Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mutants In The News — "Squirrels. Why Did It Have To Be Squirrels?" Edition

When I was itty-bitty, there was a squirrel that lived in our yard that I taught to eat out of my hand.  I named him Hungry Henry.  Every day when I checked the mail, he'd scamper down to see me.  I'd hold a pecan wedge between my thumb and index finger, and he'd deftly pluck it and chew it up like a chainsaw did lumber.

You have no idea how much joy that brought me.

And I fed him for a very, very long time; like, at least a year or two.  It got to where I could pet him, and sometimes hold him when my folks weren't around to chastise me.  He had a weird little purr.

Hungry Henry and I had a relationship.

So I was devastated when I found his little roadkilled body one afternoon.  It was one of my very first experiences with the harsh realities of Nature.

I loved that squirrel, and it translated into a fondness for all of his kinfolk.

Which means it was extra traumatic when, months later, I watched another squirrel systematically devour a nest a baby mockingbirds.

See, there was this nest in one of our backyard pecan trees, with four or five chicks.  I'd spent weeks spying on it, watching the mama bird tend her eggs.  The inevitable hatching was one of those miraculous childhood experiences.  I'd go check on the babies when the mama was away.  They were so ugly, they were adorable.

And one particular Saturday, right after I'd looked at the developing chicks, up scampered this squirrel to same tree.  I, delighted, thought it was after the pecans.  It was like a cartoon, and I was about to make a new squirrel sidekick, because try as I might, all my efforts to befriend other squirrels after Henry failed miserably.

Nope.  The squirrel looked up at me—right dead-on into my eyes—and then darted up the trunk, dove into the nest, grabbed a hatchling, zipped down with a dangling bird-baby in its jaws, bolted up into a giant tree across the yard...and proceeded to feed.

There was a cacophony of panicked chirping, and I was stunned.  Just dumbstruck.  And then I freaked as only an elementary schooler can freak.

I sped into the house, sobbing and wailing about the carnivorous beast, but my folks wouldn't believe me.  "Squirrels eat nuts," they said dismissively.

It took what seemed like forever to get them to come investigate (and I still remember my dad's eyerolls and grousing), and I dragged them outside to the tree...

...just in time to see that awful squirrel sitting in the nest, devouring another chick right there over the other babies.   It bolted when it saw the three of us.

My folks panicked, in decidedly different ways.  My mom ran to our encyclopedias, madly researching squirrel dietary habits, because she was convinced it was rabid.  My dad went to the nest, saw the gore, and ran for his rifle.

And the next couple of hours were kind of a blur.  I cowered inside, listening to the mayhem around me.  Unsatisfied with her researches, my ma called libraries and universities and zoos to find out if squirrels really did eat baby birds.  My dad staked out the tree, and many shots were fired...

...but that squirrel proved far craftier, and managed to make 3-4 more trips back to the nest, dodging gunfire  (and, I later found out, rocks and even shoes) and ignoring my dad's enraged yelling.

It ate every single last chick.  Nothing could stop it.

My dad eventually came in, as angry as I'd ever seen him.  He started to make a big batch of poisoned corn-grain-dogfood to kill the squirrel.  My mom wanted to rush me to the ER to get rabies shots, because she wouldn't believe that I hadn't touched that squirrel like I did my precious Hungry Henry.

Calm eventually prevailed, and there was no mass-poisoning of wildlife or injections in stomachs.  I think it was the Houston Zoo who ultimately assured my mom that squirrels were omnivores, and that we weren't dealing with a diseased aberration.

That was an awful, awful day.  And I have never, ever looked at squirrels the same way again.

I don't think I've ever told anyone my squirrel stories before, so, um...yeah.  Thanks, I guess? Sorry?  I dunno.  This all kinda bubbled up.

And I am definitely seeing this movie, purely for cathartic purposes.