There’s a squirrel in the chimney.
We heard him scrambling around for the past couple of days, little sounds near the ceiling at first. In days of yore squirrels who entered chimneys could just scramble up the stones or bricks and get out the same way they entered, but modern chimneys with their smooth metal sides do not allow this easy exit. He can’t go up unless we drop a rope down the chimney so he can crawl out – still an option I’d like to explore. But Anne wants him OUT, so we’ve put a big plastic tote in front of the fireplace (it just fits!) and two spans of cardboard on the side to back up the mesh screen so he cannot bust out the bottom and enter the room. The idea is that he would drop in through the open damper, make his way into the plastic tote, where we would slam the lid down on it and take him outside and release him into the wild – or at least the woods behind the house. I opened the damper, and we waited. And waited.
He’s slowly making his way down the enclosure, his tiny claws scratching the metal sides as if to announce his progress. Every time we think he’s going to make his way past the open damper and into the fireplace, he fools us. Anne doesn’t believe he’s been going in and out, that he’s been stuck in the smooth metal-lined chimney, and now he’s worn out from the struggle. She’s sympathetic – much more sympathetic to the squirrel than the big black snake that wandered into the house last summer. Oh God, let us not replay The Uninvited Snake Scenario again! My son Will finally captured it and took it off, but the less overall alarm Anne has to go through, the better.
I have this dread that any moment now, a grimy half-starved rodent is going to storm into the firebox, tear his way past the mesh screen and the cardboard held in place with antique irons, and panic his way around and around Anne’s tidy living room, painting the furniture, carpet and walls – and Anne and me – with his fluffy soot-filled tail.
At some point we’ll open the patio door for him to escape, but one of the known Laws of Squirrel Behavior is Don’t Take The Obvious Route Out. No, climb the curtains first; knock over books and lamps and framed photos while you’re at it. Squirrels follow this rule religiously. It’s on the list right after Run Into The Street Right After You See A Car Coming, and its addendum Stop And Stare The Car Into Submission Before Going On Across The Road. There’s also laws that governs the head games squirrels play with excitable dogs – points for making it bark, points for making the dog fail to notice when it leaps from tree to tree, points for the number of times the dog tries to climb up the trunk after it. Apparently if the squirrel can make a dog run headlong into a tree, it wins the game.
So we wait, Anne and I, wondering why we haven’t heard him chatter as squirrels usually do. But then what would he be saying? “Why the *#^ did I listen to Squeaky and Beanchewer? This isn’t a fancy tree. I’m going to have to plead rabies if I ever get back to the nest.” Every now and then we hear a loud thump and scratching, as if Squirrel is still trying to climb his little Everest. I heated up a cob of corn fresh from the freezer, and placed the cob in the back of the plastic tote. The plan is to let the smell of steamed corn waft up the chimney flue to entice the animal downward. After all the times the local squirrels have beaten back birds from the seed feeders and the ears of corn and the peanut-butter-laden pine cones we set out on the patio, you’d think a fresh ready-to-snack-on corn cob would be just the entree a squirrel would come running to get.
I have to go to work in four hours, you little bastard, and I have a feeling Anne is not going to like having her living room redecorated in Squirrel Print if you make your appearance in five.