Squirrel on the Roof: An Essay

This essay appears in the Fall 2015 edition of New Plains Review, a literary magazine in Oklahoma. Since there is no online version of the story, I thought I would post it here. The text follows below. And I would just like to take this opportunity to wish everyone Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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The squirrel refused to be intimidated by my figure appearing in the window.

I was spending a few days with my stepfather Bill at his home in Rome, New York, during the week of Christmas 2013. One afternoon I went upstairs to grab one of my prescriptions from the guest bedroom.

I paused on the landing leading to the upper floor and gazed out the window. Thin white clouds slid across a blue sky more suited for June than December. Bright sunlight radiated against the layer of snow that covered the backyard, and the tall pine trees standing in the alley behind Bill’s house swayed in the breeze.

I saw the brown squirrel running on the roof of the addition to the house—which included the family room and a small mudroom located at the back entrance. Tiny squirrel tracks dotted the snow on the roof and led to an ash tree with large branches leaning over the house.

This squirrel sat up on his hind legs with his front paws pressed to his mouth as he nibbled on a seed or a small nut. He was turned in profile to me, so the left side of his head and body faced me. He had grayish-brown fur with fine hairs and small black eyes.

A gray squirrel (not the one from the roof). Photo by Sannse, downloaded from Wikipedia.

A gray squirrel (not the one from the roof). Photo by Sannse, downloaded from Wikipedia.

The squirrel seemed to be looking at me out of the corner of his eye. I tapped loudly on the window and said, “Hey, hey, get outta there. Get off there.”

I was worried he would sneak into the house, either by going down the chimney or squeezing through an opening somewhere on the roof.

But the squirrel remained in place near the window. I banged on the glass again.

He ran a few feet away and then stopped. He scurried back to his original spot and resumed eating his morsel, while continuing to look at me out of the corner of his eye. He had judged correctly that I was unwilling to crawl out on the roof and chase him away.

I considered opening the window, reaching down to make a snowball and tossing it at the squirrel. But I feared if I lifted the storm window the squirrel would leap past me and enter the house.

I imagined the scratching sound his claws would make on the hardwood staircase if he got inside and ran downstairs. I thought about the shock Bill would receive if he saw the squirrel racing around the kitchen or family room.

I knocked on the glass again, waved my hands and yelled at the squirrel, attempting to shoo him away. He ignored my gesticulations and stood his ground.

Then I conjured an image of the animal in human form, taking on the shape, appearance and personality of a tough-guy New York City construction worker, a sarcastic pragmatist.

I imagined if the squirrel could have talked at that moment, he would have said to me: “Go ahead buddy. Bang all you want. I’m not going anywhere. Sure, open the window if you want. I’ll be in that house so fast you won’t know where to find me. I’ll crawl into your bed and gnaw on your face at night.”

After the imaginary, one-way conversation I decided it was unnecessary to waste any more time worrying about the squirrel. I figured if he could have found a way to sneak into the house via the roof, he would have done so already.

I moved away from the landing, walking up the last few steps of the staircase and then entered my guest bedroom. I grabbed the pill I needed from the top of the dresser and headed back downstairs. I did not look outside as I passed in front of the window again, as I avoided the alert black eyes of the squirrel. But I suspected the animal was still crouched on the roof, eating his nut, confident that his meal would no longer be disrupted and his home would remain secure.

Postscript: Summer 2014

The following summer the homeowner took action to address the squirrel infestation. Bill decided he was fed up with acorns being scattered on his patio and the squirrels stealing all of the birdseed from his bird feeder. He bought some metal cages, put peanuts in them and placed the traps on the back lawn, near the bird feeder.

Bill owns and operates a small contracting company in Rome. He and Butch, one of his laborers, would set the traps repeatedly, and over the course of the summer they nabbed 18 squirrels (at last count).

They also developed a strategy for removing the rodents. At first Butch would release them in the neighborhood, but then Bill and Butch discovered that some of them had returned to the backyard. They knew this because Butch had sprayed the tail of one of the squirrels with yellow parking lot line paint; he let it go a few blocks away from Bill’s house, near the Rome Art and Community Center. And sure enough the squirrel came back again, scampering freely in the yard with a streak of yellow color showing on its back end.

From that point on, Bill and Butch transported the squirrels to an area near Delta Lake dam in the Town of Western, north of Rome.

The backyard is much quieter now. When I visit Bill I rarely see squirrels darting about on the lawn, racing up the trunks of the trees or hanging off the bird feeder, stealing the birdseed from Bill’s feathered neighbors. I also wonder if Bill and Butch captured my rebellious friend, or if the rodent in question avoided the temptation of the peanuts and escaped the jaws of the metal cage. I’d like to think the squirrel I observed on the roof is now enjoying a new home near the dense forestland surrounding Delta Lake.

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