Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 7, 2012

Why My Lawn Looks Like a Hayfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:16 pm

It’s all very simple you know. My lawn looks like a rolling prairie because of Red Squirrels. That’s the raw truth, so please don’t report me to the eyesore police. I am now “taking care” of the issue.

It all began a few weeks ago when I finally decided to enter the shed and attempt my annual re-starting of the riding mower. My place is wet and low, so waiting until mid-April is not unusual around here. Any attempt previous to that time would result in a new lawn ornament shaped like a riding mower – sunk deep and fast in the middle of the yard.  I call this my annual re-starting attempt because there is always an issue of some sort that prevents a successful first mow. It has been a dead battery, a horribly flat tire, wiring issues, and a bad belt in the past. Once a woodchuck dug a den hole under it and proceeded to bury the entire front end of the mower under a mound of dirt.

This year I sat on the thing, turned the key and nothing happened.  I was not surprised in the slightest, but did start to mentally run through the potential issue list (a thought process made clearer through the use of helper words such as “dang-it” and “##!!@ -it”. The problem list became very short (and the helper word list became long) upon throwing open the hood. I could not see most of my engine because it was completely packed with grasses, leaves, and chewed walnuts.  My John Deere had become a Home Sweet Squirrel Home.

I started to pull away some of the material and discovered two hairless baby red squirrels at the center right next to the battery cable. I figured them to be perhaps 10 days old – well before their eye-opening stage at 27-28 days and after the onset of reddish back fur after the first week of life. The feet and long ratty tail look over-sized at this stage. They were not cute in any sense of the word. The portion of battery cable lying next to them was completely stripped of its insulation right down to the shiny copper wire. That also was not cute.

Because I am a naturalist first and a good homeowner second, I decided to give the mother Red Squirrel a chance to move her kids before I ripped them from limb to limb. Red Squirrels will often move their young if necessary. They will carry them by the back of the neck in the manner of a dog. I left the hood up, set up my trail cam at a point opposite the nest, and closed the shed door for a few hours. Upon my return, the nest had been re-opened and the little ones were gone.

I have a picture of my pale white freckled hand touching the nest at about noon when I set, and tested, the camera. According to the photo evidence the adult squirrel made her first appearance at the nest almost an hour later. She is pictured reaching down into the nest to grab one of the babies (see below) at 12:52 pm. She had accomplished her motherly deed within a few seconds. It takes the camera around 20 seconds to “revive” and I suspect she had already grabbed the first one by the time this shot was taken. At exactly 12:57 pm she is again captured flying past the lens (see second photo below) but the nest was already empty by then. My pale freckly hand makes another appearance at 2:19 pm as I check the nest for occupants.

I do not know where she moved them and frankly don’t care. I immediately set about pulling out a bushel basket of nest material and about 6,000 chewed walnuts. The battery cable was fried, so I removed it and bought a replacement. The battery turned out to be dead so I took it down and had it re-charged.  So far, the cable only cost $16 and the re-charge was free, so I wasn’t out a whole lot. I was finally ready to get things going a few days later – and ready to forget the whole affair – when I sat down to turn the key once again. Again, there was nothing. I was forced to call upon a higher authority (although God’s name was mentioned, I am referring to the mower repair people). They came out to pick it up and it was a long weekend until I heard from them again.

“I must have pulled 30 walnuts out of that thing, “the service fellow commented over the phone. “There are chewed wires lying around and I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ll have to order a new wire harness and that will take at least a week and…”  I phased out for a moment and returned just in time to hear him say “even after I plug the new wires in there may be some other problems.”  The estimate for labor was about a third of the original cost of the mower. I weakly gave my approval and hung up.

It should be mentioned that the warm spring weather was encouraging my grass to grow like a fast motion movie of a Chia Pet all this time. As of this writing, I still have not heard back from my repairman. We are entering the third week of mowerlessness and a small herd of bison were seen roaming in the back yard.

I saw my Female Red Squirrel the other day as she watched me cutting the front yard with my little push mower (bison are not allowed in the front yards in my neighborhood). If I were the sentimental type, I suppose I could have imagined that she was thanking me for my kindness.  I returned her glance and almost accepted these imaginary tender thoughts before abruptly catching myself. No, I thought, when I get my riding mower back I will run her and her babies over at the first opportunity.

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