Sunday, August 11, 2013

Squirrel highway


The white picket fence that rimmed the yard wasn't the main thing that attracted us to the house, but it was a charming extra. The wooden fence dipped and swooped, a pretty roller coaster emblematic of the American dream. All it needed was a pink rosebush spilling over one corner.

We bought the house 18 years ago for its hardwood floors, its pristine woodwork and built-in, its big double garage, its three-season front porch, its proximity to the park. But I was always glad for that white picket fence.

After we added a screen porch to the back, we started wishing the fence were a little taller. The porch is elevated, up four steps from the sidewalk, and when we settled ourselves in our chairs under the lights, it was as though we were on stage. When the neighbors were all out in their yards, I felt self-conscious and illuminated, and sometimes I went back in the house.

After not too long a time, the picket fence required repainting. The first time, we scraped and painted it ourselves. It took all summer. The next time around, we decided that life is too short and Minnesota summers are way too short, and we hired someone.

And that's when we found that a lot of the fence posts were rotting off underground. We replaced them, and we replaced rotten pickets, and the repair and repainting of the fence ran to more than a thousand dollars.

The third time it needed painting, we started thinking, maybe there's another way.  So last fall, we ripped out the white fence along the alley and along the north side of the house, and had a nice cedar fence installed. No paint. No rot. The posts were sunken into concrete, and the cedar would weather, over time, to a soft silver. We still have the white fence on the south side, and across the front. Yes, two different fences, but I like to think of it as the best of both worlds.

We grew to love the new fence, which is sturdy and pretty and affords us with privacy. We could sit on the back porch without feeling like we were on display.


But it didn't take very long to discover that it had a serious flaw: It does not end in swooping narrow pickets; it is topped with latticework, which is capped by nice straight flat two-by-fours. Nice, straight, flat two-by-fours that run from underneath the ash tree in the backyard, past the kitchen windows, all the way to the pine trees in front of the house.

Nice, straight, flat two-by-fours that now serve as a squirrel highway.

The squirrels love the new fence. One will drop from the branches of the ash tree, perch on the fence post, and look right at Rosie, who is usually on the back porch, looking back at him. He flicks his tail, and stares. She stares back. There is a long, uneasy silence.


They both move at the same time: the squirrel runs, and Rosie throws herself at the screen, barking shrilly. Then she turns so fast she slides on the hardwood and scatters the throw rugs as she sprints past the kitchen windows, barking, to the front porch, where she throws herself at the windows and barks and barks and barks while the squirrel scrambles up into the pine tree. He perches on a branch and stares at her and flicks his tail. After a while, he scrambles back down and runs along the highway toward the back yard, and they do it all over again in reverse.

I am sure that the neighbors must love this. We certainly do.

One Saturday afternoon I watched a squirrel as it paused on the highway and then, unmistakably, lowered its torso closer to the fencetop and let loose with a long spray of pee.

This was alarming. I had never seen a squirrel pee before, let alone pee deliberately. This was almost certainly deliberate: It positioned itself in full view of a frantic Rosie, looked her straight in the eye, squatted, and peed.

I had to look it up, and sure enough, squirrels, like male dogs, urinate to mark territory. Rosie was enraged. I was annoyed. Doug suggested we line the fencetop with broken bottles or loops of concertina wire. I have a better idea: the next time the fence needs a repair--rotting posts that need replacing, cracked boards that need fixing--the squirrel gets the bill. He wants the fence, he gets the fence. All of it.

(Rosie, ever vigilant, turning and scrambling back through the house, barking at the top of her lungs, does not agree.)

20 comments:

Jim Vannoy said...

Huh, I had no idea that squirrels mark their territory like that.

Pamela said...

I've never seen the ones around here marking -- but they sure use our fence as a super highway too. Our neighbor on the north put big replicas of owls and hawks etc on his posts. I got some humor out of that.

Far Side of Fifty said...

They pee all over..nasty things anyway. Of course Rosie is upset! We have our fair share up here...Chance chases them off into the superhighway we call trees...they jump from one to another :)

Pondside said...

Poor Rosie - peeing squirrels would put me right over the edge too!

Kate said...

There isn't a place in America that is free of squirrels, none of whom have come close to being considered "cute" by me. . .just plain damned rodents who steal from our squirrel-free bird feeders (Ha!!) and drive our dogs to distraction. Our Maggi knows that when I approach the backdoor and whisper "Squirrel" to her, she's in for some fun. Too old to catch and kill it, she has a good romp and barks at the scolding, teasing squirrel who rests safely out of reach on a tree branch above her head. My husband is a softie and believes all animals deserve life and fair treatment (HA!) and prevents me from shooting them. (I really would!!) Our son traps them, releases them in St. Kate's from whence they breed and come, climbing our fence for daily sustenance and a little tease-the-doggies-fun!

Abbey said...

Interesting info about squirrels. Thanks for sharing!

Indigo Bunting said...

Until this moment, I did not realize that I have never seen a squirrel pee.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I NEVER knew of this squirrel behavior! Dreadful pests, squirrels. Poor Rosie, to have to bear witness to that.

Meganne Fabrega said...

When my great-grandmother had her house in St. Cloud she rigged up some wire that would electrocute the squirrels! That was a long time ago. Maybe you should just consider it dog TV.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

We have the same scene here in the fall when we put up the bird feeders: deafening barks, rugs askew, toenail grooves on the pine floor. But after a while, say, by March, our dogs get tired of it. Maybe Rosie will too.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

We have a similar scene when we put out the bird feeder in the fall: frantic barking, rugs askew, deep toenail grooves on the pine floors. But eventually, say, by March, our dogs get tired of it. Maybe Rosie will too.

laurie said...

Rosie has yet to tire of anything annoying, Lali. However, I've found that giving her an elk antler to chew shuts her up for a good 20 minutes.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Lots of squirrels in our yard, but I never knew they marked their territory. Maybe they don't bother marking against cats.

Malvi said...

a squirell highway ;-)) hah :-)

I also have never seen a peeing squirrel :-)

greetings to Rosie from Europe :-)

Fiddlin Bill said...

Squirrels are the Red Chinese Army so to speak. Some years back a scout found a way into our ceiling. Soon there were families, running, playing, arguing, chewing, and all the other things critters do. After a while they were in two discrete sections of the house. I got out the ladders and worked and worked to seal every possible opening. Today, however, they are gone. Houdahenians! The boys will climb and tree and they are fast too. The squirrels have retreated back into the forest. Yea!

laurie said...

Bill, I knew those Houdahenians were a good idea!

Ruckus Eskie said...

Funny story!

Ruckus the Eskie
www.ruckustheeskie.com

Aggressive Dog Training said...

I can't help but imagine a cartoon scene about this. A squirrel mocking a dog by marking his story in front of him. Funny yet I hope things will go in the direction where no one is annoyed.

challenge coins said...

I had no idea that squirrels mark their territory like that.

Kate said...

Laurie, Where have you been? We need some more posts!

I just finished reading "Out on the Limb" in the Trib this morning (10-4-13) and enjoyed it enormously. Also loved the photos of the owls.