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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Surrender to the Squirrels

I called Paulina on my way home from work to see if she needed anything in town. The connection was breaking up, but I could hear a bit of a ruckus on the other end of the line. “Ahh! There’s a sheep in the yard! There’s another one! Ohmigod there’s about twenty sheep on the wrong side of the fence, mom!”
I laughed and told her I would be home in ten minutes. I suggested she try to herd them back through the gate, which had obviously been pushed open. The last thing I heard before she hung up was an exasperated groan.
Five minutes later, as I was turning onto our road, my cell phone rang. I could barely make out her words through her laughter. “You aren’t going to believe this – one sheep was acting really weird, rubbing up against the wagon. When I got close, I saw she had a baby squirrel on her back! The little thing was hanging on for dear life. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”
We deduced that the squirrel had probably fallen out of its nest in the hayloft and landed on the back of the sheep.
When I arrived home, I followed Polly out to the pasture in search of the squirrelly sheep. Just then we noticed one of the barn cats playing with something.
“Whatcha got, kitty?” Polly approached the kitten, which was batting something about with its paws. “Ohh! It’s the squirrel!” The cat quickly disappeared with its prey.
Moments later, the sheepdog shuffled past, her broken chain dragging behind her. She hunkered down in the barn, watching the mother squirrel frantically racing around the rafters.
I quickly corralled the dog without getting bitten (a feat in itself) and reattached the chain to the shed. Passing through the shed on the way back, a nesting barn swallow swooped down so close to my head she parted my hair.
We decided to go and visit the horses. They were a bit jumpy, as the blackflies were bothering them. I got the citronella spray from the stable and attempted to douse Misty but she would have nothing to do with it. After a few squirts, I realized that it was the nozzle noise itself and not the actual spray that bothered her. I wet my hands and patted her neck and shoulders with the repellent. She seemed content. I tried squeezing the nozzle gently so that it wouldn’t make a noise. She stood stock still, obviously enjoying the cool spray on her sweaty hide.
Ashley was watching the proceedings from a safe distance. I spent the next five minutes repeatedly sidling up to her, spray bottle behind my back, only to have her sprint away as soon as I got within spraying distance. That horse is smarter than she looks. And scared of every little thing that makes a noise. Makes you believe in the mouse-and-elephant story. I found myself wondering how she would react to a passing baby squirrel. Just then the scratching of tiny claws on the barn’s tin roof answered my question. Ashley bolted and broke into a gallop to the far end of the field.
Suddenly we heard a loud baa-ing coming from the direction of the farmhouse. These sheep are not very stealthy.
The sheep were back in the yard again. Polly and I climbed the fence and took off across the barnyard toward the house. Donkey started to bray, trying to get our attention. He was standing beside a gaping hole where the fence had given way, unable to stop the steady stream of escaping sheep.
Once again we circled the marauding masses. Annie returned at that point, jumping out of her friend’s car and rushing to join us. Her comrade, obviously intimidated by the emergency at hand, quickly backed out of the driveway and took off. Wimp.
The two dozen sheep frantically munched on my sprouting daisies and bee balm as we approached from three sides. Their eyes darted from left to right, as they gulped the fresh greens without chewing. They had no other option. They had to rush back through the gate into the barnyard.
Locking the fence behind them, I turned and surveyed the wreckage. At least I hadn’t put my vegetable garden in yet.
“Hey Mom. What’s with the animals? They’re frickin’ goin’ crazy or something! It’s just like in Macbeth when the horses started eating each other because the course of history had been changed! (Polly has just discovered Shakespeare).
I explained to my accidental farm daughter that there was really nothing wrong with the animals. They were simply being animals. Opportunistic, instinctive, sneaky animals. No use getting upset with them; you’ll only stress yourself out.
As I struggled to repair the hole in the fence, I could hear one of the ewes bawling like mad in the barn. Walking over to peek in her window, I noticed two baby squirrels sitting on the sill. When they saw me approaching, they quickly disappeared through the window into the lambing pen.
The next time I went in to fill the milk bottles, I heard an unmistakable growling coming from under the hay feeder. So that’s why the sheep hadn’t been eating their hay! They were afraid of being bitten by the vicious baby squirrels.
When I mentioned the predicament to the Farmer, he said that if I didn’t want to see him “scream like a girl”, I should probably move my lambs over to the bigger pen at the opposite end of the barn.
And so we surrendered the lambing pen to the squirrel family. I hope it serves them well. And I hope they stop making the rest of the animals nuts.

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