On March 3rd, I woke up to this text:
My default is living in gametime mode, even when there’s no gametime. On March 5th, I arrived at The Farm with the family to quarantine.
We walked in the door and I immediately heard the footsteps across the kitchen ceiling. I froze in focus. My German Shepherd ears extended. My ears were literally three inches from the ceiling of this circa ~1865 farmhouse.
Where is this critter going? How quick? What size feet make that sound?
Breathe. Impulse control.
With that breath, I accepted another unplanned reality—having another “family” quarantining with us at The Farm. I told the boys to be on the listen for critters running between the 1st and 2nd floors. Refocused, we unpacked the rest of the car.
The next night, priorities of protecting my family shifted again. We had just sat down to dinner, when my wife, Babette tells me she heard something run toward the bathroom. I froze. Ears up. Staring at each other with silence and listening. I heard it again.
Targetted. The creature was in the bathroom behind the wall next to this old circuit breaker with already detached wires. Then came the sound of the top front teeth of a large vermin gnawing on old wood and wires. The vibrations reminded me of the “heavy impact” drill dentists give an extra warning about.
These animals had to leave. We were safe from COVID but chewing on live wires results in a burning old farmhouse. Failing wasn’t an option.
In gametime situations, my decisions are simplified.
Do I relocate or exterminate?
I’d prefer to relocate them.
First off, I grew up roaming this property, mostly alone since age five. This place taught me about my maker, the reality that I am a creature in this world among many creatures, and there is a cosmic alignment and respect between all of us that I call “Nature Karma.”
This property is in Lenape territory on the top of a Pocono mountain close to the Delaware River. “The Farm” as it’s now called was last commercially used in the 1950’s to grow Black Angus Steer. My father, the beloved county pharmacist for 30+ years, seized the quiet opportunity to purchase this property in 1969 with a back of a napkin bank loan. It’s no longer a working farm. In any case, nature karma or not, I’m the caretaker now, and I hate dealing with dead animals.
What would it take for relocation?
Recon was activated immediately. Over the next four weeks, I learned we had a squirrel family, their feeding and “work” schedule. They were out from literally dawn to dusk. Not too different from my work schedule.
The point of egress was found. There was a hole where the old and less old additions meet.
Without thinking of larger ramifications, I focused on shutting down this Grand Central Station. I clogged the hole with spray foam and rocks. It worked immediately.
I walked in the house a champion. Babette handed off five-month-old Hannah Banana as a trophy.
And then another unforgettable sound stopped me: squealing desperation. Now, we had crying babies separated from their mother.
Nature Karma—here it is. Another decision. Allow for relocation or do nothing and extermination happens by closing awareness.
I gave Hannah back to Babette and opened the hole. Their rush-hour comfort returned, and the babies were fed.
Trapping started mid-March. I had three havaharts. The bears mangled one.
That’s how I learned not to leave feeders or traps with peanut butter out overnight.
Another trap was too small. I was down to one.
My Rube Goldberg strategy was to use the bird feeders to seed the traps. I placed the trap with it’s mesh metal holes under the feeder with the black sunflower seeds. These seeds were like Reese’s peanut butter cups for squirrels. As the early morning birds ate, the seeds would shake free into the trap below.
Once caught, they were relocated down the hill, across the highway next to the river. They would have to frogger back home if they wanted to return. Over the next month I got most of them.
We were down to three. Two “toddlers” and the mother. James, my 10 year old, came in and interrupted a training I was leading to let me know we got “mama chungus.” He was right.
As I picked up the trapped mother and marched to my truck to continue Operation Relocate, she squealed a sound that once again stopped me.
While still holding the trap in my right hand, I looked down and saw this creature’s belly. This mother was holding onto the top with her four paws reaching for the corners. There were eight teats, ready for use.
Creature to creature. She had mouths to feed. Without much thought, I put the trap down and let her out. This is Nature Karma, and Operation Relocate was never ending.
How much bandwidth and overall energy will I have to sink into relocating these squirrels?
Did they know I was also balancing keeping my family healthy and growing, finding time to work and giving Babette time to do what she needed?
I started to reconsider relocation over extermination. I was hearing the loud voices of “You are man. This world was given to you. Own it. Next time you catch the animal, stick the trap in the water.”
In early April I had found another point of egress. This family stopped using the original entrance when I flooded Grand Central with foam and rocks. Their entry was now through a vent in the back of the house. With recon cameras repositioned, I watched the remaining squirrels come and go.
Using zip ties and some chicken wire, I covered their back door. Over the next week, I would open their door in the morning and close it after they went in.
Finally, it was time. These guys were big enough. I needed this energy and focus invested elsewhere.
I tightened the vent closed and kept the camera about five feet away. The trio returned. I could sense anger, but after a few minutes, they accepted their door was locked.
What happened next amazed me. Here’s what they did upon recognizing they had outgrown their farm house.
- They accepted reality and looked around.
- They seemed to have recognized they were being watched. Next they went for the cameras.
- Their actions turned the cameras around to face the other way. The cameras weren’t knocked down; they were turned 180 degrees.
I could take it as an FU or a thank you. I’m going to choose to see this as an acknowledgment of respecting creature-to-creature Nature Karma.
Operation Relocate was a success. I was up there protecting my family from the early uncertainty of Covid. Spring 2020 created many challenges, value-defining decisions and personal growth. These squirrels gave me a powerful reminder that we are creatures like they are creatures. They protect and feed their young like we do.
What if you saw yourself as a creature, a human creature? Just because we don’t live around dense forests doesn’t mean we aren’t creatures with our own habitat. We are creatures. No matter where we live, whether it’s on a farm in the woods or New York City, we aren’t just part of nature; we are nature.
That’s why Concept #1 in StoryWatch is looking at humans as human creatures. Exploring this gives us the ability to deconstruct ourselves so we can reconstruct how to become and get what we really want.
Cheers to 180 degree turns! (Thanks Key!)