I may have a new reason to quit smoking: squirrels. Stupid beady-eyed, bushy-tailed, acorn-pilfering squirrels. Not what you were expecting? Me either.
It all started with a bad blog post. I was trying to make an ill-conceived idea work and was stuck. I figured a break would do me good. I would sit outside on my back deck, soak up some sunshine and nicotine, and head back inside reinvigorated, if not a bit buzzy.
I knew I shouldn’t have been out there. I’ve been trying to quit smoking for awhile. It’s a stupid, disgusting and expensive habit, but I justify it because I don’t smoke a lot – less than a pack a week. It’s just something I like to indulge in from time to time because it makes me feel young for five minutes. Then I spend the rest of the day feeling asthmatic and sick.
It doesn’t help that our deck is the perfect place to smoke. It’s flanked by two huge oak trees, providing plenty of shade and the opportunity to watch the birds and squirrels carry on the way birds and squirrels do from a comfortable distance. Usually. Nature was about to get uncomfortably close.
I heard the chirping first. It sounded friendly and cute so I looked over and saw three squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of the left tree. At first it seemed like they were just having a good time, like a rough and tumble gang of young neighborhood boys looking to mix it up a bit. Aww, how adorable, I thought. I love being so close to nature.
But then their chittering got more aggressive. I realized the squirrel being chased had maybe gotten himself into a spot of trouble with the other two, and shit was starting to get real.
The squirrel was partway down the tree, right where the trunk lines up with the deck railing. He looked at me. I looked at him. We both knew he had one of three options – under, around or through the deck. The deck I was sitting in the middle of. I paused, cigarette halfway to my mouth. Please, lord, not through me.
He chose under and I let out a wheezy sigh of relief.
Relief was fleeting, though. The other two squirrels followed him and now all three were in the right tree directly behind me. I could hear their chirps and their little squirrel claws scraping the bark, but I couldn’t see them. It was terrifying. They sounded like they were level with my exposed neck. Then the chirps and scraping stopped. I slowly turned my head and once again I was eye-to-eye with one of the little thugs. He stared at me, sniffing the smoke in the air (somewhat judgmentally, if you ask me). I got the distinct impression that if he moved, it was going to be through rather than under.
I stood up quickly, practically knocking over my chair, but not dropping my cigarette. The clatter scared him, and he scurried off into the yard, the other two tailing him.
Feeling like they were at a safe distance, I sat down to finish my cigarette, keeping a close eye on the yard.
Then I heard more chittering and scraping from the left tree again. Four more squirrels were scurrying around the trunk chasing each other. Jesus. I now had seven squirrels darting around the yard, scaling the trees, and running under the deck in a dizzying circle of aggression. It was like a squirrel fight club out there.
One of the little jagweeds put a tentative paw on the railing and took a few steps, preparing to scamper across it like Mary Lou Retton. Another one was brazen enough to take the steps up and onto the deck, within inches of my chair. They were closing in on me.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a squirrel had tried to intimidate a member of my family in our own yard.
A couple of summers ago, my husband was outside playing with our two daughters when a squirrel ran out of a tree and started racing toward them. He stopped inches from where they were playing, hunkered down and lunged at them, doing that maniacal chittering thing the whole time. He chased my family all the way around the yard to the front of the house, where my husband shepherded my two crying children onto the deck. They were cornered there while my husband frantically fished around in his pocket for the house keys.
Even after they were inside, the squirrel stood out there on the steps, going apeshit at them like a crazed maniac. My husband called animal control, thinking maybe the squirrel had rabies. The lady said squirrels don’t get rabies. Apparently our squirrel was just an asshole.
So there I was, on our deck, the insane squirrel posse surrounding me. Did I put my cigarette out? No. I jumped up, finished smoking it and then rushed back inside. Who’s the crazy one?
Now I’m running out of places to smoke. My deck – once a sanctuary where I could sit with my nicotine-filled smoky treats and try to connect with nature – is now a place of dread and fear. Nature has spoken. In less than five minutes, those squirrels might have accomplished what no black-lung ad campaign or the cries of my children has. Or maybe I could just smoke in the garage.