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Squirrel not chicken to stay cooped up

September 18, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

Once a year, Beth goes to a Redskins game. I stay at home, owing mainly to my profound fear of being in the same space with more than three people at any given time.

But it's a tough decision, because it means the animals are trusting to my care.

We did the usual morning chores Sunday, the only abnormality being that we found a tiny, baby squirrel in the horse barn. Just as I have grown accustomed to doing with the blacksnakes, I put on gloves, gathered him up and turned him loose down the lane -- on the opposite side of where I dispatch the snakes, just to be fair about it.

Beth left shortly thereafter, and the rest of the day was spent in perpetual panic and fear that some calamity will happen under my watch.

I spent the day walking around to the animals in various paddocks saying, "please don't die, please don't die, please don't die."

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I fastidiously did all the chores as prescribed, including slicing up some cucumbers for the chickens. Most of the hens were out on the range, but a few were in the coop. As they sensed food was in the offing, they came marching out. I watched as one chicken calmly walked down the ramp into the yard. Then another chicken calmly walked down the ramp into the yard. Then the baby squirrel calmly walked down the ramp into the yard. Then another chicken.

I blinked. It was one of those '60s sitcom moments where the drunk, seeing something totally incongruous, pours the remaining contents of his bottle onto the ground.

Again, I outsourced the squirrel to a wilder local. Twenty minutes later he was back, eating chicken feed right along with the rest of the brood.

He wasn't afraid of anything. He inquisitively walked up to each individual hen and looked up in "Are you my mommy?" fashion, and after some initial jitters they pretty much accepted him as one of their own.

When Beth returned, we found him asleep in a nest, next to two brown eggs. Beth immediately said, "Get that insanely cute, helpless little squirrel out of this coop right this second and drive him across the county if you have to. Just get rid of him now!"

No, now that I think about it, maybe those weren't her exact words. Maybe it was more like, "Isn't he DEAR? You get a box for him and I'll get the Triscuits."

So, 10 minutes later I'm thinking, "You know, a real newspaper columnist would be spending his time researching the nation's growing financial crisis. Me, I'm sitting here feeding crackers to a glorified rodent."

The results were predictable. Despite a few more half-hearted attempts, we can't shake him. He always winds up right back in the coop, apparently thinking -- for lack of a more natural role model -- that he is a chicken.

At night, he marches up the ramp to the roosts with the rest of the flock. Although I strongly discourage the activity, one of the chickens has taken to flying up and lighting on my shoulder like a parrot. It's kind of a Baretta situation, except there is nothing manly about having a chicken perched next to your head.

The squirrel (now named Freddie after Freddie the Freeloader) lacks wings, so he simply scampers up my pants leg.

I've put up with it so far. But if he starts to lay, I'm leaving.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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