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Most of These Stories Are Somewhat True Too

Discussion in 'Books' started by JeffMackwood, Aug 29, 2016.

  1. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

    (Note: No, I am not yet committing to writing a sequel. That's still a decision for later. I continue to collect story ideas and if, on January 1, 2017, I have at least 100 viable ones, I will then consider committing. If I do, I already know that the book's title will be as per this thread's title. For now, I decided to take one of those new story ideas and flesh it out into a first draft. Here it is, unedited, for your reading pleasure.)

    Engineer v. Squirrel

    Trees seem to find neat ways to die in our front yard. Since we moved in in 1989 we’ve lost two of them. I’m pretty determined to make sure the third one survives.

    Our front yard is only fifty feet wide. By the time you add the double driveway on one side you are not left with much growing space. Basically one tree is all that will fit.

    The tree that came with the house was a yellow birch. It was contained in a large round stone “planter.” It was neither tall, nor well filled-out. But it cast some shade so long as I treated it with a strong insecticide every spring to prevent caterpillars from chewing off most of its foliage – which happened one year.

    But bugs were nothing compared to the North American Ice Storm of 1998 which coated it in tons of ice. Some branches snapped off; others drooped until they touched the ground. I did my best to help it, pounding its trunk with a sledgehammer in order to cause huge slabs of ice to disengage. (Next time, if there is one, I won’t be standing underneath the tree when that happens. Ouch!) Before the storm was over the entire top of the tree would snap off. That spring sap would cascade continuously from the elevated stump in a misty shower as the poor birch tried desperately to pump fluid to a now non-existent major limb.

    The birch eventually succumbed to its massive injuries and we had it, and its planter removed.

    We replaced it with a maple. Supposedly much hardier than a birch. And if it grew to be anything like others in the area, it would survive a future ice storm. We never even thought about how it would handle a tornado when we planted it.

    It grew big and strong and cast a huge amount of shade over the front yard. Deep green foliage would turn a beautiful red in the autumn as it prepared for winter. Where the birch was wispy at best, the maple branched-out strongly, even covering part of the driveway.

    Then one summer afternoon, the skies darkened. Rain started to fall. The winds picked-up and some hail started pelting down. Gen, Nat, and I were in the house looking out at the front yard when Allie called us from her car which was coming down the street. Seems there was a funnel cloud about to touch down in front of our house. We told her to stay in the car and we had just enough time to grab the pets and head downstairs to the concrete cold cellar. I managed a glance out the front door to see a violent wall of horizontal wind and rain assaulting the maple. I heard a loud crack as I was going down the basement steps.

    Seemingly seconds later the storm passed, the winds died, and the sun came out. We emerged from the basement and walked out the front door to see the maple in repose, horizontally splayed out across the yard and the driveway. The driveway! Underneath it, somewhere, was Gen’s new, at the time, car. Miraculously, as we looked closely we could see that somehow the maple had managed to touch down all around and over it, but that not a single branch, not even a leaf, was touching the car. It took some careful cutting, but we managed to extricate the vehicle unscathed.

    I was beginning to think the front yard carried a tree curse.

    We replanted. This time we went even hardier than maple: oak. A baby. Barely six feet tall. Over its infant years we tended to it faithfully. I would sit on the front porch and watch it grow from year-to-year. It passed through the tree toddler phase without incident and then hit puberty, growing its first set of real acorns last year. It seemed that nothing could harm it; neither ice, nor wind. Never even considered a squirrel a threat.

    By last summer it was casting a healthy shadow across the yard. You could see lots of new growth on every branch, with massive clusters of big leaves, and nuts. I’d sit out front on a bright sunny day and luxuriate in its shade. Then one morning I noticed a few patches of dead leaves hanging in the tree and a couple on the ground. It was way too early for fall. When I came home that evening I was shocked to see bushels and bushels of dead branches all over the front yard. The tree looked sick and semi-naked. All of that year’s new growth, including its nuts, were gone.

    Then I noticed a grey squirrel perched high above. He was gnawing-off the end of the last branch containing nuts. When it fell to the ground he quickly scurried down, grabbed a nut, and scampered-off to hide it across the street somewhere. He made return trips until all the nuts were gone. The oak was helpless and unable to do anything to defend itself. I vowed to come to its defence.

    Through that fall and winter, and into spring, I developed a war plan. The nuclear option involved getting a gun licence and upgrading from my fully-legal without-licence .22 calibre pellet pistol to a high velocity .25 calibre pellet rifle with scope. But this being Canada, with gun laws that I fully-support, that’s going to take a while since I need to take the gun course (all booked), pass the test, and apply for a licence. It’s a work in progress.

    (end of part one)
  2. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

    (part two)

    The less-than-scorched-earth approach involved dusting of my engineering skills and designing and making a squirrel “baffle” that works with trees. You can buy a squirrel baffle (think inverted bowl-shaped hat, or steel tube – the two most common designs) for a bird feeder, but not a tree. Looking at materials on hand I built a rough prototype using some stove pipe / air duct material that I had squirreled away in my garage. With the help of some sheet metal snips and duct tape, version 1.0 was affixed to the oak’s trunk, about four feet off the ground and well below the first branches. It looked stupid (as Gen supportively pointed out) but it would likely work. The one problem was that it might “strangle” the tree. But it was still a successful prototype.

    (I should add that Gen also thought it was I who is nuts in that having a squirrel gnaw yours off is just nature at work and nothing to fret about. More on that later.)

    Version 2.0 involved larger diameter ducting, cut and joined back together so that it was of a larger diameter than the tree, but not so large that a squirrel could squeeze up inside and past it, with “pads” on the inside to protect the tree against fretting damage. Instead of being duct-taped tight to the tree it is suspended from above by waxed hockey skate laces. (This Ottawa after all!) Spray painted a deep forest green, even Gen had to admit that it “doesn’t look bad” – which is extremely high praise I must say.

    Version 2.0 was in place as the leaves were filling out and new acorns were forming. I sat out on the porch and was relieved to see that most of the previous year’s destruction was fast disappearing with the new growth. Once again shade was cast.

    A couple of weeks ago we were visiting Catherine (my editor) and Bernard’s cottage. Bernard is a woodsman par-excellence and expertly manages his fifty-eight acres of trees. As we walked through their forest I mentioned the squirrel problem and how Gen felt I was nuts to even worry about the “natural” damage that they were doing. Within earshot of Gen, Bernard told me that they can be extremely destructive and that for young trees like mine this was not a good thing. I felt vindicated. A certain black squirrel popped that small shot of pride.

    As I had sat in the oak’s shade, I had never seen a squirrel make it into its branches. Then one day I noticed a bunch of almost-ripe nuts on the ground and the end of a branch. There was a squirrel in the tree and as I approached it gnawed off another and dropped it to the ground. I went to panic mode. By the time I retrieved my pellet pistol, and loaded a new cartridge, it had scampered-off. I stood guard for the next couple of days. In the morning I would see new destruction on the ground and a black squirrel in the tree. Another smaller black squirrel and a grey one (maybe the same one as last year) were scooping-up the felled nuts and rushing off with them. Charlie, our Maine Coone, bless his heart, even chased one down, getting hold of it by the tail and roughing it up a bit before it got away.

    The next day I saw how the black squirrel had conquered the baffle. I had constructed a Maginot Line. I assumed that the only way past it was up the trunk. I forgot about our front yard light standard that sits near the tree. The Teutonic squirrel bypassed the tree trunk, took a run at the lamp pole, jumped to about its mid-point, and with one quick grab then launched himself onto the light’s arms and from there it was a relatively short leap onto an overhanging branch and into the tree.

    I loaded my pistol with a “flat” pellet designed to bruise, not penetrate, and knocked him out of the tree. Undeterred, he was back later in the day, using the same pole-vaulting technique.

    Even though the lamp’s pole is smooth, I thought it must be rough enough for his little squirrel claws to find purchase. So I wrapped it in a piece of stove pipe. Call this version 3.0. An hour later he again demonstrated his climbing skills. It seemed like he was briefly “hugging” the pipe rather than digging in his nails. So I went to version 3.5: I lathered the pipe with mineral oil. Later that day I had to again pop him out of the tree with a flathead pellet. I looked at the lamp post. At least he’d probably have to spend a lot of time grooming the mineral oil out of his fur judging by the splotches of oil that were showing above the pipe.

    The battle was escalating rapidly. I did two things. Much as I hated to, I loaded pointed “kill” pellets into the pistol. And I headed to a “dollar” store for ideas. There I found a large black plastic flat-bottomed bowl. With the help of a hot soldering pencil I was able to melt out a hole in the bottom to fit the lamp pole, and a split line so that it could be put on and taken off. It is now affixed to the top of the stove pipe with duct tape. The idea is that after the squirrel “hugs” the oiled pipe, he won’t be able to launch past the inverted bowl above it. Call it version 4.0 of engineer versus squirrel.

    So far, so good. While I’ve seen him at the base of the tree, there’s been no new tree sighting – nor downed branches and nuts. The pistol is unloaded and back in storage. I’m not sure what version 5.0 might entail – if needed. I’m determined to prove that engineer can ultimately beat squirrel. It just might take a while.
  3. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

  4. mcad64

    mcad64 Well-Known Member

    Tell me again, what is the beneficial function of a squirrel? I assume they help to plant trees right? I hate those little bastards!! I have seen them destroy large sections of my maple trees by peeling off the bark!! Good story Jeff!! Keep fighting the good fight !!
  5. Randy

    Randy Well-Known Member Famous

    I am assuming they have some function in the grand scheme of things.

    I know all of God's or natures critters have a purpose, but I am currently unsure of that of the grey, red, black, or whatever colored squirrel.

    I will however give them the benefit of the doubt as I just watched a doc on Smithsonian last night about declining elk populations in Yellowstone and the investigation to find out why. The trail of evidence and the subsequent investigation passed through several species and was very interesting what they came up with. The bears, mainly Grizzlies were eating more elk babies (who have almost no smell and are therefore only really threatened by the grizzlies, wolves and other predators cant smell them). Anywho, the reason the bears were killing the elk was the result of a multi step problem that originated because lake trout were introduced into their non native Yellowstone lake and decimated the Cutthroat Trout population causing the bears to kill more baby elk. Crazy.
  6. Haywood

    Haywood Well-Known Member Famous

    The Florida version of this was that my yard was being destroyed by armadillos and I was debating on whether I wanted to spend $200 for an ATF tax stamp so I could legally acquire a suppressor for my AR-15 and shoot the little bastards at night without the neighbors calling the cops. The much less expensive solution was to treat my yard for grubs, which removed the incentive for the armadillos to dig it up in the first place.
  7. Botch

    Botch I.Y.A.A.Y.A.S! Superstar

    I'll trade you all your squirrels for my *$&%^! magpies.
    Last year my kitchen sink stopped draining, both sides. None of my usual cures worked, so I called a pro. He made a bunch of noise, said a bunch of bad words, then soon I heard him walking around the roof and power augering noises. After about 45 minutes he showed me a bucket full of gravel, pebbles and little sticks; apparently fu$&%*^ing magpies drop shit down any hole or tube they find, including my home's plumbing vent. $300.
    Last spring I planted all my herbs and flowers in pots, including a cool-looking flower (6 of them) whose blossoms looked like multi-colored flames. &*$(%ing magpies pulled them up by the root ball, and then laid them sideways in the same damn pot! I replanted them, we duelled several weeks but the flowers finally died (one left).
    Now, just yesterday I hear a crack out back and glance out the back door, six evil &$*%ing co&$*%su($*^ing magpies are flying away, and one of the small glass votive candles mounted to my pergola was in shards on my deck; it had to be lifted 1/2" or so for it to fall.
    I hate those damn things!
  8. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me


    Are we talking area-wide infestation of magpies or just a particular flock / individual that's pissing you off.

    'Cause if its the former there's not much you can do. However those are smart birds and a thwap or three with a flathead pellet might teach them to avoid your place. So long as other individuals / flocks don't take their place...

    I've noticed that the big male black squirrel that I plunked a couple of times doesn't even venture onto my front yard anymore. Maybe he's frustrated by version 4.0 - or maybe he remembers how badly bruised he's gotten the last couple of visits.

    The thing about squirrels is that they are very territorial and will guard their turf. I've seen that big black squirrel put the chase to others looking to move in. He tolerates the smaller female and the grey squirrel, but no other black males. My hope is that since he's the only one who learned how to bypass my Maginot line, and since he's still in the neighbourhood, he'll keep others away from even trying. However if I kill the little bugger, or even trap and release him far from here, almost immediately some other will move in and take his place and possibly learn how to defeat version 4.0. For now I'm thinking prevention and education are the way to go. (But I have been wrong before!)


  9. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

    This morning my Sunday bike group finished our ride at my house and I served a pancake and syrup brunch.

    As can happen with such groups, they asked me to read / tell one of the stories from my book.

    Rather than doing so I told Engineer v. Squirrel as written above. They seemed to really enjoy it - at least judging by the applause afterwards.

    It's a keeper - if Too goes ahead.

  10. Babs

    Babs Queen "B"

    Bravo, Jeff! If it transpires, I look forward to another book of yours. I am almost finished with the first one.

    We gave a copy to my brother, Mark, you met him at Zing's 50th party, he has commented on it a couple times. He is enjoying it very much.
  11. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

    Babs, once again thank you for the great feedback - and encouragement!

  12. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

    An update to this thread...

    While I now have sufficient story ideas from which to write another 300 page book, to date the urge to do so has not struck. And make no mistake: unless I really want to, unless there is a true desire to do it, it likely won't ever happen. I'm looking for fun, not work!

    Having said that, I do have the desire to do some writing so I will probably (without certainty) occasionally write up a story and post it here for your (free) reading pleasure. I've got two initial ones in mind. Tell you what: you get to choose which one. But all you get is the title. Just post a reply with the title you want done first, and when (if) I get around to doing one, the one picked most often will be it. Sorta like a comedian asking his audience which favored skit to do, except you've never seen the skit. (Ok. Bad analogy!)


    Biker Strip Club


    The Gator Drop

  13. Flint

    Flint "Do you know who I am?" Superstar

    I'd love to read more from you. Have you considered contributing to a journal magazine?
  14. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me


    Not since I retired. But I certainly would if it would be fun doing so!

  15. Flint

    Flint "Do you know who I am?" Superstar

    I can imagine you could do like the great authors of old and publish one story at a time as you write them and get a few bucks from the periodical (think The Atlantic or New Yorker) then retain the rights to put them all into a book once you are have enough.
  16. Zing

    Zing Retired Admin Famous

    Bike Strip Club seems to have comedic gold written all over it.
  17. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me

    My favourite author / essayist Stephen Jay Gould did exactly that.

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