Squirrel

Two weeks before Christmas, we heard a scrabbling sound in the ceiling above our bathroom. We live in a residential neighborhood not far from the edge of town, and so animal infestations are not uncommon. I, however, am from the suburbs, where such problems are outsourced to professionals, so I opened up the phone book and called the first animal-extraction company listed: A-Arrow Exterminators.

A-Arrow was run by a couple, Emma and Dell. They operate under the slogan, "Have a Dell-Emma? Call Dell and Emma!" I talked to Emma on the phone, but it was Dell who came to the house. He was short, a bit hunched, and in his sixties. A hood covered his head, and his eyes were hooded, too. He was glum, but talkative. He said he would set a trap for the squirrel and return periodically to check it. "We can’t let him stay out there all night," he said. "He could freeze."

Since I had assumed our squirrel would be poisoned to death, this possibility didn’t worry me too much, but I agreed to his terms. He went out back and set a Havahart trap under the bathroom window. Over the next day I saw him shuffling around in the yard a few times, at odd hours. Finally he showed up at the door with the trapped squirrel. He spent a few minutes telling me about Emma’s diabetes, wished me a Merry Christmas, and charged me $160.

A few days later, Christmas Eve, the scrabbling was back. Dell had trapped the wrong squirrel. I reached for the phone, but this time I called Home Depot. They were open. An hour later I’d set my own Havahart trap and gone back inside, to the warmth of an efficient furnace, the smell of cookies baking, and the sound of our children whipping themselves into a fever of frantic greed.

On Christmas morning, we opened our gifts. After an hour of wishing it were evening, so that I could open my annual bottle of whiskey, I went outside in my pajamas and slippers. The trap had sprung, a squirrel was inside. The squirrel looked extremely anxious, though no more anxious than they usually look. I got dressed, loaded the trap into the car, and drove to the Plantations.

The Plantations are a giant botanical garden run by the local college. I figured that, if I were a squirrel, I’d want to live there. I was certain our squirrel would have chosen to live there if he had the choice, but of course he didn’t know from Plantations — a five-minute drive, to a squirrel, was like a human trip to Laos, or to Mars. I pulled into the parking lot, endured the curious glances of some passersby on a Christmas stroll, and let the squirrel go. He flung himself out so hard and fast that the cage slid backwards in the snow.

I felt pretty good about myself. Thirty bucks, and I got to keep the trap. Maybe I’d hang out a shingle! Plus, I’d removed the squirrel from the taint of human habitation and reintroduced him to glorious Nature.

Or, perhaps, I was an idiot for not doing this in the first place. And who wanted to trap squirrels for a living. And of course it was nice and warm in my roof, and the little sucker would probably die looking for a house to roost in. And if it had been a girl, and she’d had babies, they would die, too.

But then again, moral ambiguity was endemic, especially on Christmas. I drove home. Later that night I told the squirrel-trapping story at a party, and everyone laughed.

As usual, the whiskey was excellent.

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