.

Except now the cat has learned that the dog is not that bright and even less persistent. Within hours she had him convinced that there were at least two, if not more, of her haunting the house. She could sit calmly on a chair and watch him as he gazed at a floor-length curtain, waiting for her to emerge from behind it.

This all would simply be amusing, except we’re forgetting the bird. Earlier this year when the storm knocked out my power for three days, all of us, dog, bird and me, moved to my parents’ home. The dog and bird stayed when I moved back to keep the flying squirrel company. Normally the bird and dog get along just fine (or, rather, they mutually ignore each other), and life is pretty balanced. However, she has been confined to the safety of her cage since the arrival of the cat, who has taken a very cat-like interest in this creature. The cage has been tipped a couple of times, despite my sister’s desperate insistence to the cat that the bird is a “friend.”

The bird and flying squirrel have not met. Bets are still open on that one.

So, thus far, we have cat chases flying squirrel and stalks bird, dog chases cat, and we all chase the dog. Beginning to sound like the House that Jack Built?

My uncle has two dogs, one of which happens to think himself something of a bird dog. My uncle leaves town and dumps the dogs on us. At one point that meant that there were three dogs, one cat, one bird, and not nearly enough humans in the house that did not have a flying squirrel at the same time. Three dogs is a love triangle that should never be attempted - the three of them chase each other constantly, vying for top dog. Two of the three dogs chase the cat and then fight over who actually gets her in the end. The cat and the other dog chase the bird and fight with each other for rights to knocking down the cage. All humans on hand break up whatever fights are occurring over various non-living toys at any time.

And now, we are going to leave the whole slew of them with my sister’s boyfriend as all of us abandon the frozen north country for some mid-winter sun. At that point, he will assume the top of a food chain that involves caring for three houses which, at any given time, could be occupied by at least one flying squirrel, unaccounted mice, one crabby bird in a cage, three neurotic and needy dogs, one precocious cat and Uncle Trevor in the attic. Oh, yeah, and a pellet stove that needs to be fed on a regular basis.

Less of a chain, and more like a knot of whatever my mother’s last knitting project was - I wish him the best of luck in keeping his place at the top of it.


Tim and Karin Bodony said...

Ida received you mother's last knitting project for Christmas, and I can tell you that although it was clearly quite complicated it was nothing to compared to the mess you're (oops) Scott is in! Luckily the knitting project came out beautiful - so there may be hope for the flying squirrel, if not for the house!

Mom and Dad in Three Lakes said...

Never a dull moment in our households. Really glad the knitting project worked!