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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Have squirrel will travel




Paulina was late for Sunday dinner. That is not exactly an uncommon occurrence, but it was strange this time because we had just heard from her and she said she was on her way. Half an hour after we had all eaten, she finally showed up, with a small shoebox under her arm. I could see some fabric poking out from under the lid.
‘There you are! I saved you something to eat….whatcha got there?”
She carefully placed the box on the kitchen island and slowly lifted the lid. Two baby red squirrels lay curled around each other in the t-shirt. They were pretty cute, but I wasn’t sure why she had decided to box and bring baby rodents into my kitchen.
“I got into my car after my workout and these guys rolled out from under the passenger seat!” She was quite concerned about the little fellas.
We decided the mama must have found a way into the car, and decided it was a great, safe place to put her twins. Paulina had been driving all over the countryside all weekend, covering events for the newspaper. The squirrels had likely been with her the whole time. I don’t know how long baby squirrels can go without food and water but I was pretty sure they needed to be fed often.
“Uh, you should probably take those babies back into the car before the cat smells them, or they will be gone in about ten seconds. And when you go home, put them outside to see if the mom will collect them.”
That was the plan but it kind of fell through as soon as the sun went down and there was no sign of Mrs. Squirrel. Paulina had roommates that night.
The Farmer and another friend advised her to feed the squirrels warm milk through an eye dropper. The surrogate squirrel-mother got to work, feeding her charges through the night. The next day I Googled “how to care for orphaned squirrels” and was enlightened.
I texted Paulina. “Gah! No cow’s millk! And apparently you have to massage newborn squirrels to make them urinate…”
The next text came back with something like, “No way.” I think she put them back outside then, with a note for their mother. But we also left several voice and email messages for the local wild animal sanctuary. They eventually got back to Paulina, who had once again taken the animals into the house to protect them from marauding skunks and raccoons.
Speaking of raccoons, the Farmer was busy trying to repair the damage done by one or more raccoons to his father’s cottage on the Rideau. Unfortunately, after cleaning up the ceiling tiles, cardboard and carpet that the raccoon had destroyed, he accidentally locked said beastie in the building. The men went back a few days later to see a cottage that looked like it had been the site of a thorough trashing by a rather angry rodent. Everything that could be eaten had been. Everything that could be shredded had been. The racoon had even busted a window to let himself out, when he ran out of snacks and things to break.
Back to the squirrels. Paulina had been really hoping that their mother would claim them. She placed the box outside several times (with a hot water bottle in a sock to keep the babies warm and cozy) and although the mama squirrel did approach, she had no inclination to peer inside the box or reclaim her babies.
My mother had long been waging war against small rodents on her property, ever since a chipmunk built a small village of tunnels under her garage that caused the entire floor to collapse. She decided to go along with Paulina for the ride to the sanctuary, however, because although she was not really interested in the saving of the orphans (“we have plenty of squirrels already…”) she was interested in the animal shelter.
When she sat down in Paulina’s car, two more babies fell out of the glove compartment and rolled out onto her sandaled feet. She screamed and recoiled in horror.
Paulina was laughing so hard she had to pull over for a moment to compose herself. And then she scooped the new babies up and added them to the others in the shoebox, because her grandmother was in no shape to assist.
I hope Mama squirrel is enjoying her newfound freedom. Her babies are off to start their own colonies on the north side of the river.
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Sunday, June 16, 2019

A memorable Father's Day on the farm



When I think about Father’s Day on the farm of course I remember all of the fabulous Sunday dinners, grilled to perfection by the man himself, the Farmer. Friends and family gather along our 16-foot picnic table on the porch he built. He is the centre of our home and he pulls the family together every weekend over a warm meal cooked with love. So of course we like to make a big deal out of celebrating him. He is usually feted with some good books (second hand is fine; he isn’t picky – and they come with recommendations), red wine, Timmies cards and the occasional cigar, which he enjoys in intervals, while riding his lawn tractor.
My last Father’s Day with my own Dad was in 2007. At the time we didn’t even know he was sick. It wasn’t until August of that year that he decided his back pain was actually worth a trip to the hospital. It turned out to be pancreatic cancer, and an aortic aneurysm. In September we learned he was terminal. This is when I married the Farmer, and our weekly Sunday dinners began soon afterward. That winter, my family circled around my father, spending as much time with him as possible. Although it sucks to lose a parent so early in life (he was just 66), we were blessed with the knowledge that the end was coming soon – so that we focused on the important conversations and left no love unsaid.
Elsewhere on the farm, we have animal fathers – but just a few. One year we brought a new ram to join our flock. He was a bit different from the rest of our pure-white Dorset and Rideau family. As the Farmer backed the truck into the barnyard, he gathered an audience of curious 4-legged onlookers. He opened the back window, pulled down the hatch and out popped a floppy-eared Blackface ram. You could almost hear the communal gasp of surprise. The females actually took off in a wave of white fluff and the other ram stamped his hoof in challenge. They weren’t sure of what to think about this animal who appeared to be like them, but wearing some sort of face mask.
The new ram signalled his unwillingness to fight by lowering his eyes and trotting off after the females. After a few minutes of chasing the girls in circles and trying in vain to make new friends, our poor little Philip (I wanted to name him Floppy but the Farmer said that might give him a complex) retreated to a shady corner of the barnyard and lay down to sleep away his stress.
This routine continued for several days. Then finally, one day I looked out the window and there was Philip, lying in the shade of a huge boulder, with two females on either side of him (but Gracie was his favourite). He looked quite pleased with himself. And later that season when the Farmer tied a colourful piece of chalk around Phil’s neck, the funny-looking floppy-eared ram happily marked a number of females as his mates.
The following spring, we watched to see what kind of lambs the ewes would have. The first few, sired by Rambo, King of the barnyard, had the usual bleach-white fleece and curls. Then, one morning, a little black-faced lamb appeared. The rest of the ewes and a few older lambs approached carefully to check him out. But perhaps the most interesting reaction was that of his father, Phillip.
The black-faced ram was just meandering out of the barnyard to see what all the bleating was about when he spotted the lamb. The first little lamb he had seen in this new place, who looked exactly like him. His gait changed then, to more of a strut, as he went over to sniff and poke and check this lamb over from floppy black ears to wiggly black tail.
From then on, Phillip seemed to have a bit higher stature on the farm. He had done his job, sired a few lambs, and made his mark on the flock. It was Father’s Day on the farm for Phillip.
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