Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Day of the Squirrel

Everybody has a squirrel or chipmunk story.  Everybody.  One of my favorite moments in the PBS Reality Show Frontier House is when Mark, who has broken his back breaking sod to plant some summer crops, takes a stand regarding small varmints raiding his plants.  “I’m going to come out here and blow some heads off,” said the former Tennessee teacher.  We all know how destructive squirrels and chipmunks are; they may be cute but man, are they problematic.  I have a red squirrel that has taken up residence in the barn.  He’s living off dropped grain and has yet to start destroying tack, but that’s just around the corner, as Larry keeps pointing out.  When I went out to the barn this weekend and the squirrel was sitting on a barn beam, where the cat usually sits, chattering away and mocking me, I knew it was time to get serious.

I have used rat traps in the past but the results are so ugly.  And we have a feral cat in the area who we are quite fond of, and I didn’t want to inadvertently hurt him instead.  I tried a glue trap once, but the mouse that got stuck to it was still alive, so I tried to get it unstuck and the whole thing ended up like an episode of I Love Lucy.  So Sunday night I set out a small Havahart trap in the tack room, put a glob of peanut butter on the inside, and waited to see what happened.

Yesterday at evening feed, I had caught the little bugger.  And man, was he P.O.ed.  He threw himself around in the cage, clinging to the wire like a little demented Jimmy Cagney threatening to kill me if he ever got out.  I left him in the cage, my plan being that in the morning I would take him into town somewhere and turn him loose.

And so events today transpired as such:

7:00 a.m.  Squirrel in cage looks like he is dying.  One eye is swelled shut and he is huddled in a corner of the cage, breathing rapidly.  Damn it!  Why couldn’t he have just died if that was what he was going to do?  I don’t want him to suffer.  Now I feel bad.  No, don’t feel bad.  He’s a destructive rodent.  Take him to the other side of the Northway and turn him loose. 

7:10 a.m.  I don’t think the squirrel would live if I just kicked him out somewhere.  He isn’t moving unless I poke him.  Maybe I should just let him loose outside.  He’s probably going to die anyway.  I take the cage out of the barn on the path, open the end, and put him by a tree, thinking he’s going to leave the cage and scamper up the tree to terrorize me another day.

7:20 a.m.  Walking back to the house, I think:  Well, stupid, let’s say he does leave the trap and goes up the tree, then you’re no better off!  He’s still going to get destructive in the barn!  And then you’re NEVER going to trap him again because now he knows the game!  Duh!  Better go get the trap, if he hasn’t already run out, and do something with him, I don’t know what now.

7:25 a.m.  Squirrel is still in trap, still huddled in corner, still breathing rapidly.  But having hydrated slightly by being the snow seems to have rejuvenated him a tiny bit.  Still looks like he’s on death’s door.  Why won’t he die already?  He’s ruining my day!

7:30 a.m.  Throw Havahart trap with heaving squirrel in back of truck for ride into town.

8:15 a.m.  Get ready to drive to work, look at squirrel in trap.  He lifts his head a little when I look at him.  The ride in the back of the truck will be flippin’ cold, that may kill him off.  Oh screw it, I put the cage in the front seat of the truck.  But I don’t secure him with the seat belt.  I don’t like him that much.  I do tell him that village living is much more interesting – there are more houses, more squirrels to fight with and the always exciting traffic to dodge.  He should be looking at this as an opportunity.

8:30 a.m.  I arrive at work and shuttle the squirrel to the side porch of our building.  I see one of our neighborhood cats glide through the snow in the backyard.  He may have easy pickings today.  I set the cage down and open the end, hoping the clear view of trees will be enough to encourage him to make his move. 

9:00 a.m.  I check and the squirrel is still huddled in the corner, not making a move.  I poke him and he gives me an indignant look.  He does scuttle out of the cage and hides under some wood piled on the porch a few feet away.

9:30 a.m.  I tell my boss Cherie and tenant-lawyer Mark about my morning.  Cherie says I’m letting my guilt get the better of me, I’m over-thinking the whole thing and that her husband catches his wretched squirrels with glue traps.  Mark rolls his eyes at me and proceeds to tell me about all the insulation in his attic that needs to be replaced because of rodent damage.  I know they’re right.  I decide if he's back in the cage, I’m just going to dump the stupid thing out of the trap into the snowbank and let the chips fall where they may.

10:00 a.m.  The squirrel is gone.  I can see tracks in the fresh snow where he made his way towards some trees and the back of the building. 

I didn’t need a Disney ending.  I just didn’t want to know that I was responsible for his demise, although I suppose I certainly can be.  Oh well.  We all have soft spots.  I have no doubt there are relatives of his to take his place in the barn.  It’s just a matter of time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"What Exactly Is It That You Do?"

Someone asked me the other day what it means to homestead. I admit I have bandied the word around a bit in my writing and in relaying to people what Larry and I do on the Hill. It’s subjective; there are as many interpretations of the word as there are people who claim to homestead.

The word "homesteading" tends to conjure up images of pioneers on the frontier.  Yup, that was it, too.  But modern day homesteading is a wonderful combination of getting your hands dirty and, say, indoor plumbing.

I fine-tuned my own definition after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This book followed her family's adventure of living solely off food they could produce themselves over the course of one year. In addition to being highly entertaining, it was inspiring and gave me lots of good ideas. Being able to implement them, however, was another story. Or, if I'd want to implement them. No citrus at all? Not sure I could do that.  And I have yet to butcher my own animals, although I think that is on the horizon.

For my purposes, I define homesteading as living as self-sufficiently, off the land, as capably and realistically as possible, given resources and time. What may be totally doable for one family may not be reasonable for another. You could say we practice homesteading lite. For us, it means:

1) Utilizing our gardens as much as possible. Every year the soil gets a little richer and we get better at preserving our bounty before it gets away from us and spoils. Every year we learn more, through good and bad experiments. Larry does a great job of canning and you can always find neighbors to trade vegetables with.

2) Being fuel independent. We heat entirely with our own wood from our property, but we do use propane for the stove. Our hot water heater is electric, but Larry installed a hot water pre-heating system that works off solar in the summer, woodstove in the winter. It made a huge difference in our power bill.

3) We started an off-the-grid project for the barn, but it stalled out a few years ago. We have most of the equipment, we just need to get the rest of the wiring in the barn done and then hook the whole thing together. We moved this project up on our list of 2013 To-Dos as it's low hanging fruit that's foolish to continue putting off.

4) Picking and choosing what to spend our money on. Yes, the horses are an expense and ski passes aren't cheap, but they are passions of ours and we choose to expend our hard earned cash on them. We don't have television and Larry only recently got a cell phone (I'm holding out but his iPhone is pretty darn sweet). We try to limit our entertainment, don't shop a lot and are fairly frugal all the way around. Instead of spending hundreds on a gas barbecue grill, we fixed up the ring of rocks in the backyard, put a used grill over it, and cook on it most summer nights. We call it our Adirondack Weber. Sure it takes a little longer to get the fire going, but that's the perfect time to sit in a chair and have a beer and talk about your day with your spouse. We're talking about quality of life here.

There are thousands of examples of how people take things much, much farther than this, such as using reclaimed vegetable oil to fuel their vehicles, farming to a much larger degree, having significant livestock and having their entire residence off-grid. Pick up any issue of Countryside magazine, which is largely reader written, and you'll get a real sense of what everyday folks are doing out there to live more independently. The internet is packed with websites and blogs filled with how-tos and what-fors. As extreme as it seems consumerism is, there is just as much happening with folks implementing things to bring themselves back to a more natural state of living.

The important thing is to experiment, try new things, and find what works for you. Even if you put the smallest idea into action, you have still taken a step towards a simpler and more grounded lifestyle. And above all, have fun with the whole process. If you can stand there covered in grime and sweat and bug bites, have something to show for it, and laugh about it, it’s a good day.