We found the land for what was to become our new home in October of 2002.
Together, my husband and I went as often as we could to watch the house being built and when his emphysema grew progressively worse, I went alone, taking leisurely drives along Montauk Highway, thoroughly enjoying the beauty of nature as this two lane country road slowly wended its way out to the eastern part of the south shore of Long Island.
Each time I visited I eagerly looked for birds and squirrels, any sign of the wildlife I loved. This beautiful land surrounded by woods filled with old towering pine trees and different kinds of oak trees, was as quiet and unlived in as it could be. When it snowed, I searched all through the woods for any sign of life, but the only tracks in the snow were mine and while it was truly lovely and pristine, I knew I could never be happy until the snow was crisscrossed with the tracks of birds and squirrels.
Of course, I knew that the machinery and the noise might have scared every one away, but permanently? Even when I went out on the weekend, all was quiet. It was so hard to understand because my house borders on a nature preserve.
There were three times I became a little bit hopeful …
One weekend, I brought my son Bobby and his wife Dina to see our new home and we saw a lone squirrel meandering along, but, to be perfectly honest, he looked lost! Then there was the time I saw a crow family and I told myself that at least someone did live here and, yes, of course, I could love crows – now that they are not eating my ducklings! And then one day in late February, I did see fox tracks going down my driveway and into my open basement. Rather ironic, I thought, that my two nemeses from Bay Shore were my first visitors.
And as springtime approached, there were no melodious songs of birds in the trees. All was quiet!
As the moving date approached, I looked through my catalogs for two squirrel munch boxes – one to place on a tree trunk in the front and another for the back. I had always loved my munch boxes and have had them for years. My first one was made entirely from wood but I found that the squirrels in their enthusiasm to get in – particularly the babies who have no patience at all – completely chewed the wood and I had to continually repair or replace them.
With my husband, in the background, continually reminding me that he thought I was really pushing the envelope here I, nonetheless finally found metal ones complete with a “front porch” which fit right in with the style of the post modern Victorian homes being built today!
And, once again, with my husband’s laughter at my eternal optimism ringing in my ears, the very first thing I did when I moved in - after ignoring him, that is! - was to hang my munch boxes and bird feeders. I was absolutely determined to have the wildlife I loved so and I knew I would … it might just take a little time. And, confidently, I had in my garage my 50-pound bag of raw – not roasted – peanuts, all ready for my new friends.
Although it seemed much longer as I waited and waited, constantly checking my feeders which were all still full, in reality, it was only a matter of days before I saw my first squirrel. My husband, as usual, teasing me, and being a city person at heart, kept telling me he thought my squirrel didn’t look too bright. And to make matters worse, every time I opened the door to feed him, he high-tailed it out of here. This country bumpkin was not at all like his Bay Shore cousins who when they heard my side door open, came scampering for the peanuts.
Within a few days, though, he brought two of his friends. The three of them just seemed to be watching at a distance – getting the lay of the land, so to speak - and looking carefully at the birds who by now were hesitantly coming to my feeders. However, seeing the birds happily flitting to and fro did nothing to alleviate their fear. My three squirrels were still terrified of my peanuts and me! My husband, ogre that he tries to be, and just to annoy me, named them “dumb”, “dumber” and the “truly the dumbest squirrel I have ever seen”. Of course, I had no recourse but to defend them, explaining at great length how they probably never saw people, etc, etc, etc.
But the fact still remained that my three stooges were afraid of everything – particularly peanuts. This went on for about two weeks. They acted like the peanuts I put out for them had SARS and they treated me like a terrorist with homemade “peanut bombs”.
Finally, they tentatively tried a sunflower seed or two, some that the birds had dropped under the feeders. I kept telling my husband that they must be young squirrels that were used to eating in the wild. Maybe they had never met a squirrel lover before. And, maybe, just maybe, not living in Georgia, they just didn’t quite know what a peanut was!
I did everything to get them to eat their peanuts. I mixed them with cracked corn and sunflower seeds, placed them in the woods away from me, all to no avail. Finally, in desperation, I began shelling them. All the while my husband laughed … and laughed …
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, one squirrel got the idea, hey peanuts taste good and I knew that was all I needed – he would tell his two friends and I would soon be enjoying their silly antics.
Learning to get into the much box was another thing – my squirrels would sit on the cover and because their weight held down the cover, they couldn’t get it open. So they put their little paws in the tiny opening and, diligently, one at a time took out sunflower seeds to munch on.
Finally, someone figured out that when he/she – I must be politically correct - hung on the tree trunk, their weight was no longer on the cover and they were able to get in. However, their “Victorian porch” was still anathema to them until, at long last, someone sat on the porch and the rest is history. Success at last! Now there is a waiting line!
One squirrel – I call him “the bouncer” - has it all beat. He’s probably the one who figured the whole thing out anyway! He goes inside the box, closes the cover on himself and leisurely sits and dines in his restaurant while contentedly gazing out the picture window. And woe to any squirrel who comes by, the grunts and growls which emanate from inside of the munch box are fierce. However, I think he's found out that this does have a minus side.
One day, as he was comfortably dining, his friend climbed up the tree and when the bouncer lifted the cover of the munch box to chase him away, his friend jumped on the cover. From the house all I could see was a squirrel head limply hanging out the much box while his friend ran back and forth on top. I had thoughts of Detectives Lenny Briscoe and John Munch coming over and I saw a Law and Order episode entitled “Murder at the Munch Box” in the making! I ran out as fast as my arthritic knees would let me – all the while imagining “the bouncer” choking to death while his friend just sat on the cover. Well, the bouncer chased his friend off but he learned never to do that again.
Things were just rolling along – although the three squirrels still regarded me with some, albeit a lesser, degree of terror.
Once the squirrels had mastered the munch box, I put up a corn wheel. This is one of the most fun things to watch as they hang upside down and every which way trying to eat one kernel of corn at a time from whole ears of corn that are screwed onto a wheel. One athletic squirrel does all sorts of death defying tricks but drops half the kernels on the ground where his very smart friend just sits and waits for the manna from above.
Now, my guys have gone from the dumbest to the smartest. It seems they just needed some encouragement after all!
And, they seemed to have told not only their entire families and their entire extended families but also, all of their friends and acquaintances. And, I am very happy too, now that I have squirrels in the trees, in the woods, on my terrace, at my front door – all over – and they all know what a peanut looks like and how good it tastes!!!
The text, all photographs and all graphics on this site
Copyright (c) 2000, (c) 2001, (c) 2002, (c) 2003, (c) 2004 by Maria's Duck