Squirrels and whales and tomcats, oh my

Friday, June 1, 2007

Some of you will remember my raccoon-trapping days.

A few years ago, a swarm of raccoons invaded our neighborhood and became nuisances and pests. Over a matter of a few weeks I trapped seven of the critters and reunited the band in the Land of Lincoln -- well across the continent's mightiest river, which, I'm pretty sure, cannot be navigated by a raccoon even on a good day.

My latest turf battle is with squirrels.

When we bought our house 10 years ago, we had it inspected. The inspector said there had been squirrels and possibly raccoons living in our attic at one time. Our next-door neighbor had a possum break into her attic. Possums are not so easy to get rid of.

I am partly to blame for the squirrels in our yard. Like many of you, I have bird feeders. I have documented over the years my never-ending and totally unsuccessful attempts to find a squirrel-proof bird feeder that even comes close to being squirrel proof.

If I knew anything about electricity, I'd wire all the bird feeders in my yard and have a switch near the kitchen window. Every time I saw a squirrel on a feeder, I'd zap the critter. But I don't know anything about electricity. I'm not sure it even exists. Have you ever seen it? Have you ever caught any in a Miracle Whip jar?

My wife bought me a BB gun a few years ago, one with a laser scope and everything. But every squirrel in our neighborhood knows what a lousy shot I am.

So I have decided to trap squirrels. In two days I have captured four of the little demons. Since you are chomping on bran flakes and sipping orange juice, I will simply say the squirrels will not be returning to my yard.

Trapping squirrels, it turns out, is fairly easy. They are conniving in some ways but so stupid in others.

Wednesday evening I watched as Miss Kitty's beau, Old Tom, checked out the squirrel trap. He probably was attracted by the smell of squirrels, not the bird seed in the margarine container.

Old Tom approached the trap cautiously. About a foot from the entrance, he sat down and studied the contraption for several minutes. Then he got up and walked toward the trap gate, veering ever so slightly to stroll along the outside of the wire mesh. Without another look he headed for Miss Kitty's buffet in the garage.

I know some of you have been watching the continuing story of the two whales who left their Pacific Ocean home and headed upriver to Sacramento.

I'm a big fan of whales. I think they are wondrous creatures. I've been on whale-watching boat trips. To see a whale breach just a few feet away is a breathtaking sight.

But I'm wondering if two misguided whales are worth whatever it cost to steer them back to saltier water. I'm guessing the whale-diversion effort we've read about and watched on TV has cost somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million dollars, including the antibiotic injections.

There are a few observations I'd like to make about all this:

1. Some states are imposing fees for mountain climbers who go missing and need to be rescued. Where do we send the bill for the two whales?

2. All the biologists said the whales were "off course" and had "lost their way." How do they know that? It looks to me like the whales knew exactly what they were doing. We all take paths we've never been on before just for the heck of it. Why can't we assume whales do the same thing?

3. All the rescuers are patting themselves on the back for successfully getting the whales back to the ocean. Hogwash. The whales got back on their own steam. They never intended to stay in Sacramento. But that's hard for most humans to grasp.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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