Gut Rumbles

July 31, 2007

Tree rats

Originally published March 8, 2002

I hate TREE RATS, better know as "squirrels" to people who believe these disgusting, destructive pests are "cute" because they have fuzzy tails. I have waged a constant, merciless 10-year war on tree rats, and the only thing I have accomplished is to grow a grudging respect for my worthy foe. Like its first-cousin, the gutter rat, and its brother, the wharf rat, tree rats are clever, resourceful and unbelievably determined to go places you don't want them to go and to do things you don't want them to do.

I first declared war when I put a couple of bird feeders in the backyard of the first home I shared with my ex-wife. I bought some galvanized pipe, fashioned a nice T-bar at the top of a 10-foot stick, and sunk the stick a couple of feet in the ground, where I anchored it with concrete. Then, I hung a big bird feeder loaded with all sorts of bird-goodies on each end of the T-bar. I barely made it back inside the house before both feeders were swarming with fuzzy-tailed tree rats, who raked all the small stuff out onto the ground to get at the sunflower seeds they preferred. Within two hours, they had emptied both feeders, knawed one of the wooden bird-roost bars in half and ruined my entire day.

I grabbed my cap and car keys and headed off to buy a pellet gun, but my ex-wife protested vociferiously about me shooting any of those cute little creatures, especially in the neighborhood where we lived, which was in a wildlife protection area. I could go to jail. I might miss a squirrel and put a child's eye out. Why would I want to kill a cute little squirrel, anyway?

I've always been amazed at some people's capacity to bleed straight from the heart and drip compassion like tree sap when it comes to a squirrel, then turn around and treat people the way that twisted sister in Fort Worth did the homeless man she brought home as a hood ornament and left stuck through the windshield of her car for two days until he died. My ex-wife is a lot like that.

But I acceeded to her wishes. Instead of a pellet gun, I bought a can of heavy-duty, water-insoluable grease, and I put a thick layer of it all over the pole. The squirrels were bamboozled. They would run up and jump on the pole, then slide down no matter how hard they worked their climbing muscles. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, they would run away and fall off power lines or out of trees because their greasy little paws could find no purchase. Finally, they stopped trying to climb the pole. I declared victory until the bastards learned to climb the pine tree nearby, run to the end of a limb about ten feet away, and take a wild, batman-like leap at the feeders. If they couldn't hit and hang on, they hit and rattled things enough that a few sunflower seeds fell out on the ground and they could eat them there. I sawed the limb off and they immediately figured out that they could do the same thing from the roof of my house. After that, our placid family life was interrupted constantly by the sound of little tree rat claws scurrying across the roof, followed by the crash of a bird feeder. Since I didn't believe sawing off the roof of my house was a good idea, I moved.

We bought a home in Effingham County, and this time I bought a pellet gun BEFORE I put up bird feeders. I was out in the country now. I had nothing but five acres of woods behind my house. Those arguments about putting out a child's eye and being arrested for slaughtering protected wildlife didn't apply anymore. I hung the bird feeders where I had a perfect shot from the laundry room doorway if another tree rat invasion occurred.

It did, of course, even more intense than before. I thought the tree rats were bad in a subdivision. Now, I had FIVE ACRES OF WOODS behind my house. The tree rats came in swarms. I shot many of them. But every time I killed one, two came to take its place. I must have killed over 100 of them, but thousands remained when I moved away from there, too. That's when I bought my mini-farm and learned that there are things worse than squirrels with which to contend when you plant a half-acre garden. I never stopped hating tree rats. But I learned to hate deer, too.

That's why I find this article refreshing to read. Okay, they might be rats in pajamas instead of tree rats. But rats they are.

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