For our dog Zora, spring and fall are full of yearning. Each cusp season, she becomes a quivering, drooling, yowling mass of desire. She desires cats. She desires birds. She desires the mail carrier. But what she desires most is squirrels. Whatever constellation of breeds she’s sprung from has programmed her to believe she will actually win a squirrel. Any day now.
Training for the big day involves a regimen of smearing the glass with her nose to track squirrels in the backyard, whine-singing a song that will lure them to her, hurling herself at the fence they like to traverse, and going in and out twenty times a day to monitor the premises. There are also hours of daintily gumming a stuffed chipmunk she’s had since we got her five years ago. Other toys roughly approximating real animals have died quick deaths in a blaze of stuffing and plastic parts. But Chippy is very precious –she would never fully ingest it. Chippy’s squeaker is broken. Chippy is also missing an eye and part of an ear, and looks a little an object used to foreshadow murder in a bad horror film. It makes me wonder what she’d actually do if she managed to catch the real thing.
Zora spent the first month she came to live with us wearing a muddy track from the mimosa tree to the telephone pole to the gate to the garden in the backyard. We’d just redone the landscaping, which she destroyed. Her sole quest was chasing gray squirrels, especially a pair that came to play every morning about the same time. One day I came home to find the three of them faced off, Zora crouched at the base of the telephone pole, the squirrels immobile, noses touching, fifteen feet up. No one moved for three hours.
At our new house we also have squirrels, red ones, who make their gray cousins seem lazy and stupid.
It wasn’t long after we moved in that we met the new object of desire. Arturo. He’d come calling mid-morning, squatting by the back door while eating a sunflower head from our garden and looking at us through the glass. Which is to say he was very close to the glass. So close he used the window as leverage to extract seeds, never taking his eyes off our lives inside. This, of course, was a thrilling new development for Zora, who could somehow hear him no matter where she was in the house. Arturo would stay an extra beat, watching her smash herself into the glass, frothing at the mouth, just on the other side of his nuts, before he’d scamper off the deck and up into the oak tree.
Although I do often name things when I get the itch (We have a lamp called Celeste, I’m not sure why. My truck’s name is Stella. John’s mountain bike’s name is Jolene, as in please don’t steal my man…), I’ve never named a squirrel before. I don’t know why Arturo is this creature’s name, except that he is VERY distinct. He is easily the largest squirrel I’ve ever seen. I mean, almost the size of a small house cat. Despite his girth, he’s fast enough to still be alive, savvy enough to dodge all my attempts at taking his photo, and very decidedly the boss of this territory.
Arturo still comes calling every day, to the delight and crazed desire of Zora. On the deck we’ve left an acorn squash that fell out of a shopping bag, one he quickly helped himself to, so he’s got extra inducement to make an appearance. He’s clearly getting enough to eat. He’s bigger than ever, even for a squirrel preparing for winter. I’m a little worried about how much more weight he can gain and still get the job of squirreling done.
Lately, he’s taken to sitting up on the fence near the deck. Other squirrels in Arturo’s posse hang out there too, though not when he’s there. In pairs usually, they run along the fence, making a chittering racket, doing a snake-charmer thing with their tales, dancing squirrel hip-hop with their back feet.
Arturo is always alone. And he never does any hoorahing. He just sits. His posture is much the same as the sunflower seed window squatting, but his safer vantage point gives him extra time to taunt Zora. Seemingly unperturbed, he eats, unblinking, languorously, while Zora throws herself against the fence beneath him, begging him to come down.
From the kitchen window the other day, I watched Arturo sitting on the fence, surveying the yard like some kind of mob boss while he consumed an entire chestnut. It was a long squat, even for Arturo. Maybe he’s got henchmen to deal with the Red-tails and Cooper’s hawks that troll the yards around here. Maybe he thinks he can take out any house cat that crosses him. It’s hard to say.
But he was clearly feeling very comfortable, because hanging down and resting against the fence was his massive nut sack. I had no idea male squirrels could possess such impressive jewels. But they there were, huge and hairy and disproportionate to his frame, on display as if was a rodent porn star.
I’m not going to contact Guinness Book of World Records or anything, though a quick online search tells me I’m not the first to be stunned by squirrel genitalia. Arturo’s junk puts every photo I saw on the interwebs to shame, though. Also, according to Uncle Google, red squirrels are supposed to be smaller than gray squirrels, and they’re more territorial than most species. They store their booty in caches crammed with nuts, called middens, which are usually in the middle of their territory. I’ve seen Arturo win some impressive arboreal battles against smaller squirrels. It seems safe to say that our yard is Midden-landia for him, and if it’s true that he can live up to 10 years or more, Arturo’s here to stay, nut sack and all.
I don’t know how old Arturo is. This season could be his swan song. And it’s not all about love and admiration. Days when I know he’s been mucking in my garden, gleefully digging up garlic bulbs when there’s plenty of food if he’d just climb a damn tree, I’m tempted to get a bb gun. Not that I’d be able to hit him. He’s far too crafty to get taken down by the likes of me.
Still, out of love and respect, Zora and I could help him lose a little weight by both chasing him, maybe help prolong his life. After all, we are in his territory, and until one of his minions can figure out how to arm wrestle him out of it, Arturo’s the boss.