Summer of the Squirrels

I loaded up my car with the days' provisions (2 gallons of water, lemonade mix, and paper cups) and set out for the park, careful to avoid a cute little squirrel. He had been hanging around our house for the past few weeks, scavenging from the oak trees and hiding his finds in a hole under our porch. There was no way of knowing if the squirrel was male or female, really. We just assumed.

As I pulled up to the curb, some 20 feet from my Big Blue Box, I noticed two things: two of my regulars were there waiting for me, and there were several squirrels running around the trees. More than usual.

No sooner did the car stop but the two kids, Sam and Becky, ran up to it and press their grubby noses to the window. I opened all the windows, since 80 degree heat can turn a closed car into an oven in less than 30 minutes. Especially if the car has a black interior.

I work for the city, at one of the neighbourhood parks. Basically, I'm a neighbourhood babysitter, with kids coming from all over to play games and make crafts. Clothespin dolls are really popular with the little girls. The pay's good, for a summer job, and the hours are fixed. I can't complain.

Sam helped me lug the cooler over to the picnic table while Becky took the key to the Box and opened it. We put the flags up, so that all the other kids in their air-conditioned houses could see that the Park Lady was here, and stacked the board games on one end of the table.

Sometimes mothers would come with their kids, or babysitters with their charges, and they'd bring food to share, like cookies or popcorn. That's why the squirrels hang around so much. Free food.

That day, after coming back from lunch and putting up my flags, I noticed that there was this one cheeky little squirrel sitting on top of a nearby table, munching on a discarded potato chip. It was the same squirrel from earlier! I recognised a patch of fur missing from his tail. I was a little surprised, but then reasoned that my park is where all the Ford employees come to take their lunch breaks, so it's always a good source of food. Nothing to be worried about. He was just a cute little squirrel.

The day wore on, and I ignored the little furry mammals that skittered around the park. Carl, my area supervisor, came by around 2 in the afternoon, bringing with him 2 large rolls of white paper and 3 more packs of clothespins.

"There's a squirrel on your box," he said, looking at the top of the metal structure.

I looked, and sure enough, a fat little squirrel was sitting there, looking at Carl and me, as if he were trying to decide if Carl was my boyfriend. Suddenly images of Disney's The Sword in the Stone-when Wart and Merlin were both squirrels and being chased around by female squirrels-ran through my head. I saw the missing patch of fur.

"Oh my God, that's the same squirrel!" I exclaimed. One of the kids told me that I needed to pay the Swear Jar. I stuck my tongue out at him.

Carl gave me a strange look, and I told him about my day. He laughed.

"I doubt that a squirrel would be stalking you," he said.

"Probably not. But it's still creepy."

"Having a squirrel follow you is creepy?"

I nearly forced the man into his little teal Ranger. The squirrel seemed relieved to see him go. That was too much. I threw a ball of paper at the little varmint, and he ran away.

The squirrel didn't show his face for a while, but Carl took every opportunity to tease me about my "admirer." After 2 or 3 days, it got really old. I reminded Carl that the kids were teasing him about being my husband-which he wasn't-and that I could stop them, if he'd lay off the squirrel stuff. We called a truce and he left.

The next day, I noticed that there were a lot of acorns and nut shells all around my tables. I was a little concerned, since having squirrels hanging around might discourage kids, and there weren't many coming in the first place. I couldn't help but think "Why can't guys follow me around like this?"

My squirrel stalker reappeared the next day, sitting by the wheel of my car when I started to load up the remnants of the day's activity. Water Day is one of the favourite events at any park-a day when water is everywhere, in squirt guns, water balloons, etc. We try to keep it organized, but it almost always ends up being a free-for-all, with the kids ganging up on the adults. I was soaked through.

The first time we had a Water Day, some of the kids who lived a block away came with big squirt guns and buckets of water. After a few minutes, both large buckets had been hoisted above their heads and emptied on me. Then the kids ran back home and refilled them. I squished for the rest of the day, and firmly resolved to only have Water Days in the afternoon, around three.

As I was loading the empty crate and my cooler into the car, the squirrel didn't move when I came near him. Naturally, I was wary, since squirrels can bite, and rabies isn't necessarily pleasant. I just kept an eye on him as I shoved stuff around in the trunk of the car.

I got home at 4:30, after going to the grocery store, and popped the trunk to start unloading everything. From the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of brown fur. Something ran under my car and came out near the exhaust pipe. It was that same damned squirrel! He stayed there, watching me, as I pulled the cooler out of the trunk, and followed me to the side door, where I put the cooler down. He followed me back to the car.

"Get outta here!" I shouted at him, feeling a little stupid for yelling at a squirrel. He skittered away, over to the neighbour's tree and climbed up.

I turned my attention to the load of groceries. I heard a rustle of leaves from the tree next door, and sure enough, that little squirrel was back, holey tail and all. He followed me to the front door, running across the lawn to meet me at the steps. I started giggling, which is what I do when I'm scared.

Gramma opened the door and I went in. I put the groceries in the kitchen, went back to the screen door, and looked outside. The squirrel was sitting on the porch, waiting for me.

"You won't believe it, Gramma, but there's a squirrel stalking me."

She didn't believe me. I had to make her get up, out of her recliner, come over to the door and look out. The squirrel looked up at us, then ran away, to the neighbour's tree and scampered up.

Since he was gone, I thought I was safe. Oh, how foolish. No sooner had I stepped out the door but the damned squirrel shot down the tree and right up to the toe of my shoe.

I tried to walk to my car, calmly, but he followed me. The little bugger followed me to my car, watched me haul an empty crate out of the trunk, and followed me back to the front door.

And then God said "Hah!" He sent half the neighbourhood home, and they all drove by my house. I could hear the laughter ringing through the neighbourhood. All because I was being chased by a stupid little squirrel.

He was waiting for me to come out. I just had one more load to get, but that squirrel was sitting two feet away from the door. By then I was laughing so hard I could barely stand.

I made a break for it, vaulting over the puny mammal and landing hard in the grass. He followed me. I wrenched open the passenger door and grabbed the last bag-Gramma's favourite cookies.

The plume-tailed rat was right on my heels as I sprinted across the lawn and leapt up the three steps to the door. I was inside before the squirrel could make it up to the porch.

As I was catching my breath, Gramma got up and took the bag from me.

"Oh, thank you for remembering the cookies, dear."

She opened the bag of peanut butter cookies and tossed one out the door.

I'm still twitching.

 

2003 Copyright held by the author.

 

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