anne_mikolay_2012_120As a little girl, I was fascinated by squirrels. My mother entertained me with stories about squirrel families living inside tree trunks, and my father encouraged me to press my ear against the trees to listen to the critters squeaking inside. I watched in awe as my Aunt Sarah, “the squirrel whisperer”, fed squirrels by hand in the park (not the wisest choice, of course).  Whenever Sarah sat down on the park bench, a jet-black squirrel she appropriately named “Blackie”, somehow recognized her and came running. Watching “Blackie” should have clued me in to the truth about squirrels; contrary to popular belief, they are not dumb. They are agile, crafty, and intelligent, something I learned from “Mr. Peanut”.

My first mistake with the squirrel I know as “Mr. Peanut” was his name. Now that I am familiar with his antics, I realize  “Houdini” or “James Bond” would have been more appropriate. “Mr. Peanut”, who lives in a nest high in the oak tree in my backyard, had been feasting upon the seed and suet provided for the birds. Various squirrel baffles did not obstruct his path to the feeders; not even the pricey, “guaranteed” baffle from the Audubon Society. The very next morning after installing the Audubon baffle on the feeder pole, “Mr. Peanut”, far more resourceful than I anticipated, was triumphantly sitting atop the bird feeder enjoying breakfast.

“Mr. Peanut” is surprisingly intelligent. I can't count how many times, while working on my computer in front of the window, I have looked up to see Mr. Peanut sitting on a branch, staring at me, sending me telepathic messages: “Feed me, lady! Feed me!” Thus, I caved and purchased “Mr. Peanut” his own food station packed with peanuts. Going forward, the peanut station would be stocked so “Mr. Peanut” would stay away from the bird feeders. The arrangement worked very well – for a time.

Apparently, “Mr. Peanut” is a greedy, voracious fella with an excellent memory. After watching me bring the bag of peanuts from the screened patio room to his feeding station in the yard countless times, he committed the path to sustenance to memory. Like a raccoon rifling through the trash cans, “Mr. Peanut” will seek out a meal wherever he can! Of course, I inadvertently made it easy for him. The box outside the patio provided a ladder (as if he needed one!) to the bag of peanuts (an all-you-can-eat squirrel buffet) on the table inside. There were no witnesses to the break-in; the big hole in my patio screen and the scattered peanut shells provided clear evidence “Mr. Peanut” had stealthily entered, filled his tummy, and exited.

Admittedly, my Doctor Dolittle fervor was the root cause of the incident. Thus, the box and table are gone. The screen has been patched. The peanuts are in a jar rather than a bag. No need to further tempt the thief to repeat his offense! I have learned my lesson. Feeding wildlife requires diligent responsibility, not carelessness. I can playfully name the backyard critters, but they are not pets. Squirrels are wild animals, rodents with sharp teeth and claws (obviously!) They live in holes in trees or in carefully crafted nests, or dreys, of leaves and twigs. They chatter (not squeak), will eat just about anything, and are natural born acrobats. They are industrious, intelligent, and like other wild creatures, possess a natural instinct for survival. And if that means gnawing through somebody's patio screen (even if that somebody will eventually bring the peanuts to the squirrel), so be it.

Understandably, I am rather miffed at “Bandit”, formerly known as “Mr. Peanut”. While I find squirrels charming, I hardly relish the idea of finding one gorging on peanuts in my patio room. Perhaps I shall remove the squirrel feeding station...but, then again, I would certainly miss the squirrels' entertaining antics. Squirrels grant an up-close view of Nature (not tooclose, I hope!), and with each twitch of their tails, stir my childhood memories of sitting on a park bench with my dad and my aunt. Despite the hole in my patio screen, I like “Bandit” and his relatives. If he wasn't living in the oak tree, scouring my yard for peanuts, I'd miss him.

And that's the squirrelly truth.