I sat with Prairie Jamie, Carlos, and a local activist/anarchist named Harrison, surrounded by rough hewn log furniture, walls painted in golden rod, and thick beams stained as dark as Guinness, drinking pints and discussing all manner of cool and geeky stuff. Our table was not far from the painting of the Celtic Salmon of Knowledge.
Harrison and I go back almost ten years now, I’ll bet. Back when south-side environmental activists all congregated at the Environmental Resource Centre, we shared an office space in the “not-garage”, a garage-seeming building behind the main house which was once a servant’s quarters.
“I’ll always remember Myles’ Squirrel Wars” Harrison reminisced to Prairie Jamie and Mercedes, who had joined our table by this time. Intrigued by this statement, they asked me to tell the story:
“There was this squirrel that gnawed a hole in the wall of our office,” I explained. “Which might’ve been an acceptable enough thing except that our library started to smell like squirrel pee. I’d block the hole with a brick, and a week later the hole would be bigger and I’d stick another brick in it. Then the hole got bigger again and the next time I got to my desk, there was a squirrel poop on the key board of my computer.” Harrison laughed in remembrance of the fit I threw that day.
“As the summer wore on, the squirrel would climb up this tall spruce tree outside our office and throw pine cones onto our roof.” Now, as you might imagine, a 1910 servant’s quarters turned office is a rather rustic place. For my first year or so occupying my office, one of my tasks during the winter months was to cut wood for the wood stove. My desk was located in the old sleeping area which was up in the trusses of the small building, my walls were the two sides of the steeply pitched roof. So, if you’re chucking pine cones at the roof all day - knock, clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter; knock, clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter - it sounds like they’re landing right beside your head and can be extremely maddening when you’re inhaling squirrel pee fumes and flicking turds off your computer.
Summers at the old ERC (Environmental Resource Centre) meant lunches with staff and students on the back patio at an oversized picnic table. Everyone was at the picnic table the day I walked back to ‘The Shack’ for something, past the tree as another pine cone flew onto the roof - knock, clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter.
“Gott-damned squirrel!”, I shouted loud enough for all the staff and students to turn their heads towards me - so they were all looking when the next pine cone flew out of the spruce tree and hit me!
It hit me on the shoulder only, but bounced off my body with a high arch – a comical effect that was only enhanced by the fit I threw over the deliberateness of the action.
The day came when the squirrel made a mistake. Griz had the woodstove replaced with a gas furnace and the squirrel ventured into the furnace’s chimney pipe. I heard him scrabbling to vainly find a grip, and knew that his only way out was out the bottom and into my office.
I scrambled down the ladder from the truss-loft, slammed the open Shack door closed, and grabbed a blue box. The squirrel emerged from the furnace box and I chased him around the perimeter of our rectangular shack a few times before wising-up and cutting across the middle of the room to trap him in the blue-box against a window. Slipping a large piece of cardboard over the opening, I had him!
Now, my next decision was how I was going to kill him!
My friends and colleagues never believed that day would come. Not even when I was waving the pages I’d downloaded off the internet with squirrel recipes on them. But peering carefully under the cardboard lid proved that I had the squirrel at my mercy, though it’s completely incorrect to say so since I felt no mercy for him whatsoever.
The summer students started the lobby for the life of the squirrel. They argued an absence of malice; that the squirrel’s behaviour reflected no disrespect (which I claimed), but was only squirrels doing what squirrels do. However the Pinecone Incident seemed too deliberate to me.
Shayla Huber volunteered to drive the squirrel to the north side of the North Saskatchewan River, arguing that the river posed an insurmountable barrier to squirrels.
I permitted my secret crush on Shayla to cloud my judgment, and before the summer was out I had squirrel problems again.