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Thursday, August 18, 2011

GETTING SQUIRRLEY

I believe the horror officially commenced on September 6, 2006, and it began in the midst of a deceptive calm. Groundskeepers at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin had noted for some time that vandals were stealing the small American flags left to honor veterans’ graves. The assumption was, of course, that the offenders were hippies or communists or just local punks, perhaps the spoiled offspring of wealthy but inattentive parents or the troubled youthful offenders of single parent families. 
But on this late summer afternoon as Mr. Dave Ender mowed the grass between the tombstones he spotted a flash of red, white and blue amongst the limbs of a nearby tree. He investigated and discovered a large and intricate “drey”, or squirrel’s nest, constructed from the tattered and masticated shards of dozens of miniature American flags. The vandals had been identified. But Mr. Ender’s only reaction was one of admiration. “The little rascals”, he thought, “They’re just amazing.” Yes, rascals indeed; and not merely amazing, but horrible, too.
Less than a year later, in August of 2007 visitors to the Manchester Crematorium, on Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton, England, were frustrated to discover their floral memorials to departed relatives were being ripped from their pots and devoured, leaving behind the scattered crumbs of chrysanthemums and carnations scattered about. The staff assumed the rodents were after the sweet nectary of these plants, as they would ignore roses or other non-nectar flowers. So they began to treat those flowers with pepper spray to discourage the rodent-al assaults. And it worked, for awhile.
But the following year, no concentration of pepper spray was enough to discourage the bucktoothed little omnivours. The “Super Squirrels” of Chorlton have become “pepper spray resistant” and there was no stopping them now. Botanist John Steadman, at the nearby Fletcher Moss Gardens, claims to have never heard of squirrels eating flowers before but says the local rodents have been known to eat entire sugar packets from lunch bags. Squirrels on a sugar rush; and they have even been video taped having consumed fermented pumpkins in America. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ikH9ZRcF2Q&mode=related&search)  If anyone cares to take notice, it seems to me that the wake up call for doomsday has been given. It’s time to roll out of bed and meet your maker. And I think he’s angry. And he may be a squirrel…a great big, grey one, with sharp bitey teeth and maybe a bazooka.
Humans are singularly ignorant of the 300 plus species of squirrels in this world. Webster’s dictionary gives a horribly generalized definition. Squirrels are either “any of various arboreal rodents of the genus Sciurus and related genera of the family Sciuridae, having a long flexible bushy tail…” or “…any of various other rodents of the family Sciuridae,…”. It is a definition that makes a mocker of the adage, “know your enemy”. The word itself comes down to us through French (1327) from the Latin (Vulgar) “Sciurus”, which comes from the Greek “slirouros”, meaning “beast that sits in the shadow of its own tail”. The verb “to squirrel” meaning to save something for later use was not recorded until 1939. Oddly, that same year saw the first use of the word as a second person perfect adjective, when Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “Hitler seems a little squirrelly to me.” The problem is that the small rodents are ubiquitous and as such we assume we know them. It is a level of hubris that may well spell our doom.
Recently, on the playground of a Florida preschool, a small child and a Highway Patrol officer were assaulted by an average everyday squirrel, a creature most humans would take no notice of. According to Maritza Diaz, director of the Children’s Academy Daycare Centre, in Orange, the little grey assailant settled on three year old Kevin Santiago, perhaps because he looked helpless. The boy was innocently sitting on the swings when “The squirrel attacked him and didn’t want to get off…” Kevin was bitten 9 times, despite attempts by the staff to rescue the boy by “…throwing things at it to try and get it off,…” Thank goodness no one on the staff was caring a gun or little Kevin might have had his head blown off. As it was the boy was saved when the Florida Highway Patrol office who was attending a nearby accident scene heard his screaming and came running. When he arrived the squirrel immediately leapt on the cop. After biting the officer several times (and one other adult victim) the rampaging squirrel made his escape. Kevin was admitted to a local hospital for treatment. The adults were treated and released. And the incident was immediately forgotten; but not by the squirrels.
In San Jose, California, on May 9th a single squirrel turned an entire First Grade classroom into a nightmare on Elm Street - except it didn’t happen on Elm Street. Just after 8:30 am, as students and adults at the Evergreen Elementary School were preparing to leave on a field trip, the small grey Ninja assassin slipped into the room via an open door and ran up the leg of one of the mothers. According to Will Ector, a school district spokesman, the first victim was “…trying to get it off and another parent was trying to assist…one was nipped on the fingertip and scratched on the arm and the other was bitten on the arm.” The errant rodent nibbler then “did a loop around the (blood soaked) classroom and ran out the door”, where he encountered his third victim, an innocent 11 year old girl, whom he immediately bit on the arm. He then made good his twitchy nosed escape.
The school went into immediate lock down which evidently prevented any further assaults. The victims were given medical attention and treated with antibiotics, but not given rabies shots because, as the Santa Clara County Vector Control District Manager explained, “Generally speaking, squirrels are not the type of animal that can survive an attack by a rabid animal. They are prey animals…” It was the kind of comforting speech often given by movie experts to explain why Godzilla or the zombies or the Killer Squirrels are not going come back, usually just before they return and eat the expert.
Nearby Cuesta Park has become a hotbed of insurgent squirrel activity, with six attacks in the last few months. In the spring 4 year old Andrew Packard was on a picnic with his mother when she handed him a muffin. Instantly a squirrel assaulted Andrew. In the boy’s own bone chilling statement, “'My mommy said the squirrel sneaked down behind me and he was hugging me, but when he kissed me it was really a scratch.”.
His Mother, Jennifer Packard, told the San Jose Mercury News, “'It was such a horror. To hear your child screaming the way you've never heard before - it was just bone chilling. As a little kid, …you just wonder if he'll always have fear.” The boy, now with red scratch marks all over his body, is probably too terrified to enter any park with trees. And local wildlife rehabilitator Norma Campbell offered no comfort when she warned against any futile attempts to cull the local squirrel populations. “For everyone you take out, two more will come in”. But is there really nothing we can do to defend ourselves?
Apparently no: according to the newspaper “The Derrick”, last November ,30 year old Postal-woman Barb Dougherty was on her route in Oil City, Pennsylvania, when, stepping off a porch, a squirrel went postal on her. In dramatic testimony she explained, he “…jumped me.” Thinking quickly, Barb “…pulled him off.” She was treated for scratches and released. The squirrel was tested for rabies. A postal service spokesman said, “In the 230 years of postal history, I’ve never personally heard of another squirrel biting.” My guess is, he’s just not listening very closely and he’s not nearly as old as he implies.
In Winter Park, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports, 3 year old Carson Cox was bitten several times by a squirrel assailant on the calf while playing soccer in the park, a few moments before 19 year old Dylan Osborn was attacked and bitten on the leg, and John Hindman was scratched and bitten on both arms, in what apparently was a rodent spree assault.
And the Sevier County Courthouse in Arkansas was damaged by what the Texarkana Gazette called a “kamikaze rodent” that short circuited a transformer, causing an explosion and a loud bang. County Judge Dick Tillman downplayed the significance of this assault on a government building, pointing out the power never went off and the lights merely flickered. In a droll attempt at distracting humor, Tillman added, “The dispatcher said the computers have been acting funny with the monitors flickering. (But) I don’t think it’s going to cause a problem unless the flickering makes the dispatcher dizzy and she has a seizure, falls out and hits her forehead on the desk.”
Less drolly, the Chief of the Billard Volunteer Fire Department, in East Texas, admitted it was a suicidal squirrel attack that caused a 30 acre brush fire that damaged 11 cars, a motorcycle and a house. He said the squirrel walked out along a power line and then jumped to a transformer. This caused an explosion which killed the squirrel and blew his smoldering corpse to the dry brush on the ground. The chief admitted, “I’ve fought several fires in the past that were started by squirrels.” So perhaps word of the secret war is slowly getting out.
Squirrels have successfully shut down the NASDAQ stock exchange at least twice and caused numerous outages at prestigious institutions like the University of Alabama. On average about 25% of all power failures nationwide (about one in four) are inspired by suicidal squirrels. And yet we still refuse to recognize these rodents are at war with us, preferring to avoiding admitting their intelligence, instead refereeing to them, in the words of one expert, as “clever and persistent”, as if we were unaware that may be an even more dangerous combination than just smart. In fact squirrels are such an ignored threat to our infrastructure that if Osama bin Ladin had been a squirrel, he would probably still be out there.
In another terrorist incident with shadows of 9/11, a recent Americans Airlines flight from Dallas to Tokyo was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Honolulu, after the flight crew heard what they described as a “skittering noise” from above the cockpit. Wisely the crew decided to investigate. The passengers were put in local hotels for the night while mechanics tracked down the Texas squirrel bound for the Far East. He was found and killed, his murder justified as rabies testing. But could there have been another reason the authorities wanted no living witnesses to the great squirrel airline conspiracy?
It is clear that this is already an undeclared international war going on. In the German village of Passau a woman in her home was assaulted by a rambunctious rodent. In terror she ran outside and down the street, eventually literally shaking off her attacker, who next assaulted a builder, and when he proved too robust the attack-squirrel attacked a 72 year old pensioner. But this time the little bastard had picked the wrong little old man. Grandpa managed to beat the killer squirrel to death with his crutch.
In Jyvaskyla, Finland an allegedly cute squirrel is displaying an amazing level of brand loyalty. He enters a chocolate shop twice a day to steal a treat called a “Kinder Surprise”. Still in the store he carefully opens the foil package, eats the chocolate, and then runs away with the plastic “surprise”. Exactly what he does with all of these surprises has not been reported, but I would advise the owner that squirrels can live anywhere from ten to twelve years. That could mean something like six thousand “Kinder Surprises” the owner will need to supply just to keep one squirrel happy over his lifetime. Why would any owner suffer such an expense?
Perhaps the answer and the ultimate core of the attack squirrel conspiracy was revealed when Finnish baritone Esa Ruuttunen (above), perhaps best known for his powerful performance as Telramund, was viciously assaulted while on his way to rehearsals of the new Finnish opera “Kaarmeen hetki (Hour of the Serpent) at the Helsinki Opera House. He suffered a concussion and a broken nose amongst other injuries when yet another suicidal squirrel literally leapt into the spinning spokes of his bicycle. It was clearly a case of an excessively outspoken squirrel.
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