January 30, 2013

Mark Millican: Driven nutty by a squirrely problem

Disclaimer/warning: This column in no way expresses empathy, compassion, care or concern for the welfare of the four-legged, bushy-tailed mammal known as a squirrel. Regardless of your image of these rodents — and I realize it may be warped for those who remember the innocuous Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon — they’re rats that live in trees, primarily. But I’m telling you — they are pesky, pestilential, obnoxious and objectionable.

OK, OK, some backdrop. If you got married in your 20s or 30s there’s a likelihood you and your spouse each brought a car into the blessed union. But sometimes when people marry in their 50s each can bring a home into the equation. That was the situation with my wife and me. I try to explain to those who inquire where I live now that we’re by no means wealthy. In fact, I was going to try and sell my home in Ellijay after Teresa and I married in 2007, but the more work we put into the house the more she liked it, and that’s about when the bottom fell out of the housing market anyway.

So we’ve got two places, one in Ellijay and one in Varnell, known for its flowing spring and still-standing house (now a museum) that alternately served as a hospital for both sides in the Civil War — and the stagecoach that mysteriously disappeared in the “Blue Hole” one night during a wicked storm in a bygone century.

The next question sometimes asked is, how do you handle the upkeep on two houses? Well, therein lies the rub. We just had our second heating and air-conditioning system installed in three years, so that took some creative financing. But it’s the part outside the homes that takes the most work — lawn mowing and leaf-raking in Varnell, cleaning the roof and gutters at both houses, and still cleaning up after the April 2011 tornado at the Ellijay property (not the same one that devastated Ringgold later that month).

But it’s in dealing with the insidious work of the rodents of the genus Sciurus (notice how that suspiciously sounds like “scurry”) that has proven the most troublesome task. At one point they nested in our attic in Varnell, and even after being run out they continue to try and gnaw their way back inside through the wood exterior.

The low point came a couple of Christmases ago. I had already dragged most of the big boxes of decorations out of the attic, but when I held the stepladder for Teresa to search for a smaller item a squirrel popped out of one of the cardboard boxes up there. All I heard was a scream and then found my wife in my arms as she scurried, er, fell down the ladder.

Their entry hole was plugged up, but they didn’t give up. Every hole that they have chewed into the wood siding I have sealed off with a piece of wire screen mesh that stucco workers use to get the plaster to stay on a vertical surface. This involves climbing way up an extension ladder with its base on uneven ground (I use the little ramps you drive a car’s front tires up on to change the oil to level it out — you guys know what I’m talking about), listening to my wife’s precautions as she holds the ladder, and nailing up the little pieces of screen with plastic-headed nails sticking out of my mouth.

Woe unto me if I fall.

And the pests tore out so much insulation one time we went to the hardware store and bought some of that spray-foam insulation you use around water pipes and floors and such. But it never said in the fine print on the can — or else I failed to read it — that the foam expands after you plug your hole with it. So I sprayed a whole can into the squirrel hole, went outside the next day to admire my work, and found Mr. Gravity had dribbled the yellowish foam insulation all over the side of our brown-stained house from the hole it had expanded out of to the ground. Oh well, at least that side of the house doesn’t face the street.

That did it. At the risk of shooting my eye out, we bought a BB gun. But you just can’t stalk around your own property 24/7. Therefore, a couple of Saturdays ago I found myself spread-eagled on the roof, bending over the eave 40 feet above the ground and nailing up yet another piece of mesh. Using the ladder would have put me right in the midst of 220-volt wires running from the utility pole — the same ones the squirrels traverse like a tightrope — going into the house.

So now we’re just waiting for the next post-Civil War skirmish in Varnell.

Thus far the Ellijay house has been safe from the woodland rats. In fact, when I pull up in the driveway here and see a squirrel I jump out of my truck and give the noxious little beast my best Clint Eastwood dead-eye stare and say, “Go ahead — make my day.”

They don’t dare.

Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer.

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