For the Sake of the Squirrels


"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
- the character of Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird

When I was in high school, my friends and I went up to a cabin near Tahoe for some fun and relaxation. It was awesome.

This could be a post about how while we were there we read great literature, such as Harper Lee's masterpiece, but actually, it's about how we shot all the bluejays we could find, in a manner of speaking.

The quote above, which the kids and I came across the other day since we're reading that book outloud, put me in mind of bluejays and how annoying they can be, which reminded me a story from our Tahoe vacation over 20 years ago.

The cabin had a back deck, which looked out on gorgeous woods, full of deer, birds, and squirrels. Among our provisions, we had a large bag of peanuts in their shells, and we thought it would be fun to share those peanuts with the squirrels. (We are much more ecologically-minded now, and wouldn't dream of feeding animals in the wild. Those were reckless days, indeed.)

We scattered a few peanuts along the bannister of the deck, and sat back to watch the little creatures come to feast. A few tried. But the mean and selfish bluejays always beat them to it. Horrified, we watched as the furry little grey guys got beaten back time and again by a flurry of winged blueness. Come to think of it, it was not unlike watching the boys beat out their younger sisters when a bowl of popcorn is on the line.

We, being the social justice minded people that we were, thought this was unfair and unacceptable, and we decided to teach those bluejays a lesson. So we found some thin string, cut several lengths of it, and spent precious time tying one end to the peanuts and the other to the banister. Again, we sat back and watched. This time, a bluejay swooped in ahead of the squirrels, grabbed a peanut, and flew away, only to reach the end of the string length and have the peanut pop back out of its beak and fall away. All we had to do was pull the string up and replace it on the banister, and the scene would be repeated. Many tried; all were thwarted.

We entertained ourselves for hours. And we really pissed off those bluejays. It was beautiful retribution. Who knew that confused birds could provide such hilarity? (Had I known what a luxury it was to have that kind of time to waste, good God, I hope I would have put it to better use.)

I don't think the squirrels ever did get to eat. But we had a great time, and I like to think that by thwarting those grabby birds, we were in some small way taking a stand against their ugliness and greed.

We didn't shoot them. But we did what we could.

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