A Prison of Your Own Creation

I'm sure most of you have noticed that this was before Samson moved to Arkansas to be with Andy, Madison, and Harper. The dogs are (left to right) Sampson, Cotton, and Sarge.

I pulled into the driveway a few weeks back, lost in thought, as usual.  Steeling myself for the expected onslaught of hounds, I instead noted Sampson, our big yellow lab mix, running away from, instead of toward, my Hyundai.  I immediately knew why.

He was chasing, “the squirrel”.

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There are few places in the United States where there are trees that don’t have squirrels.  In the Bootheel of southeast Missouri, we have the tiny flying squirrel, the little gray squirrel, and the larger fox squirrel.

Annie, our six boys, and I moved to my family’s farm almost 20 years ago.  Since that time we’ve usually had a squirrel living in the big oak trees that help make this place home.  Although it’s always been a fox squirrel (often called a red squirrel around here), the normal lifespan of that species makes it clear to me that it has not always been the same individual.  There have been several.

But “the squirrel” is different.

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With several dogs in our family, the life of a squirrel in our yard is anything but safe.  It’s even more dangerous now since Sampson has enthusiastically proven that he can drastically shorten the nut-gathering careers of the bushytailed rodents.

Members of the genus sciurus have never been especially noted for their intelligence.  I’ve often wondered how smart an animal can be that chooses to live in the same yard with (at that time) six dogs that love to eat meat on a regular basis.

The smaller prey animals are often depicted as timid, nervous critters that live in constant fear.  And that makes sense, given that pretty much everything out there seems to be eager to eat them.

But “the squirrel” is different.

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Richard Lovelace said in his famous poem To Althea, from Prison, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.”  In other words, you decide whether your situation imprisons you or not.

A good example can be seen on many of the reality shows that are so popular on TV now.  Many of the characters on those shows seem to be absolutely determined to be miserable, and make others around them unhappy too.

I don’t watch those shows but I’ve caught a few minutes here and there.  I can’t turn the channel quickly enough.  It amazes me to see people who are, at the very least, upper middle class, complaining about how tough their lives are.  On some shows you see women, married to rich husbands, sitting around griping about each other and how they behaved at the most recent party.  On others you find kids who don’t seem to have ever held down anything resembling a real job whining that the world is not catering to them in the manner they prefer.

These people look to me like they could afford to change the life situation that they aren’t happy with.  Instead they prefer to sit around and b—- and moan about how tough they’ve got it.

But “the squirrel” is different.

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I’ll drop the quotation marks now when I talk about “the squirrel”.  OK, now.

As I said, the squirrel lives in a yard with six carnivores that would like nothing better than to chase him down and end his existence…and they don’t understand the concept of fair chase.  They will gladly do whatever it takes to catch him.

I’m sure he lives in the yard because of the plethora of acorns our big oaks produce and the few good nuts the pecan tree yields, and he may even gnosh on some of the mulberries that particular tree grows every year.  Between mowings the yard can grow plenty of green grass and clover for him to enjoy as well.  But I suspect he really likes the dependable year-round availability of the sunflower seeds in our bird feeder.

The problem with the bird feeder is that it is only about ten yards from our back porch…the porch where the resident canids like to hang out.  Oh, and the feeder dangles at tooth-level of Sampson when he stands on his back legs, and within reach of most of the others when they jump.

Despite the imminent danger, the squirrel chooses to live here.

But there’s more.

The buck-toothed rodent seems to enjoy it.

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I’ve seen him when I drive up and when I open the back door of the house, and I’ve watched him from the kitchen window.  He takes his time if the dogs aren’t in sight.  He’ll graze around the yard, nibbling and glancing calmly around.  If the dogs come in sight he’ll take heed.  When they get too close though, he’ll take to the trees…usually.  Sometimes he’ll hesitate.  It’s as if he keeps track of how far he is from the nearest oak and judges both his speed and that of the hounds.  At what must be the last instant, he takes off for safety.

One time I was watching when it looked like the squirrel misjudged things.  Instead of running for the nearest tree, he ran for the fence, but he didn’t leap into the bushes that grow there, he ran through the hog wire where his pursuers wouldn’t fit, and continued south.  When the pups ran to get around the fence, Mr. Spee D. Squirrel went back through and made it to the oak and safety.

And that’s when he did it.  He’s done it since but that’s the first time I got to see him do it.  He stopped when he knew he was safe…and laughed.  I know, I know, he was chittering and barking, not really laughing, but that’s the way it seemed.  Some people say squirrels make that sound to warn other squirrels of imminent danger, but he and I knew there were no other squirrels within a few hundred yards.  Come to think of it, maybe he wasn’t laughing; maybe he was cursing, or…taunting.  “What?  Did you think you were going to catch me that time?  No way, you stupid mutts!  You can’t catch me!  I’m fast as fast can be!”

Sure, I was anthropomorphizing my bushytailed friend a bit, but the fact is, he really seemed to be enjoying himself.  The little buck-toothed adrenaline junky was playing with the dogs.

My point is, the squirrel lives in a very dangerous place where a lapse in judgment could result in his death, and yet he seems to be happy.  He could live in a state of nervousness leading to high blood pressure or heart attack, but he doesn’t let the stress get to him.  He seems to always keep the risk in mind and plan accordingly, but he only deals with the danger if it actually comes up.

Unlike our reality TV show friends, he’s happy to live where and how he does.  I’m happy too.  Maybe I’ll pick up some ear corn next time I’m at Wal-Mart, to put on the old squirrel feeder attached to one of the oaks.  You know, let my nutty friend know he’s welcome here…

…despite what the dogs say.

 

6 Comments on "A Prison of Your Own Creation"

  1. Thus, squirrels provide an excellent resource to dog owners. That of exercise machine (and maybe chew toy). 😜

    But in all seriousness, this was yet again another great read.

  2. That was exactly how it plays out! Nice job!

  3. Scott Matthews | October 11, 2017 at 8:50 am |

    Thanks!

  4. Dottie Phelps | October 11, 2017 at 9:49 am |

    Great read. Keep them coming.

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