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Archive for November, 2022

November Harvest

The squirrel scrambled up the screen barely finding any claw purchase at all.  It glared at me through the polished glass and screen wire, with its un-worded accusation:  Where is my food? What’s wrong with you?  I sat useless, not serving either myself or the small accusatory beast, lost in remembrance.

What came back was a 2002 Roanoke valley November having bought a pretty little row house that set back from the street secreted behind a massive row of pink azalea bushes.  I managed to buy the old residence when the time was right and moved in trying to prove that I could do it on my own.  It was a small triumph every month writing the check, addressing the bank envelope and popping it in the mail, a testament to my independence.  But then came the rest of the story.

When the furnace quit, there was no way I could get it fixed.  My response to the problem was to search the internet for a log splitter, a little one that could operate off a portable generator, right in the living room close to the fireplace.  That would let me feed the fire conveniently.  The only problem then was to find logs that might be split.  I had already found the perfect Stihl chain saw, a small one that I could woman-handle.

The early net was rife with advice on how best to use a chain saw without suffering personal mayhem.  My city lot was deep and heavy with mature second growth timber that could be harvested to keep a person warm.  I set about doing it.  But as it played out, cutting them down was a scary proposition.  I talked my son Dale into helping me fell one that was way too close to the house.  We snagged a branch with a rope and urged the sawed tree to fall in the desired direction.  It worked, thank God, and ended up on the ground without loss of limb or life.

Dale brought his monster lumberjack saw to bear on the situation, and I ended up with a whole collection of split-ready logs stacked next to my fireplace.  I set to splitting the rounds and feeding the hungry fire.  It was operating a citified situation as if it were a countrified one.  I worried about having to cut the next tree, but shouldn’t have.  Fortune took care of the quandary in the form of a neighbor’s great poplar tree landing on my bedroom roof during a windstorm.  It didn’t break through, and even if it had, it wouldn’t have clobbered my head since I had gotten up and gone to brew something warm in the kitchen.  Event-uality took care of me all around, and when the aggressing neighbor came over the next day offering his State Farm information, I smiled and turned him away.  I asserted that if he would just give me his tree, all would be forgiven.  Dale and his saw paid another good-son visit and soon the entire tree sat in 24” split-ready lengths on my side of the property line.  My splitter worked like crazy, and soon the tree was history.  I began rolling the second tree, one log at a time, into the front door and onto the hearth for splitting.  It felt wonderful making my way through the winter without a furnace.

The bank was happy to take almost all my money every month.  It didn’t care that there was hardly anything left for food.  I bought rice and beans that when cooked together made what was supposed to be complete protein.  But I missed meat.  Hypoglycemia was something that couldn’t be ignored.  I had to be careful about how I handled carbs, and needed some actual protein.  The place was over-run with Eastern Grey Squirrels, smaller than West Virginia’s red ones, but fat and healthy, scrabbling up and down all the oak trees in our neighborhood, searching for and hoarding the acorns that dropped in endless staccato profusion.

The fluffy tailed rodents seemed to be a reasonable answer to my quandary.  I had hunted their red cousins in West Virginia, even skinned, gutted, and dismembered them.  They were edible food.  But this was Roanoke City in Virginia.  The squirrels were surely protected by metropolitan ordinance.  And besides, I had no rifle.  Even if I obtained one, the first shot would have brought the municipal keepers of the peace down upon my offending shoulders.  If I were to harvest the meat from my trees it would have to be with a Have-a-Heart trap.

Ace Hardware filled the bill.  The traps came in several sizes.  I picked one that would accommodate local beasties and packed it home for some small game hunting.  It was a three-dimensional rectangle of woven wire with one end secure and the other end a spring loaded one-way door.  The entrance was propped open, allowing access to a bit of enticing bait, that when grabbed released the mechanism that held the portal ajar.  The door snapped shut with the creature inside, its mouth full, and determined to get out at all costs.  That wasn’t happening.

The first squirrel I caught was a cat.  It was pissed, disgusted at me for having made him spend his night of pussycat foraging inside a wire cage.  I let him out.  No harm done, but he was not likely to come visiting again.  The very next night netted a real squirrel.  Success!  I took the caught critter inside and puzzled over how to get it out and into the frying pan without getting bitten.  This was different from shooting a live animal and rendering it instantly docile.  That squirrel had teeth—big ones.  What to do?  I filled the downstairs bathtub.  When it was near full I set the cage down into the water and fled.  I couldn’t bear to watch the little creature fight for breath.  I stood in the kitchen and cried.  Several minutes later I crept into the death room and retrieved my game. It was awful.

I didn’t hesitate, or I would have ended up wasting my squirrel and his dear precious life.  The least I could do was to make him part of mine, however fraught with remorse.  I separated his little body into all of its parts, dusted them with seasoned flour, and simmered them, bubbling in oil, in my iron skillet.  I watched the smooth muscle crisp into something tasty and crunchy, hoping it had been worth it.  Spoonsful of peas and carrots balanced the feast, and there was a meal.  I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was a way to stay alive.

Several grey squirrels succumbed to my Have-a-Hart until some trespasser stole the trap.  I asked around the neighborhood, and nobody confessed to the larceny, but my logging agreement neighbor, having passed the story on to a big-game hunting friend, came back with an offer to share some of last year’s killed, frozen, and freezer-dried booty.  I accepted with a modicum of grace and managed the rest of the season with carbohydrates in peaceful balance.

Twenty years later, having landed in a senior housing apartment that doesn’t allow bird-feeders due to the mess, I am haunted by frightful squirrel recollections.  The guilt oppresses as the memories replay: squirrels drowning in my tub.  I must pay for my sins, and how better than arranging a daily platter of seeds and cheese and dried fruit and placing it out on my little balcony for a family of Cincinnati squirrels to squabble over.  They see me inside the siding-glass door and wonder if I can be trusted.  I can’t.  I may look like a nice old lady who hands out munchies to good little rodents.  I’m not starving, but if I were—there’s always the squirrels.

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