The night visitors

“It was a long winter.”

I hear you — “Tell me something I don’t know.”  

OK, I will: There is a vast conspiracy afoot, hitherto unknown to humankind, an alien force working to undo our social structure from right under our noses. The story of this cabal begins one cold, snowy night in December. …

We started from our slumber to what sounded like handsaws working away at a cord of firewood. Intermittent squeaks alerted us to the fact that these were not humans who had made there way inside our home. It gradually faded away, but we slept uneasily the rest of the night.

I woke up the next morning to shovel the latest foot of snow that had fallen, and found it mottled with red spots all over the front yard and sidewalk. I looked up to see robins and other birds of unknown pedigree flying to our roof from the boulevard hackberry tree, and back again. Could these be our unwelcome guests from the night before?

I walked around to the south side of the house, and to my horror, the same red goo had stained the icicles dripping from our eaves, and drooled down our siding. A neighbor yelled from his front porch, “Dude, your house is bleedin’ !” I ran inside, wondering if I should call the fire department, the National Guard, the CIA — and checked the walls and ceilings. No sign of hemoglobular seepage inside! But I rushed to put up a ladder and scrape off the frozen scabs from the south side of our house.

For days and nights on end, the noises in the walls persisted, and the siding’s hemorrhage returned and grew, with the birds flying back and forth from the puddles in our ice dams to the hackberry tree, chirping and clicking at us, like portents of doom from an Edgar Allan Poe story.

The picture gradually became clearer.  Tobacco-chewing robins were in cahoots with another, more familiar enemy that launched their attacks under cover of darkness. But, these were no magi, nor magpies for that matter. These were familiar uninvited guests, a kind of anti-guest that we of the bought-an-1899-fixer-upper-for-a-song set can’t figure out how to turn away. Years ago we put up special metal barriers to keep them out, but they are clever, relentless, and furry.  

Yes, these were the common roof squirrel, (species: Rodentus Talibansis). They apparently brought with them several tiny power tools, and constantly played pool hockey with tins of chew that the aforementioned robins had discarded. At times their gatherings sounded like a band of talentless skyway buskers, recorded on wrinkled tape running through a sun-cracked dashboard 8-track player.

The robins, it turns out, were a diversionary tactic — they were eating freeze dried hackberries and pooping them into the little rooftop lakes many of us experienced this year. The theory of Martian viruses in the clapboards turned out to be untrue. A careful chipping away at the ice dams with a trusty Coleman axe took care of that, and our neighbor was grateful, as our house stopped scaring his kids.

Small comfort to us — the squirrels are another matter. The less circumspect Lyndaliennes will admit out loud that they occasionally “teach the varmints to swim” in a rain barrel, a la Navy Seal training, without a lifeguard and a 50-pound duffle strapped to their backs. You will read no such confession here; I plead the Fifth.

Yet I have to wonder if a chapter was left out of the book of Exodus — “Cursed frogs, saith Pharoah, All in all I’d rather suffer squirrels, and Moses did retort, Be careful what thou wishest for. And a plague of squirrels was visited upon the land.”

Anyway, trap ‘em we did, but the word must have gotten out on about our warm, dry, insulated attic with its tasty timbers. We’ve explored many less-than-lethal ways to subdue them. “Live trap ’em, and move them far, far away” goes the most common advice: “You need to drive them at least five miles or they will come back, like furry wingless homing pigeons.”

We began to spray paint their butts to see if that story were true. I ran out of red paint, but it didn’t matter, the more we repatriated to St. Paul, Bloomington, Maple Grove and Red Wing, replacement furry freaks kept coming like insurgents from the latest overseas armed conflict.

Like those three-legged frogs found in at-risk outstate wetlands by third graders, scientists reported a startling trend — a surge in the population of mutant red-butt squirrels invading the greater metropolitan areas park system. “Origins unknown,” jotted one researcher, “but we may find hints in their use of bedding — Southwest Journal columns stuffed into the hollow tree trunks around Lake Phalen.”

The battle isn’t over. Soon we’ll be moving on to other weapons of mass desquirrelification. Perhaps a liberal dousing of our roofline with cayenne pepper juice tomorrow? Attack Wave Pest Repeller the next day? Strobe lights set to Abba Tunes and ceramic owls after that?

If you have something that works to break the will of this puffy-tailed army, please email me, ASAP. And if you start seeing flocks of robins, with Copenhagen tins littering your lawn — well, it may already be too late for you.

Reach Luther Krueger at [email protected]