I spent the week visiting my parents at their retirement home “up north,” and so I got to see them and my mother’s outside pet, Stubby, the red squirrel.
I hadn’t seen Stubby since last winter, when he had made an elaborate network of tunnels in the deep snow outside my parents’ window facing the lake. My mother fed him on the ground beneath the bird feeder, and Stubby would pop out of one of his several tunnel entrances to eat, then pop into his tunnel and emerge on the other side. He occasionally had some red squirrel visitors. I named one Evald, after a greatuncle, and my mother named the second one Sigfrid, after another one of her uncles. But the squirrel visitors were just that—they stayed for a short time, enjoyed Stubby’s handouts and left, leaving Stubby alone with my parents.
Stubby seemed happy to see us.
We all sat outside on the deck after dinner, and Stubby came out and chattered at us. He popped under the deck and reemerged on the other side. He ran along the deck railing and then stopped and stood up, his front paws together, his fingers knitted, as if he was about to make a speech or say the blessing.
“I think he likes the company,” my mother said. I think my mother enjoys Stubby’s company, and this is quite a change.
My mother has been battling with red squirrels since they moved “up north” more than 30 years ago. The red squirrels do everything in their power to get in to the bird food, although my father’s technique of wiring a length of stovepipe onto the pole that holds the bird feeder thwarts their efforts to make it to the mother lode. Instead, they have to sit below the feeder and wait for the chickadees to drop seeds—which is slow going.
They also dig up my mother’s garden and her flowerpots. They hide seeds in the pots and make a terrible mess, leaving potting soil all over the deck. My mother spent a portion of many days over the last 30 years chasing red squirrels
But all that changed with Stubby.
Stubby has been my mom’s friend and charity case for a full year now, ever since he lost the end of his tail and gained a name and my mother’s sympathies. Now he is her year-round outdoor pet, and he sits just outside the window watching her activities inside.
My mom buys a special bag of bird food, just for Stubby, and puts some outside below the feeder or along the top of the deck railing, for him. If the food gets low, Stubby climbs up a Norway pine and chatters loudly to alert my mother to the shortage. By now, Stubby has her very well trained.
My mom knocks on the window to let him know she sees him. Stubby stands up and looks at her, fingers knitted. They have a good relationship.
I don’t think my mother ever expected to have a red squirrel as a pet. I know she resisted for a long time. But Stubby has changed her mind about at least one red squirrel, and I think that is kind of remarkable. Getting to know Stubby has changed what my mother thinks about red squirrels.
“He’s pretty smart,” my mother says.
“He knows a lot more than we think,” my dad agrees.
Stubby stands on his hind feet, his fingers knitted together, and watches them through the window. I like to think Stubby has reconsidered his opinion of people as well.
Till next time,