By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock
I try to be Mr. Nice with my critter neighbours at the lake. It is becoming more difficult, however. Much more difficult, especially this spring.
I feed and comfort the little birds: the sparrows, nuthatches and chickadees. And, I don’t shout at the bullying blue jays and crows when they horn in, chasing the hungry little guys away from the feeders.
I’m also calm and gentle with the chipmunks. Obviously, they are not affected by COVID, because they have multiplied by the thousands during the pandemic. They have brought their relatives and friends to my place to dig holes wide and deep enough to swallow an 18-wheeler.
I understand they must dig for their tunnelling systems, but why any tiny rodent wants to claw through hardpan and packed road gravel is a mystery to me. There are hundreds of acres of soft, easy digging soil around my lake.
Playing Mr. Nice is hardest when it comes to squirrels. The black squirrels and their grey cousins are relatively respectful and law-abiding. They don’t chatter at me when I catch them trying to steal something.
Red squirrels, however, are unredeemable career criminals. They respect no property or possessions. When I try to talk to them about leading more positive and productive lives, they mock and taunt me.
Two of their cousins, red flying squirrels, chewed their way into my place a few years ago. When they couldn’t get into the food cupboards, they chewed – totally out of spite – a trophy lake trout I had mounted on the wall.
Last month I discovered that red squirrels tried to destroy my new car. I brought it in for routine servicing and a tech came running into the customer waiting room with bad news. The red squirrels had started packing engine spaces with acorns. The cleanout cost me $60.
When I returned home later in the day, two red squirrels were sitting in a tree beside my parking spot. They pointed at me and began chattering and laughing.
Squirrels never seem to have enough places to store their acorns.
This spring, I decided to tidy up my ATV shed. I have a vacuum there and sometimes the hose is plugged into the blower end instead of the suctioning end. This day the hose was on the blower end and when I turned the power on, it began raining acorns.
Raccoons enjoy hanging around my place and I try to be Mr. Nice with them. It’s not easy because they are sneaky and come at night. They get into the bird feeders, not just taking a snack but tearing them down and carrying them off into the woods.
I’ve taken to trapping them – in safe and comfortable wire cages, of course. I spray their tail tips with fluorescent orange paint and release them into a far-off Crown forest.
I’m waiting for the morning when I look out and see a cage occupied by a raccoon with an orange tail.
This spring I received the ultimate insult from my critter neighbours.
Every fall I unhook my dock and tow it down the shoreline and into a protected bay where it will not be damaged by shifting ice. Every spring, I tow it back and reattach it to the shore.
Bringing it back this year, I noticed it was floating very low on one end. I took a crow bar and pulled off some boards to check the floats.
What a shock! Two floats were gone, and so were the boards that held them in place. All that remained of the holding boards were gnawed stubs – the unmistakable chew marks of beaver.
Sometime during the winter, beavers had chewed away the wooden supports, somehow removed two Styrofoam floats and created a cave-like space where they had started to build a comfortable home.
It took several hours and some money to return the dock to its useful state. When the repairs were complete, I sat down exhausted and thought: I must stop being Mr. Nice.
Later, after a few refreshments, my thinking changed. My critter neighbours were here first and I was the intruder.
So, I guess I’ll continue to play Mr. Nice and simply put up with their antics.