Archive for Sunday, January 28, 2001

Retirement inspires squirreling behavior

January 28, 2001


One thing about retirement is that it focuses the mind on the bottom line. Reduction of income inspires economy and resourcefulness. One is always on the lookout for another way to cut a corner, to cadge food and drink, to get something for nothing.

I have not yet become one of those annoying persons who show up at the grocery store with sheafs of coupons, holding up the line for less parsimonious customers, but I'm considering it. The first time a movie cashier asked me if I was a senior citizen, I bristled. Now I boisterously claim the status wherever I go, demanding special treatment.

One of my money-saving schemes is to become an urban hunter and gatherer. I once read about how Euell Gibbons author of "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" and other botanical classics scrounged a gourmet meal out of weeds growing in New York City parks. Living off nature's bounty has a Walden Pond appeal, a suggestion of Adam and Eve before the fall.

During the growing season my lawn abounds with dandelions. Organic dandelion greens command a high price. Dandelion wine is prized by some. Though I've yet to try this source of nourishment and good cheer, I'm considering it too.

More interesting, since I'm a committed carnivore, are squirrels. Have you noticed the abundance of these creatures around town? There's a boom going on. I've seen as many as six in my yard alone. What animal rights activist could complain if I were to harvest a few? Failure to thin the population might be bad for the squirrels themselves.

One problem is that I can't yet imagine eating a squirrel, although my wild game cook books tout them as a delicacy. I have the same problem with pigeons, also in abundance. They're often on the menu in fancy European restaurants. But I can't stop thinking of them as "flying rats."

Another problem with squirrels: How to bag one? A shotgun blast might provoke the neighbors' ire and bring the gendarmes down on me.

Years ago in another city, squirrels were getting into my attic, reducing it to sawdust with their buzz saw teeth. I shot a few with a small bore rifle. My next door neighbor, who fed them and thought of them as pets, confronted me in tears. I felt like a murderer then and still do. Incidentally, I discovered that dried blood, sold as a fertilizer, repels the pests without the violence.

I brought the squirrel subject up gingerly with my present neighbor the other day.

"Some people think they're cute," I said.

"They look like dinner to me," my neighbor said.

But there's a special moral dimension to squirrels.

"We have to learn to have 'squirrel sense,'" said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, quoted recently in the Wall Street Journal. "Squirrels are not known to have brains. There are no Ph.D. squirrels, no attorney squirrels...but there are no homeless squirrels. Squirrels, by whatever instinct, put away some acorns for the winter. It's the futures market: Squirrels understand the futures market."

If squirrels have so much to teach us, perhaps we should think twice about reducing them to a mere meal. My late dog Andy used to chase them with zeal but when he got close enough to catch one, he slowed down thought twice, in other words.

Thinking twice is another virtue, right up there with squirreling away acorns for a rainy day. As Jesse Jackson himself noted, squirrels aren't known for their mental powers. It's only because of their faulty memories that many acorns and walnuts, squirreled away and forgotten, grow up to become trees.

On the other hand, preying on squirrels, laying up a few squirrels in the freezer, would itself - ironically - be an example of what Jesse Jackson calls "squirrel sense."

I found myself in a discussion about squirrels not long ago with one of our local personalities. His father once had a pet squirrel.

"He fed it and named it Bessie," he said, adding by way of footnote that there are black squirrels in Emporia. "I wouldn't mind being a squirrel," he said. "Squirrels are beautiful."

An instinct of my own prevented me from sharing my predatory musings with him. Instead, I muttered something about not wanting to be a squirrel in my neighborhood, because so many of them wind up flattened by cars.

That struck just the right note. We observed a moment of silent compassion on behalf of squirrels. At last, he spoke.

"Why are people in such a hurry?" he said. I could think of no response other than a mindless one: "Who knows?"

George Gurley is a Lawrence resident who writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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