Sounds innocent. Well, it isn’t.
Squirrels, those delicate creatures jumping between branches like birds, their bushy tails catching the sun in glowing flares, sharp little trembling faces and beady black eyes, sitting on their hind limbs to eat an acorn like a tired shepherd. They are nothing, some say — rats of the forest. To me, they used to be the soul of the trees.
In my native Romania, their furs are brownish-red like the skin of a chestnut. Here, in the woods behind our house they are gray, tinged with brown and white, looking playful and daring. The Internet defines them as rodents. There are ground squirrels and tree squirrels and flying squirrels, pigmy squirrels and giant squirrels, about 285 species in total. I was shocked to learn that in the South people use them for target practice.
Last fall I noticed a little hole in the eaves above our deck, right next to a screened attic vent. By January, the hole had reached the diameter of a grapefruit. My wife called a roofing company who told her that since most likely animals were involved, we needed an exterminator. We went by the book, got three estimates and carefully considered the options. Each bidder looked at the hole, shook his head and hissed: squirrels. They inspected our attic and discovered the overwhelming evidence of our unwanted tenants — a family, most likely, that enjoyed the warmth and coziness of the attic and the softness of our thermal insulation. The fact that they used the area to empty their bowels made their presence repulsive. Back on the Internet I learned about the various diseases such infestation can bring. Day after day we listened to the squirrels in the attic, moving about with a light sound like the nervous tapping of fingernails on the table.
The exterminators came in dressed in white hazmat suits and face masks, removed the contaminated insulation, blew in new insulation and checked for any remaining squirrels; then they covered the hole from the outside with a composite board with a wire backing. Done!
We were happy for about half a day and then we heard them again.
I called the exterminator. He came back and was unable to confirm or deny our suspicion. He suggested that some animals might have remained inside, or that the squirrels were climbing on the outside wall or running across the roof. He installed two traps armed with delicious peanut butter and told me to keep listening. I did. Better yet, every time I heard the finger rapping above my head, I ran outside to look at that side of the house. One morning I caught him (or her — how would I know?), working hard a few inches away from the old covered hole, gnawing at a new one at the corner of the house. I hit the nearby spout with my shoe causing a metal sound able to stop a bear in its tracks and the squirrel dashed away over the roof. A few minutes later he came back. I threw a few stones at him and he disappeared again. Our next-door neighbors suggested I get a BB gun and shoot the darn animal. Given my natural dislike for weapons of any sort, I ruled out the idea. And I called the exterminator again. The grass below the new hole was covered with tiny wood shavings. I showed it to the exterminators as evidence of my claim the next morning. This time, there were two of them, as they had decided they needed reinforcements. They shook their heads. Squirrels!
They brought a tall ladder that reached to the roof and installed a one-way door — it looks like a square wire tube extending about one foot from the house, with a flap inside that moves in one direction only — outwards — and a large piece of wire mesh around it. The squirrels, they said, can come out but not go back in. Give it a few days. We have them.
There is a saying in Romanian that when you push a stubborn person out the door, he returns through the window. I am sure there is a similar one in English. The squirrels in our attic must have inherited a gene from across the ocean, because two days later they were at it again, rapping above our heads and causing a ruckus. When I ran outside, one of them stood on top of the wire tube, looking at me with disdain. I swear he winked when he saw me. In the meantime, the traps in the attic stayed untouched. I texted the exterminators, Kevin and Patrick, as our relationship has taken a more social dimension and they are in my Contacts.
They installed more wire mesh covering an even larger area. By now, the side of our house reminds me of Tom, the cat from Tom and Jerry after Jerry had played one of his nasty tricks on him and wrapped him around the trunk of a tree, as I would gladly have done had I gotten my hands on the bushy, fluffy tails of one of those squirrels.
‘Patience,’ Kevin and Patrick advised me.
I summoned all the patience I could muster and waited. After a few days of apparent calm and quiet, I surmised that the squirrels had finally gotten the message and texted the exterminators again. They are due to arrive tomorrow to cover the new holes and remove the traps and the wires.
And while I am writing this story, I try hard to pretend not to notice the gentle, continuous and infuriating rapping sound above my head in the attic like fingernails on a table…
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