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Byrd's Words

"This is not meant to offend or convert anyone.
Take what you want and ignore the rest."
— Byrd

April 1, 2001

PAPA AND THE SQUIRRELS

by byrd tetzlaff

First published Feb 11, 2000

There is an old saying that goes:

Want to make God laugh? Make a plan.
Want to made God really laugh? Expect it to work.
Our house is not the warmest place I've known. The floor is especially chilly in the winter. The cats manage to keep warm by climbing up to higher levels, the tops of book cases, etc, but the dogs are floor-bound. Alice has a thick coat of fur that no cold could ever penetrate, but poor Scottie has only long thin fur. Scottie also has arthritis, so she feels the cold. The other day she was limping and looking particularly pathetic, so I decided to make a bed for her that would keep her warmer.

Someone had given me an old foam-rubber, egg-crate-type mattress. I folded it up and started to put it on the floor near the wood stove for Scottie to lay on. I planned to make her a nice warm Dog Bed. But Princess (the precocious cat) was watching and when her chance came, she leaped onto the mattress and started burrowing into the folds, before I had even gotten it down to the floor. I pulled her out, but as soon as I let go, she dove right back into the mattress. Three times I pulled her out. Three time she dove back in. Disgusted, I went in the other room to find a throw to cover the mattress. When I returned, there was not one cat, but two, hidden in the folds of the mattress. I pulled out both cats and quickly threw the coverlet over the foam rubber, but the cats were too quick for me.

Now, I was starting to get frustrated. Unfortunately, when I get frustrated with the animals, it manifests itself as laughter.

Cats simply do not take you seriously when you are laughing at them. I would pull one cat out and reach for the other. While I was reaching for the second cat, the first would dive back into the mattress. They took turns, gleefully certain that they were winning this new game. And the whole process was getting worse because I was laughing so hard I could not function properly.

Alice came over and licked my face apologetically. That only made it worse. I was becoming weak from laughter. It was going to be a long battle, I could tell. So I straightened the coverlet the best I could, with the cats still underneath the cover of the new Dog Bed.

Actually, that idea would have to be re-evaluated. Obviously, it was not going to be a Dog Bed. The cats had claimed it for their own. The lumps under the coverlet moved slightly and a third cat decided to pounce the lumps. The lumps re-acted violently and angry cat language was heard for some time.

I sat down to catch my breath from the laughter and assess the situation. Obviously that plan had to change. Ok, so that area was now a Cat Bed. So where could I put something for Scottie? I looked around and saw that the wall next to he new Cat Bed was fairly empty. Well, well. I just happened to have a nice, soft, rather long footrest. I could put another cover over that and push it up against the wall, so Scottie could stretch out and not fall off.

Encouraged by my brilliance, I went and got the foot rest and moved it into position. Cleverly, I had put the coverlet on it before I brought it into the room. Feeling quite proud of myself, I stepped back to survey my handiwork, when the fourth cat, a huge orange tom named Morry, leapt gracefully into position and stretched out his full length on the foot rest. Alice put her nose too close to him, questioning, and he swiped it. Morry does not like dogs and misses no opportunity to put them in their place. He was not about to let a mere canine occupy his new territory.

OK, so Scottie wasn't going to have the foot rest either. Stumped, I started roaming the house, looking for alternatives. In the back room, underneath papers and other paraphernalia, was a smaller, squarish foot stool. I found yet another coverlet, wrapped the footstool and brought it into our living space. Carefully, I placed it a reasonable distance from the wood stove so that it was well out of cat paw range. Alice took one look at it, jumped up and curled around and gave me a look that said "thanks mom" and went to sleep.

Scottie just stood there, looking at the three cats on the floor bed, Morry on the foot rest and Alice on the foot stool. Scottie's tail wagged, that slow wag that indicates a question, a hope, a wish. With a sigh of resignation, she turned away and went over to curl up under my desk.

And I sat there, looking at my brood, shaking my head. This was not what I had planned. Absently, I reached down to pet Scottie who leaned against me companionably. It was hopeless and Scottie and I both knew it.

The situation felt familiar, but at first I couldn't place it. Then I remembered. When this feeling had happened before, it wasn't my plan that had gone awry, it was Papa's. Years and years ago, when I was a child, he too, had tried to make a plan.

Mother had a huge bird-feeder, one that took over the entire patio area just outside our breakfast room. Although we all enjoyed the birds, Papa objected strongly to the squirrels who could be quite greedy when it came to the sunflower seeds. So Papa devised a plan to out-wit them.

Papa strung a wire between two of the trees and suspended the feeder with the sunflower seeds. He got back into the house just in time to see the first squirrel blithely tight-rope walk over the wire to the feeder. Papa glared at the squirrel. Mother tried to stifle her snicker. I remember giggling.

Not to be out-done, Papa went back and tied a string to the wire, then threaded the other end through the window. He thought he could pull on the string, thus knocking the squirrels off-balance, thus discouraging them. Papa waited for the first victim. The squirrel came, walked half-way cross the wire, when Papa yanked hard on the string. It broke.

Chagrinned, Papa found a thicker string and tried the same thing again. This time the squirrel bounded merrily across the wire, only to have Papa yank hard on his new string. The surprised squirrel flipped upside down on the wire, but then, just as merrily, continued on his way hand over hand until he got to the feeder.

The next day, Papa went outside and moved the wire very high up on the tree trunks. Then he dropped the feeder down on another long wire. Midway down the wire, Papa suspended a tin pie-plate, threaded through the center. This, he figured, would stop the dratted beasts. The squirrels gleefully slipped down the wire, reached over to the edge of the pie plate, grabbed on and flipped themselves over and back to the wire, then continued down the wire to the feeder.

Papa, however, was beginning to take this as a personal challenge. No mere squirrel was going to out-wit him!

The next week saw a series of various pie plate sizes. The squirrels loved it and the acrobatics were delightful to watch. The week after that, we had multiple pie plates in various sizes. It didn't even slow the squirrels down. Mother pointed out to a disgruntled Papa that it was obvious the squirrels were enjoying their new playground.

Papa was becoming frustrated, Mother and I vastly entertained. Papa placed the feeder on a pole. The squirrels ran up the pole. So Papa greased the pole. The very first squirrel ran up the greased pole and stopped half-way to lick his paws. It seems the squirrel liked the taste of the grease. Papa looked at us and almost cried. Mother tried, without success, to contain her laughter until Papa left the room.

Papa decided to change his plan. He maintained that he was not trying to keep the squirrels away from the sunflowers, rather Papa was just warming up for the Real Entertainment. Papa was devising Squirrel IQ tests.

Papa introduced squirrels to peanuts in the shell. In no time at all, the squirrel delightedly developed a taste for peanuts in the shell. Then Papa started working his devious plans. He decided to time the squirrels to see how long it would take them to figure out his tests.

The first test involved tying one end of a rubber band to a peanut shell, and the other end firmly to a tree branch. The squirrel spied the peanut and made a run for it. He grabbed it up and ran away, but only a little way. The rubber band reached it's full length and snapped back, taking the peanut with it. The surprised squirrel just stood there, stunned that a peanut would grab itself out of his mouth. He went back, got the peanut and began to run away again, and again the peanut jerked itself out of his mouth. The third time he very suspiciously circled the peanut first, pretended to be nonchalant, then grabbed the peanut and ran, holding on very tightly. This time, the snap of the rubber band jerked the poor squirrel back along with the peanut. Papa, Mother and I were in tears from laughter.

The squirrel stood there, looking at the peanut for a very long time. Then he went over to the peanut, opened the shell and shoved both nuts into his mouth and ran off with no problem. The empty shell, still tied to the rubber band, lay empty, a testament to squirrel ingenuity.

The next test involved putting the peanuts out in the open, but surrounding them with a solid nothing. Papa watched as the squirrels first spied the peanuts, then went in merrily for the kill. But they bumped their noses into the solid nothing. Nonplussed, they sat back, then tried again. Again they bumped their noses. Chattering the most awful invectives against Papa, the squirrels went off to parley. Then they came back. Hesitantly, they circled the peanuts. So close and yet so far. One of them found an opening in the glass milk bottle (otherwise known as a solid nothing) and crawled inside. The squirrel merrily stuffed his mouth with all the peanuts he could fit -- only to discover that he no longer fit through the mouth of the bottle. Swearing loudly, he tried again. And again, and again. Slowly, reluctantly, he took a peanut out of his mouth and tried to leave. Then he removed another and another, each time trying to leave until his mouth was empty and he easily left the bottle.

The squirrel sat outside the bottle, staring at it. The he crawled back into the bottle and pushed a peanut out through the opening. His victory, however, was somewhat diminished by the fact that another squirrel was waiting outside and grabbed the peanut as it dropped.

Papa planned one test after another for the rest of the summer, completely forgetting his original plan to get rid of the squirrels.

I dropped a friendly hand to Scottie who was thumping a gentle message of contentment with her tail. In the days to follow, she too, would sneak up on the foot stool and the foot rest. Some days, Scottie would even get a chance at the Cat Bed. For human plans are not the only ones to go awry. Morry's plan, Princess's plans and even Alice's plans had no better chance of working out than did mine.

And so it goes. We learn to live together and take our turns at being top dog or cat, as the case may be.

We try and sometimes we even do our best. And once in a while, it works out.

So Be It.

Byrd Tetzlaff
© February 2000 All Rights Reserved

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