Jan 10, 2007

Noodles and Melvin

Our first spring in our new house was spent clearing the land behind our outbuildings and making a nice field for gardens, grass and the beautiful birch trees growing beside the wetlands we have back there. The clearing of the land necessitated felling several very tall and very ugly evergreen trees that at forty feet tall and without any foliage for the first two-thirds of their trunks looked as though they belonged in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book and definitely not in our yard. My husband had carefully checked all the debris and nests in the trees and found them all to be empty before felling the branches they rested on. Except one. A large mangy nest he had picked through and then proceeded to cut its branch proved upon hitting the ground to not have been entirely empty. When it hit earth, its four tiny inhabitants were thrown in as many directions: tiny baby squirrels huddled on their bellies in shock and fear. My husband kept saying that he had checked so carefully, and that he felt just terrible and would feed the babies and care for them himself as he was responsible for this turn of events. Uh-huh.

It was apparent from looking at them that they had been abandoned by their mother, who most likely had been killed by a passing motorist, as our road is dotted year round with the flattened, dehydrated bodies of squirrels who neglected to look both ways before crossing. The babies' tiny bodies were so thin, and they were all so weak, it was obvious they hadn't eaten for some time. I filled a small box with bedding from the chicken barn and buried the babies in it for warmth, and then I called a family friend who has been a wildlife rescuer and would know what to do next. She wasn't home but her husband was and while I was at the time thankful for his advice, the words of 'wisdom' he provided would ultimately prove fatal for two of the four little ones.

At his word, I went to the grocery store and purchased a couple of cans of evaporated milk and a set of eyedroppers and began to try to feed the tiny squirrels. None would eat. I tried countless times through the afternoon and that night to get them to feed, with no luck. Even forcing their tiny mouths open and squirting little bits of milk into their throats couldn't save them. After near constant attempts to get the babies to eat throughout the following day, and after two of them passed away late that next afternoon, I once again called our friend in a frantic attempt to save the remaining two who were barely clinging to life. "Not evaporated milk!" she yelled. "You must get puppy or kitten replacement milk. And not an eye dropper. You need the smallest baby bottle you can find, preferably one for very small animals, like a gerbil bottle." And off I went again, this time to our nearest Petco, hoping that this would be the miracle to save those two little squirrels. And it was. But it wasn't easy. I spent more hours trying to get the little ones to feed, and to his credit, my husband gave it a shot as well. When we were finally about to give up and let nature take its course, as she most likely would have anyways in that abandoned tree without our ever knowing it, the babies began to drink. And drink they did.

And then Monday morning rolled around and off my husband went to his office, leaving me in charge of hourly feedings. At first, I'll admit, it was fun to feed the babies. Holding little gray squirrels who themselves held the little bottle with their impossibly tiny front feet, their big black liquid eyes watching me while they sucked, their long fuzzy tails curled around my hand. All was bliss for the first few weeks, tiring as it was to be feeding two newborns around the clock, while my husband worked, or slept, or watched TV to unwind, never giving the squirrels much more than a cursory thought. But then the little squirrels, fortified with puppy milk, began to test their mettle. They spit at me, they bit with very sharp little teeth, they grabbed the tiny bottle from my hand. I spent a great deal of time washing my bloody hands and wiping warm, sticky puppy milk from the babies who would wind up covered from head to toe in it at every feeding, as well as cleaning squirrel urine off my hands and forearms. And it seemed that feeding time not only made the little ones pee, but also turned them on as well. I grew tried of feeding two little boy squirrels who would, without fail, get a tiny boner while I held them to feed them. Fun stuff. And where was the man who swore he'd take responsibility for this mess? Not feeding these animals, that's for sure.

Finally, after a few months, the little boys grew big enough to be weaned from the milk and then eventually set free in the yard, though they still required me to provide them with supplemental food. My son named them Noodles and Melvin and while Noodles moved on to a new territory fairly quickly, Melvin stayed with us for quite some time, living in the old, empty chicken house on our land. Even when he became too big to fit through the small hole in the siding that allowed him access to the inside of the building, and even after tearing off three-quarters of his tail when he tried in vain to squeeze his fat ass (and it was fat, trust me, these guys were well looked after) through that too-small hole, he refused to go. But finally, as with everything in this life, all good things must come to an end, and Melvin's reign did just that. Whether he was killed somewhere while off on a daily jaunt, or whether a bigger, more aggressive squirrel stole his territory from him and drove him off, the following spring he was gone. I know not what became of him, save for the fact that he most definitely wasn't one of the gray pancakes in the streets around our home. His unique bob-tail would have given his corpse away.

And my husband, who after those first few moments of feeling badly for what he had wrought, and never gave it much more thought, managed to do the same thing once again this summer while removing an old foundation on one of our outbuildings. Same story, different rodents. This time though, I was not at all successful in saving a family of tiny pink baby field mice found scattered with their once cozy little nest among the rubble. They were just too tiny and wouldn't eat. I think maybe the next time my husband does demolition on our property, I should be there to check out the situation before he commences destruction. At least I can be ready with a box and some food.

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