Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Junior Gods

The squirrels were quiet. I wasn’t sure what this meant. Even yesterday I could hear them galloping back and forth behind the soffit, a kind of closed eave lining the roof. They had squeezed into it, silly beasts—one or two of them—and then couldn't get back out.

All this I learned after the fact. Listening to the thundering herd over my head last week, I figured they were on top of the roof. I'd seen four or five playing tag among the chimneys. The mewing sound that also filtered down I figured belonged to an audience of mourning doves.

Wiser people who already knew what a soffit was—my wife, my father-in-law, my next-door neighbor—begged to differ. "I can hear them whimpering," said Bob, the neighbor (the mourning doves?). "I can hear the babies calling from the tree. It's tearing me up."

Finally recognizing the cruelty of my ignorance (“You mean there's a space between the ceiling and the roof?”), I called an outfit called Critter Control. Their ad had silhouettes of a raccoon and a squirrel and said “Humane Removal.” It turned out to be $279 for the visit, plus $79 per squirrel, plus any necessary repair to the roof. Yikes. But how could I shop around when every second was bringing them closer to death? If they weren’t dead already.


Every now and then life reminds us that we are, in essence, junior gods. We didn’t create this world, but we scratched and clawed our way to the top of the executive ladder, building houses where squirrels get trapped, mice run around in the silverware drawer, and moths use the kitchen cupboards as a maternity ward. So then we have to decide what lives, what dies, what gets trapped and released, what gets squashed in a tissue and flushed down the toilet or gathered in a napkin and released into the welcoming air.

I've had my share of Junior God moments. The first one may have been the downy woodpecker that banged into our living room window when I was a kid, knocking itself out. I resisted my dad's proposed mercy-killing and counter-proposed bringing it around to the birdbath in the backyard, where it revived, climbed my leg, and flew away. Give me a JG merit badge for that. But take it away for the mouse I unknowingly let die in a neglected Have-a-heart trap a few years ago.

Then there was the little white pigeon I "saved" from an impending blizzard. It eerily wouldn't fly away as I approached it, walking down Boylston St. in downtown Boston. I passed it, stopped, came back. I decided it was a lost magician's dove. I cornered it, picked it up, and stuffed it inside my coat, harboring it beside my unsuspecting subway and bus seatmates all the way home. I kept it in my garage for three days, till the weather improved. A magician neighbor came over to take a look. She doubted it was anything other than a white wild pigeon. On the third day I kept the garage door open and when I got home from work, the ark was empty. Had I done anything more than interrupt, or, worse, disrupt, its sensible pigeony life?


The Critter Control guy came down the ladder with a lively gray squirrel somersaulting around in a cage trap. He explained that he was required by law to euthanize it. He couldn't release it unless I gave permission to let it go in my backyard. If I did, would the squirrel be so stupid as to return to its torture chamber, starting the process all over again? The guy assured me that squirrels were that stupid. Nevertheless, I couldn't live with the loathing of my neighbor, forever branding me a squirrel-killer. A pardon from the governor it was. And it felt pretty good to see the little guy go skittering up the tree. (Not the Critter Control guy. The little squirrely guy.)

So far, in two days, two more squirrels have gone flying out of the cage into my backyard and skittering back up the tree. They think it's great fun. They get peanuts in the cage. They get a ride down the ladder. And they get to do it all over again. (I'm thinking of putting up a "You must be this big" sign). And what do I get? A cheap Junior God merit badge, like a toy you'd find in a crackerjack box.


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