River boat

The Danger Beyond

Before we get started I wanted to share evidence of laziness in the food industry. My last post lamented over a misplaced noodle in my Velveeta shells. This time there were fancy shell noodles in my poverty-comfort elbow macaroni.


The first encounter. 


I expect poor behavior from the elbows but I thought the shells knew better…

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Think of a cold wind in your face. A Pacific Ocean breeze that chills your nose as you stand on a wooden dock overlooking fishing trawlers leaving the bay. Slowly disappearing into the fog of the morning. Got it? Good.

I’ve heard a story about an oil spill in Alaska that was devastating to wildlife. The part of the story that I remember centered on rescued seals that became the mascots for the environmental impacts. Concerned citizens rallied around the seals and cleaned their fur of oil and nursed them back to health. Television crews came from miles away to watch their triumphant return to the wild. As the handlers released the seals, the crowd cheered while watching them swim back to their place in the wild. A place that is somewhere in the middle of the food chain because within moments the precious seals were devoured by a group of orcas. A grim reminder of the brutality of nature.

I myself had a seal-orca moment this week.

It is a poorly kept secret that our house is a sanctuary for strange animals. Last fall we fostered a baby squirrel that had lost his mother to a cat and had nothing to show for it but a broken leg and was missing part of his tail. We bought small bottles, puppy formula, and specialty squirrel nipples online. I didn’t know you could buy squirrel nipples but we had purchased some wallaby nipples the year before and we happened to remember our specialty nipple supplier. What a wonder of modern technology – internet nipples! We bottle fed that little dude from a tiny baby to a young squirrel. He had a small yellow t-shirt with a dump truck on it from the little boy who first rescued him. We named him Phillip.

Phillip slept in his yellow shirt all the time. He loved to eat walnuts while sitting on a shoulder. He never once bit anyone although I can’t say he didn’t pee on the dog. My wife would let Phillip out to play and for some reason he would chase me down to sit on my shoulder. The only problem was Phillip’s claws. If you didn’t wear long sleeves he would leave scratches all up and down your arm.

Over the last few months it has been apparent that Phillip was ready to explore all things that the squirrel world had to offer. Like hot lady squirrels for example. We had to let him out into the wild and we had only been waiting because he reached maturity in the middle of winter and we knew he would die without a home or food storage. The weather turned nice so we thought we would just leave the door open and see what transpired.

Fast forward fifteen minutes. I was working in the yard that day and he was sitting on my shoulder watching me. He would run down my arm and sniff the things I was holding and then run back up to my shoulder to watch some more. Jane was looking at something under a tree and Phillip ran over to look with her. I got a quick video of him exploring before he ran away. He scampered from one side of the yard to the other getting further away each time until I looked and he was gone. He squeezed under the back fence. I figured he was exploring a little and would be back in a minute. Or an hour.

Then I started to realize the weight of my indifference. Two neighborhood children (in separate yards) had their pellet rifles out and were shooting tin cans. Somewhere in the canopy of the trees a hawk let out a cry and took flight. A fluffy grey cat stalked along the back fence. Dogs barked wildly two houses down. I looked over our fence and Phillip was nowhere to be found. A rickety shed was across the creek behind our house and I could only imagine that it had rat poison spread liberally inside to keep mice out of the packed up dishes and old clothes that used to fit well but now are too small but the owner is convinced that ‘this is the year’ that they shed fifty pounds and squeeze a freshly narrowed ass into those size fours. Best of luck with that. Those dreamers had probably surrounded the boxes with rodent death. If that didn’t get poor Phillip then I was sure that any of the other hundred hazards would mete out his demise.

If he ran up to a person in a friendly way they would probably be scared shitless and call animal control. He would walk right into that big metal cage expecting a Walnut and a back scratching. Next thing he knows, they would lop off his head for a rabies test and he would become a statistic on the negative column.

I felt deep down that I had screwed up. Phillip had become part of our family despite our best effort to keep him apart. He was too loving and full of character. I worried for three days over that damn squirrel. I felt deep down that he was probably dead. Thinking I had turned him out to an unsuspecting death and that all my efforts had been wasted in the form of a delicious snack for a lucky predator just didn’t sit well. I was much more upset than I thought I would be. Every trip by the back window was a little slower as I looked for signs of his return. Nothing.

‘He is dead and it is my fault,’ I told myself.


The next day we leave to go on a boat trip on the Mississippi River. An hour before setting sail and losing cell phone signal I received a call from Mamaw. “The squirrel is back,” she said. My heart jumped for joy over a common (yet non-native) tree rat. “How is he?”

She paused, “humble.”

Phillip had some wounds. He got bitten by a dog and scraped up pretty good on his hind end and tail but he had survived. He had found his way back to our porch and was hiding out in a birdhouse that we have been letting him use as his nest for the last couple of months. When we got home from the boat he was so happy to see us. He ran up on my shoulder and nuzzled my ear. Then he jumped to Supermom and curled up in her shirt. No longer did he want to run and explore. Only to be with people who give him walnuts and protection.

The good news is that he is a non-native squirrel so he can qualify as a pet. If I had to guess, Phillip is a city squirrel from downtown Detroit. He has been through a real ordeal with the downturn in the auto industry and all…

If you have ever surprised yourself with concern over something you didn’t like you really liked, this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.