Category Archives: The South

Girl vs. Squirrel

cover squirrel

There was a time, in the distant past, that I loved squirrels.  Having been fed squirrel propaganda all my life, I envisioned squirrels as tiny, fun-loving animals akin to Rocky the Flying Squirrel.  They were full of antics, friendly, and possibly given to wearing colorful hats.  Of course, the truth is a far cry from the cartoon reality.  I don’t believe I ever saw Rocky pull up a bed of tulips and take one dainty bit from each helpless bulb.  Nor, did he enjoy ransacking birdhouses and destroying birdfeeders.  Rocky was, despite his hijinks with Bullwinkle, a law-abiding squirrel.  The squirrels in my yard are a law unto themselves.

 And, of course, with every tale, there is a villain.  Since we haven’t been properly introduced, let’s just call him the Rat Squirrel or R.S. for short.  R.S. is not like other squirrels.  He fears nothing.  He scoffs at squirrel-proof feeders and cats and dogs are only nuisances to him.  Even the menace of Ryder, my previous neighbor’s fat, yellow tabby only slowed R.S.  Not only is he the biggest, baddest squirrel on the block, but he has the distinction of having absolutely no fur on his tail.  He has, in short, a rat’s tail.  Whether this is some genetic fluke or the result of really bad luck, I guess I’ll never know.  But, having a denuded tail has, in no way, improved R.S.’s temperament.

 I’m not really sure how long squirrel’s live, but R.S. made his appearance about two years ago.  I walked out on my deck to find a slice of pizza lying on my doormat.  Now, since I don’t usually leave old pizza crusts on my door mat, I found this odd—especially since I distinctly remembered putting last night’s pizza box in my trash can and securely latching its lid.  Yet, here was the pizza, on the mat, on the deck.  And, there was a squirrel, sitting nonchalantly in one of my floor barrels unearthing herbs and throwing them roots and all onto the deck.  I looked at the squirrel and he looked at me.  Then, he jumped up onto the overhanging branches that surround the deck and was gone.  My last sight of him was his hideous rat tail.  This was our introduction.

 Since that day, R.S. has led his minions on many merry adventures in my garden.  He likes to get up early, so that he can either dig in the barrels on my deck or check the trash for dainties.  Sometimes he puts things in the barrels; sometimes he digs things up depending on his moods.  He won’t stand for birdfeeders or birdhouses of any sort.  He’s not fond of wind chimes either and sometimes pulls them down.  It’s a 50/50 chance as to whether he’ll let them stay or not.

 Squirrel-proof feeders and houses don’t even slow him down.  He can pull one down within an hour’s time—sometimes with the help of his crew and sometimes alone.  The other squirrels follow him or at least imitate him.  And, he’s a chewer.  Advice on boarding up holes to keep squirrels out of eaves and attics would seemingly work, but I’ve seen the holes that he leaves behind.  Since I never catch him at work, I don’t know how long these excavations of his take.  He may start work as soon as I pull out of the drive.  I know that was Ryder’s usual M.O.  He actually would lurk in the witch-hazel bushes until he saw my car pull out and then make a run for the rabbit holes.  It may be that R.S. learned a thing or two from Ryder, his previous nemesis.  With Ryder gone, R.S. fears nothing.  Honey, our neighborhood dog, is safely enclosed in her electric fence and Fionna, Ryder’s apprentice, is no match for the power and glory of the Rat Squirrel.

 Case in point, I was given a glorious birdfeeder.  This wasn’t just any birdfeeder, but the Barbie Dreamhouse of birdfeeders.  It has towers, a veranda, and a miniature mailbox—should the birds ever need to send tiny missives to each other.  It has multiple levels for different types of food and a painted garden. This is the kind of birdfeeder that birds, if they do chat to one another, mention as a landmark.  “Fly south for about ten minutes and cut right at the glorious birdfeeder.  You know, the one with the steeple and tiny mail box?”  It was a beauty and with R.S. in mind, I hung it by a coated wire hanger far from the trees and the deck with no, to my mind, possible way for R.S. to gain entry.  I placed it bright and early Sunday morning.

 By noon, the birdfeeder is utterly destroyed.  R.S. has led his minions in chewing a gaping hole in the wood.  I came outside to find him sitting like a king in the ruins of the birdfeeder that is now on the ground.  Somehow, he and his cronies had chewed through the rubber-coated wires.  Wires?!  They chewed through wires.  With the different types of birdfeed and suet scattered everywhere R.S. and his flunkies were having a merry feast.  The crows sit cawing in the trees waiting for them to clear out.  I resolve at that time to thwart him somehow. . .   This has become a game of spy vs. spy played at its highest level.  But, somehow, I keep ending up on the losing side.

 But, how is it possible to stop the Rat Squirrel?  I’ve consulted with the wildlife specialist down the road—she is the park guide at our local nature park and cares for injured animals that folks bring by the Nature Center.  Currently, they have a hawk, two bunnies, and a large, belligerent skunk.  She recommends feeding R.S. (I laugh and laugh since he is the best-fed squirrel in the county!) And, she also recommends putting birdfeeders on poles and then greasing the poles with Crisco.  This seems a good plan to me.  But, I suppose I chose the wrong sort of poles since R.S. and his cohorts managed to knock them down with help from the large, bossy crows.  I’ve also tried putting feeders higher and then lower, using reflective and glowing yard decorations and encouraging Fionna to chase squirrels.  The hose does work, for a minute, or until my back is turned.  Apparently, only eternal vigilance will control the rampages of the Rat Squirrel. 

 One of my neighbors actually feeds squirrels.  She still believes they are cute little woodland critters—the type taken to perching on Snow White’s shoulders.  I have tried to explain to her that the R.S. is evil, but she continues to make homemade suet for him and his brood.  I’ve included the recipe below, in case you would like to offer bribes to your squirrel population.  I choose not to encourage R.S., but then, endorsement or admonition seems to be all the same to him.  Seemingly, the Rat Squirrel and I are at a stalemate.  Yet, hope springs eternal.

Yesterday, I saw Patrocles, the brown tabby feral I’m hoping to tame, eyeing R.S.  Pat is small and skittish, but I can tell he has a lot of moxie.  It could be in a few weeks or months, he’ll challenge the Rat Squirrel’s authority.  Until then, I’m only biding my time.  Outside my window, I can hear the chitters of the squirrels and I know that R.S. is out there somewhere, waiting and watching.  I refilled the chewed and battered birdfeeder and rehung it (again) only an hour ago.  It will soon be empty and the R.S. will be once again hungry and on the prowl.  But, Pat is waiting and watching and growing. 

 Advice on deterring Squirrels (not effective on Rat Squirrels):

  • Buy squirrel-proof feeders – metal ones are the best as squirrels can chew through plastic quite easily.
  • Hang birdfeeders on poles (metal if possible) and grease with Crisco.  Hanging feeders on branches or on fence posts only encourages squirrels.
  • Feed the squirrels.  Fat, happy squirrels are “less likely” to ransack birdfeeders.  Squirrels like many foods, including critter mixes, suets, dried apples and berries, peanutbutter, peanuts, nuts, sunflower seeds, stale bread, and beans.  They apparently enjoy pizza crusts as well.
  • Faux predators, such as plastic owls, and shiny reflective glass beads and lights are endorsed by some.  However, my squirrels knocked down the owl and chewed him a bit.  Clearly, they were not impressed.
  • My advice is learn to live with the squirrels.  There is, possibly, no getting rid of them.  They may accept bribes.  See below:

 Critter Suet:

  •  1 ½  cup chunky peanutbutter
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ dried berry fruit (cranberries, blueberries, etc.)
  • 2 tbsp. Cornmeal
  • ¼ cup assorted nuts

 Mix together until berries, raisins, and nuts are well distributed and then put in feeder.  If you happen to have suet dough (available at most garden stores) you can mix it in too.  Experiment.  Squirrels have different tastes, but I haven’t notices that they turn down much.



Selling Hope


A long time ago I realized there are only two types of people in this world.  Those that make it a better place and those that make it worse.  Unfortunately, the latter outnumber the former ten to one.  Not because most people are particularly bad, but because they’d rather not get involved.  And believe me, I get it. 

I work with CRM (consumer relationship management) all day, every day.  Marketing is, in the end, about being conciliatory.  It’s about finding the heart of product or service that touches the greatest number of people.  You can do that by studying people and trying to connect with them through a brand or you can twist your product into the shape they’re looking for – whether it’s what they really want (or need) or not.  The first path is much harder than the second, but it’s also the only path that works in the long-run.  It’s better to have fewer consumers who are true brand loyalists than lots of one-shot sales.  Life is a lot like that too.  You can convince yourself that by doing nothing you aren’t hurting anyone and, at best, that may be true.  It’s been my experience though that minding your own business and accepting the way things are does as much damage as the people who actually go around lighting fires and kicking puppies. 

More than two hundred years ago Edmund Burke wrote “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one. . .” – a nice sentiment which was adapted into “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” which, from a marketing point-of-view, is a much better sound byte.  Regardless of what ole Edmund said or wrote, he had the truth of it.  A good deal of the terrible things in the world happen with an audience.  Case in point, a co-worker told me that she once saw a woman take off her shoe and beat her child with it.  The child was apparently in her car-seat crying, so the woman took off her shoe and hit the baby. 

My co-worker, who is often fond of telling everyone what a good person she is, called the police while this woman continued to hit a toddler.  With a shoe.  And she wasn’t the only person watching this scene, there were, apparently, a group of people who were outraged – but not enough to actually do anything.  This happened maybe ten years ago and it’s a story this particular person likes to repeat which infuriates me each and every time I hear it.  Life is just too short to wait for someone to come to the rescue.  Sometimes, you need to step in and do something yourself.

Doing something will, most likely, make you unpopular and will definitely earn you bad looks from your neighbors.  I take care of feral cats.  I try to find homes for strays, practice TNR for truly feral critters in the colony, and try to make sure that animals that already have a hard life don’t have a harder one.  I don’t expect anyone to praise me or give me a cookie.  I do hope that those who don’t want to help don’t actually try to stop me from helping, that they don’t shoot the cats, trap them and have them euthanized, or poison them.  My hopes often prove fruitless.  I learned a long time ago that you can’t save the world – all you can do is try to mop up the mess and apply a few bandages.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  Sometimes a thankless task is more rewarding than one with guaranteed success. 

And, hey, sometimes you’re wrong.  Sometimes you may not save the world, but you save one cat or one person or change someone’s point-of-view.  That’s what keeps you going.  The poets have hope all wrong.  It isn’t delicate.  It isn’t a “thing with feathers,” it’s a thing with claws.  It scraps on even when all the odds are against it. 

That’s why no matter how tough things are, you can always have hope, and you can always convince others to have hope too.  Hope is hard (and sometimes bitter,) but apathy is like a plain oatmeal – cozy but bland.  Hope is the toy surprise in life’s box of cereal.  You may have to dig a bit to get it, but it’s always there – guaranteed.  And in the end, isn’t that what life’s really about – the toy surprise.  It may not be what you wanted or even what you expected.  But it’s the joy of opening it that makes it all worthwhile – that one moment when you, well, have hope that it’s exactly what you were looking for.  The world is a cruel place, but if you persevere it may just surprise you.

On Weeds, Neighbors, & Common Sense

There’s a weed in my neighbor’s garden.  I don’t know why it bother’s me so much but it does.  It’s what my Grandmother would’ve called Meadow Bright, a hopped up kind of cockle burr that plagues hikers and farmers throughout the late summer.  I’ve spent hours combing burrs out of my cockerspaniel’s fur, despite having shaved her down to a Beagle’s coat.  And there’s nothing worse than getting a burr stuck between your sock and your boot.  You can never find the little devil until it ends up glued to your sock after a turn in the washer and dryer, and then it’s a mash of random quills that you can never completely remove.

The most annoying thing about The Weed is that it isn’t accidental.  My neighbor waters it and douses it with Miracle-Gro each day along with perfectly valid begonias and celosias.  It looks pretty enough, but in a month or two those bright yellow petals will give way to sappy stalks and prickly burrs.  There are some that say that a weed is just an unloved flower.  Given that rationale, The Weed must have attained flower status by now.  But any garden knows that a weed, no matter how useful is not a flower.  Weeds yield only one harvest – other weeds.

Dandelions may be edible (blanched and if you’re desperate enough) and goose grass has medicinal uses.  But they both die quick enough when doused with weed killer.  No one plants a garden full of thistles (beautiful and perilous) or witch grass.  Gardeners and weeds are natural enemies.   That’s not to say that weeds aren’t to be admired.  They’re hardy and can survive the worst drought and they get along well judging from the poison ivy, wild grapevine, and other assorted pest grasses that flourish in my yard despite the heat, humidity, and my gardening trowel.  There’s no denying that Sumacs have a feral beauty when they light up the autumn (and my allergies) with their colors, and trumpet vines and poke berries can’t be denied their graces.  Still, there’s something fundamentally wrong with a person who can’t tell a flower from a weed.

My garden has it’s fair share of weeds, and not by choice.  I spend a good deal of time with a trowel digging, twisting, and rooting up all sorts of pest grasses – some of which are pretty.  I have a cottage garden – at least that’s what I tell my Mother when she implies it needs “a good cutting back” – with a delicate ecosystem.  Tall natives shelter shade plants, garlic and roses grow side by side, and tomatoes with their toxic leaves keep poison ivy from creeping up in the side bed.  There are some unusual plant combinations in my garden, but there’s something unnatural and downright immoral about The Weed standing tall in a bed of gladiolas and lillies fattened with frequent waterings and fertilizer pellets.

I shouldn’t be surprised as this is the same neighbor who lets her hapless housedog and toddlers play in the street.  There’s something unsavory, not to mention unsanitary about a toddler sitting on hot asphalt while her mother walks up and down the road talking on her iPhone.  A few years back, the Wildlife Resources Agency issued a disclaimer on their website and my neighbor came to mind.  They were using sugar cubes to vaccinate wild life since ‘possums and raccoons seldom turn out for vaccination clinics.  Their FAQs assured residents that no harm would come to dogs, cats, or children who ate the cubes since the dosages were low – although I can’t image it’s very healthful for children to eat sugar out of ditches.  I have a feeling my neighbor’s children have already eaten a fair share of ditch sugar in their short lives, and they no doubt enjoy watering The Weed.

I eye The Weed daily, but have resisted (so far) the desire to pull it up and chuck it into the trash where it belongs.  It will be a few month’s before it starts spitting out burrs, and a few months is a long time in a plant’s life.  There are storms, droughts, humidity, and moles between now and August.  Until then, me and The Weed are reluctantly at truce.

In Praise of Southern Women

A lot has been said about the South and especially about its women, but it’s a universal truth that more arguments have been won over a good slice of pie than with a best thought-out defenses.  And the Southern woman is and always has been the master of diplomacy.  Whether treading her way (with grace in spike heels or a pair of hiking boots) through a maze of relations (up to thrice removed,) or through the endless everyday routine that requires her to be a hostess, craftsman, sinner, saint and inventor, no true Southern woman would be caught without her make-up or her hospitality. She’ll offer you pie, biscuits, sweet tea, or maybe a spare room.  She’s never met a stranger and passes out hugs and compliments on the basis that everyone could use a little pick-me-up.

You can’t help but have respect for the God-fearing, heel-wearing, sweet tea serving, uppity, yet relentlessly hospitable women with nerves of steel who navigate through a world of indoor dogs, five day revivals, unmentionable cousins (Bless their hearts!,) mosquitos, armadillos, and the expectation that a woman can and will manage anything.  A Southern woman can plan a cotillion and a tailgate party in the same day, string barbed wire, field dress a deer, build a school project, and make sure the witch grass and Kudzu don’t take over the lawn while managing to keep her lipstick fresh and her hair in an up-do.

Looking good in this humidity is an act of defiance and every Southern woman knows it.  Only Aqua Net and force of will can keep up curls in the summer, but keeping yourself together is a daily affirmation that no matter what the world (or weather) throws at a woman, it’s nothing that you can’t lick with a little perservence (and the right personal care products.)  That’s not to say that Southern women are always made-up, you’re as likely to find a Southern lady in shorts as a skirt and there’s certainly nothing wrong with wearing heels with jeans or cowboy boots with just about anything – regardless of what Tim Gunn may say.

If Southern woman ran the world, we’d all have Sunday dinner together, call our mommas twice a week, and keep our yards up.  There’s always be a spare room, something somebody’s outgrown that’s been put aside for future use, and a plate of biscuits you can take home (because no one could possibly eat all these, honey!)  Southern women are feeders.  It’s an impossibility that someone couldn’t eat just a tiny bit of cobbler or at least take a fried pie home for later.  She feeds stray cats, random visitors, and notions about the South. She never throws anything out whether it’s an old shirt (could be a quilt square or a cleaning rag) or an old friend that just can’t say anything nice.  Who knows what a week and some coffee may fix?  After all, you can’t be a real Southern woman without real friends and real enemies – even if they trade classifications from time to time.

In the end, every Southern woman knows that tomorrow is another day.  Some things are worth holding on to and others aren’t.  It’s best to discover which are which early on.  Every good cook or seamstress knows you can make something from practically nothing with enough ingenuity, but even the craftiest among us can’t whip up a faux cobbler without at least some cinnamon and a pack of Ritz crackers.

So the next time you meet a Southern woman, be sure to say hello; but don’t call her “ma’am” unless you have a hat to tip and just take the pie home.  You’ll thank her later.