Saturday, February 14, 2009

Outwitting Squirrels!

Our book today is Bill Adler's immortal backyard nature classic Outwitting Squirrels, which can be considered the tactical and strategic equal of such seminal military manuals as Sun Tzu's The Art of War or Clausewitz's On War ... except that in Adler's tense, vigilant world, there's always the added danger that his readers might eventually come to think of their adversaries as just too cute, which, needless to say, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz never had to worry about (although we've seen it here at Stevereads).

Adler's great theme is that a man's backyard bird feeder is his castle, and his Moby-Dick weighs a pound. There is a low-boil mania simmering throughout this great book (potential readers who've steered clear of it because they think it's a topical how-to manual are robbing themselves of enormous pleasure - this is a book you'll read over and over with increasing pleasure, even if you've never owned a bird feeder or fed a squirrel), a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and the little guys who want to steal the birdseed the forces of light just spent good money on. Life's conflicts don't get more elemental than that.

One of the most satisfying pleasures of Outwitting Squirrels is the schadenfreude of watching his endless war drive Adler, shall we say, a little nuts:

It was time for heavy artillery. I bought a squirt gun and blasted the squirrel every time he came near the feeder. Naturally, this meant that I didn't get much work accomplished, but so what? War requires sacrifice.

And although the book rates a wide variety of commercial bird-feeders on the market in 1996 when the updated version ("Revised and Even Craftier") came out, assessing each for its ability not to feed birds but to repel squirrels, anybody who's ever watched Saturday morning cartoons will be able to predict the winner in most of these encounters:

So there we were: a standoff. Yes, I know, it wasn't exactly a standoff. Actually, the squirrel had won. The electric current idea seemed more attractive than ever, and I even went as far as visiting my local Radio Shack to explore the various paraphernalia, capacitors, more bell wire, waterproof batteries - that would make it work. It was tempting, but deep down I knew that even though the squirrel would be only scared, not electrocuted, by such a system, it wasn't right. Besides, despite my best efforts, I might accidentally zap a cardinal.

I was angry! Frustrated! Not since college, when one of my hallmates stole my towell and room keys while I was in the shower, had I been outwitted by a creature with a brain the size of a walnut.

According to the cover copy of Outwitting Squirrels, the League of Squirrel Voters declares Bill Adler "our Public Enemy Number One," and certainly the feeling is mutual, since the book sports chapters with titles like "Advanced Antisquirrel Stratagems," "The Unbearable Persistence of Suirrel Appetites," "Know the Enemy," and, tragically, "What to Do if You Think Squirrels Are Cute." And the prose inside those chapters can be pretty heated stuff, as you'd expect from a man who knows his enemy so well:

Squirrels have only one thing to do all day long: eat. Practically every activity they're involved in concerns food. Their physical makeup allows them to be perpetual eating machines. A mere 2 percent of a squirrel's energy goes into making babies. Just about all of the remaining 98 percent focuses on food. Your food. Squirrels are land sharks, living eating machines.

If Adler is aware of how accurate that line "practically every activity they're involved in concerns food" applies to a certain other species, he keeps it to himself. And in the meantime, the war goes on.


F-Stop said...

Awwww, that's just the cutest little face I've ever seen on Stevereads...

Why do birds get all the good press. They're kinda creepy, all made up of flesh raking and eye gouging body parts. At least squirrels can be distracted from evil by throwing a few acorns their way. And I've never gotten a squirrel caught in my hair.

Jeffrey.Eaton said...

I'm going to need some anti-squirrel advice soon. My fiancée wants to grow tomatoes on our roof and she knows from past experience that squirrels wait until the very day before the tomatoes are ready to be picked before taking one bite out of each (they don't actually like tomatoes, you see, they just forget immediately after tasting one).

Chemically treating the tomatoes in something like pepper spray doesn't work and is a dubious solution from square one. I assume caging in the entire tomato garden is the only sure-fire solution, though I would prefer to not run afoul of the zoning board when my makeshift, PVC-pipe greenhouse goes blowing away in a thunderstorm.

Steve, is Bill Adler's book too focused on feeders to help me?

Sam said...

My mom used to have a feeder propped on a metal pole. To thwart the squirrels she would grease the pole with butter. There was nothing more gratifying to the soul than watching a squirrel leap upon the pole and then, claws scrabbling and with a look of wide-eyed astonishment, slowly slide down it to the earth.

Of course, after two or three slides, the pole would be degreased and the squirrel could get at the feeder. But still...!