Ah, yes. No garden season would be complete without a post detailing some of the unique and creative vandalism perpetrated by the darlings of the neighborhood this year. I freely admit, I hate them. I love them. Of all the pests I have to battle for the harvest…slugs, cabbage moths, earwigs and rolypolys, powdery mildew, hail, and Dane the mangy rescue mutt…squirrels are the only ones that make it personal. They could be French with their flagrant insults, chattering at me and biting their nails, throwing green apples down on my head and tossing perfect, beautiful peaches to the ground after a single bite only to stare at me from the branch in defiance, daring me to take offense. If they carried rapiers I’d fear them.
Mostly, they’re all the same to me, these garden rats. Furry. Cute. Rapacious. Infuriating. But twice now, one has been born that stands out from the rest. Six or seven years ago it was Hugo the Great, acrobat extraordinaire whom I swear could fly…fly I tell you. He sprang into this world either fearless or completely insane and his feats of leaping high overhead across impossible distances only to catch the merest twig tip and cling while it whipped him up and down in wild thirty-foot arcs left both me and every squirrel who chased him with mouths agape in awe and terror. I only saw him the one year of course. He was destined to die young. But oh, what a glorious season. I adored Hugo. He lived like a meteor…hot, fast, and brief.
But his memory faded over time and I was lulled into complacence. I eventually forgot that great ones, avatars, sometimes appear among this race…until late July when I discovered the first beautiful eggplant lying mangled in the pathway. Now I assure you, over time I’ve grown familiar with their favorites, these squirrels. Fruit has always been their main target and I’ve adjusted my efforts accordingly. The apple tree I gave them early, it’s always been theirs to plunder, and this year I finally surrendered both the peaches and my four espaliered pears as well. I still fight for the grapes as the muslin bags I tie on each individual cluster have so far foiled their best efforts but up until now they never thought to molest the vegetables.
So when I first spotted the eggplant I naturally thought it was Dane the mangy rescue mutt because Dane will eat anything…anything I tell you…but then I glimpsed the second eggplant lying beneath the spruce tree where they nest, and when I walked over to pick it up I found a hole the size of a golf ball with telltale teeth marks pocking the rest of the skin. That was when I realized, with sinking heart, that a new squirrel god was nigh.
I’ve named him Ivan the Terrible and, unlike Hugo, his presence gives me no joy. He brings naught but destruction and waste and has so far vandalized not only my eggplants and tomatoes, he’s chewed holes in all the pumpkins, half the butternuts, and eaten about twenty percent of my Delicata squashes outright. Five weeks ago he started eating every new, young squash, regardless of variety. The muslin bags on the grapes thwarted all his efforts but in his malice he chewed the clusters off the vines anyway and left them lying there on the ground for me to find and weep over.
I pray that, like Hugo, Ivan, too will die young, and that this season will be the only one in which the garden suffers such depredations. But secretly, I fear a darker destiny. I’m haunted by the idea that, like the Yosemite bears who learned to peel open cars for the Cheetos inside, he might teach the other squirrels his ways, that they might all look with fresh eyes on the true abundance of food available and give rise to a new breed that would finally consume everything…everything…I grow.
Perhaps it’s a sign. Maybe I should think about finally downsizing the garden a bit to get out kayaking more. I must admit, I’m getting older and farming the backyard is getting harder every year. Could this squirrel actually be Ivan the Liberator? I’ve seen stranger messengers.
copyright Dia Osborn 2013