I come from a place up yonder, north of the city, where it is common to see a raft of turkeys in my back yard or the occasional opossum or raccoon on the porch.
There was a time, before an abrupt encounter with our new puppy, that the neighbor’s Muscovy ducks begged for bread at our back door every morning. The squirrels around my house are bigger than my cats and considered a neighborhood nuisance as they steal the bird food from the feeders and find their way into attics and walls.
When I moved into my temporary summer home in Bloomfield and my landlord announced that the neighborhood squirrel might get right in my face, my reaction was “yeah, right.”
I wasn’t sure how to feel about the bag of unsalted peanuts that someone had purchased for the squirrel. People feed a wild animal? To control his diet? Why unsalted? Would too much salt raise his blood pressure?
I arrived in May, and it wasn’t long before I saw the notorious pest skittering in the alley and climbing on the house next door. He never came near me, even when I tried my best to make “squirrel noises.”
He appeared slightly undernourished, so I started leaving one or two peanuts on the porch for him. Each morning the peanuts were gone. I never actually witnessed who was swiping the nuts, but I suspected he was the culprit.
The morning of July 4, I shuffled down the stairs, into the kitchen and straight to Mr. Coffee. My roommate had left the blinds wide open and the brightness was unwelcome before the first sip of my morning pick-me-up. As I lowered the blinds, one squinted-eye caught sight of the elusive nut-thief in the alley.
With unsalted nuts in hand, I opened the back door and tried my best squirrel impersonation again. Within seconds, he came up on the porch and snatched the peanut I had placed on the welcome mat.
I was not expecting that to happen, but, of course, I had to see if he would get even closer.
He clearly liked the nuts. I assumed he was too bashful to eat them in front of me.
While he was gone, I poured my coffee, grabbed the bag of peanuts and settled into a porch chair to see if he would come back.
He did. Each time he approached quietly, and each time I tossed a nut a little closer to where I was sitting. He would pick it up, put it in his mouth and scamper away to either eat it or hide it.
The obvious next step had to be contact. Would he take a peanut from my hand?
He’s hungry. I appeared to have gained his trust.
He did it.
My emotions were mixed. I was excited about the encounter, but also not completely comfortable that I had cozied up to an animal I never really cared for. I’m a dog person and somewhat of a cat lady, but a squirrel-liker? My friends up north wouldn’t understand.
Confident that this was as close as my new companion and I would get, and believing that he had taken more than his share of nuts from the bag, I closed it up, took a last sip of coffee and started to get up to go inside.
At that moment, with no warning, I had a squirrel on my lap.
I can‘t describe the shock I felt. I didn’t jump or scream, but I stood up and made my intentions clear. He had taken this relationship to a level I was not ready for.
Everyone seemed to believe my story, but I hadn’t had my camera and wanted some visual evidence. So I sat on the porch for several evenings holding nuts and making squirrel talk. I wasn’t concerned if the neighbors were watching as I chirped. I’m working as a journalist this summer. I needed documentation.
There was no sign of him, though, except for the missing nut in the morning.
I went for a walk and found him a pine cone. The squirrels up north love pine cones.
I bought him an ear of corn at the farmer’s market. Squirrels always steal corn from bird feeders.
Finally, six days after our first encounter, having apparently recovered from my initial rejection, he returned.
He may be a rodent, a pest in my usual habitat, but I’ve grown fond of him and his nutty behavior. That doesn’t mean I’m going to make friends with his relatives up yonder.
Lorri Drumm lives in Springboro and has been reporting for the Post-Gazette this summer (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-3771). She will return in the fall to Allegheny College in Meadville, where she is a Nancy Sheridan Scholar.