Emergency Exits


SNOW SQUIRREL

Spikey, the vagabond clown and professional smoocher, was my original guide into the neighbourhood world of squirrels. I first started feeding him in early autumn and I got into the habit of leaving him some peanuts on a small rock with a concave surface which just the right height to act like a feeding bowl for squirrels. He would come by in the morning and also in the evening before sunset and feed from this feeding station.

This feeding rock just happened to be right next to the base of a small, one foot high evergreen bush. When winter came and the snow arrived, the whole garden would be covered in white. However, the small evergreen bush with its tight interlacing branches and leaves was only covered with snow on the outside, leaving its interior snow-free. In a sense, it became a miniature igloo with one opening which was just the right size and location that Spikey could reach the peanuts on the feeding stone and yet be mostly protected from the bitter winter winds. It became routine to see the little rapscallion installed in his place there, sheltered and comfortably feeding at the station.

One evening, I happened to be watching from the window as Spikey took his usual spot. He was happily munching away for several minutes when suddenly he straightened up in alarm so that his head was fully visible above the surrounding snow. I scanned around to see what had got his attention. There was some movement amongst the bushes further down the path. I watched and soon a large squirrel appeared on the path.

It was Speedy. Speedy is a large and rather fearless squirrel. He had been seen standing his ground and fighting off crows. He was also a bit of a bully with the other squirrels and was very much Spikey’s nemesis. He would occasionally chase Spikey away from enjoying the bounty of hard earned peanuts from his begging and clown routines. Nobody stood up to Speedy.

This was the first time though that I was witnessing a Spikey – Speedy encounter in the winter snow. As Speedy ran up the path to the feeding station, I quickly realised that Spikey had disappeared from the entrance of the snow igloo. I would have seen him and so would have Speedy if he had tried to run out. It was therefore reasonable to assume that he had sought refuge inside the interior of the snow igloo.

I watched with interest as Speedy, quite unaware of Spikey’s presence, came up to the feeding station. To my amusement, Speedy came and took over the same spot at the entrance of the igloo and began feedingon the peanuts. I was transfixed. I knew that my charming Spikey was a bit of a chicken-heart when it came to facing up to Speedy so I was imagining the state of panic he would be feeling as he found himself in the dark interior of the bush with the only entrance blocked by the huge bulk of Speedy.

I watched in wonderment and interest wondering what Spikey would do next. The minutes began to tick onwards and Speedy showed no hurry to leave, happily devouring the peanuts. Maybe about 10 immensely stressful minutes had passed when suddenly there appeared to be an “explosion” of snow flying into the air from the back of the bush. Out came a flying, snow covered Spikey. It was over in seconds and Spikey disappeared into the distance. It happened so fast that Speedy didn’t even understand what happened. He stopped for a moment but then went back to his feeding. I, on the other hand was on the floor rolling in laughter at the image of the snow-covered squirrel flying out in the explosion of snow. Priceless.

The very next morning, I had a close look at the feeding bush on my way to work. To my surprise and amusement, I found that some squirrel (most likely Spikey) had during the night, dug an additional three exit tunnels from the feeding bush. He was probably thinking, “Never again! Never again will I be caught like a rat in a trap!” And indeed he never had another such noghtmare experience with Speedy blocking his escape!

SNOW TUNNEL RAT

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