Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 7, 2012

The squirrel whisperer

Dan Graves
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — I know that, due to a previous column, some will think I’m fixated on squirrels.

That’s not true, but the little varmints seem to be dogging my every footstep. With the return of colder weather they’re back at the bird feeders and I’m expecting to start dreaming about 400 pound fox squirrels gnashing their long fangs at me while I try to run with feet that weigh a ton.

Maybe I’m suffering remorse from those times years ago when I occasionally brought one of them home for dinner, not as guests, but as the main course. Now, it seems I can’t get away from them.

Recently, Judy and I decided to take a mini three day vacation, mainly to get me away from being down on all fours at the door to the patio, barking as the miscreants stuffed their jaws with at least a dollar’s worth of bird seed. With no goals in mind we decided to tour southern Indiana with Vincennes as the first stop. Years ago I packed a sleeping bag on a motorcycle and took a tortuous trip along the same route. I wanted to re-visit the spot on the Wabash river where I set up camp and spread my bag on an ant hill. For fun and adventure, try removing a million hungry ants from your clothing and bedding at midnight, in a semi-public place while dancing around shouting “OUCH”, “OOOWWW”.

By now exhausted from riding a cranky antique British motorcycle, I moved downstream a few yards and spread the bag again. Then I heard the sound of a tiny bugle and the tramp of thousands of little feet as the ant battalion formed up and marched my  way, their leader calling cadence, their little jaws snapping in anticipation. Again, I broke the public indecency law, emptied my drawers and the bag, packed up my gear, left at 1 a.m. and rode south to Princeton and a few hours of ant free sleep on a picnic table at their local park.

In Vincennes we visited the George Rogers Clark Memorial, a tribute to Clark who captured the British Fort Sackville with his army of 170 frontiersmen and Frenchmen. Adjacent to the memorial is The Old Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, the oldest congregation in Indiana with the first log structure built in 1748 and the foundation of the present structure being laid in 1826. The interior is quite impressive and the basement is the site of the crypts of the four bishops of Vincennes.

I learned that St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. While in the church I silently prayed that he would strike down all the ant colonies along the Wabash river.

After a visit to The Indiana Military Museum, an impressive collection of military artifacts of wars from the Civil War to the Persian Gulf, we drove south on highway 41 to Princeton, then east on old highway 64 to points unknown. Late in the afternoon and with rain falling we arrived in Huntingburg, a quaint little town with a pristine main street lined with small restaurants and the one thing that draws Judy like a revenoor to a moonshine still. ANTIQUE SHOPS!

With no local accommodations, we drove four miles south to Jasper, spent the night and returned to Huntingburg the next morning. Roaming aimlessly through the first store I finished my shopping quickly (who wants to spend money on old things that someone threw away years ago?). Standing at the front widow I watched a young lady run across main street, burst through the door and say, “There’s a squirrel in the antique shop across the street. We can’t catch it Can someone call the town hall and ask if they could send help?”

Town Hall? Suddenly antiquing might not be so dull after all. Five minutes later a patrol car arrived, its lights flashing as a young officer got out and went into the shop. I’ve got to see this, I thought. In a small alcove room in the back containing old furniture, three people and the officer were shoving furniture around while one gentleman held a blanket over the doorway, hopefully to snare the little miscreant when it made a dash for it. One lady squealed and ‘Ol Rocky came shooting under the blanket and headed toward me as I stood in the aisle. I thought about stepping on its tail as it shot by but quickly figured that I couldn’t spare the foot I would probably lose to a frantic fox squirrel. It dashed to the front of the store where it was scrabbling at a front window just as Judy, attracted by the flashing lights and commotion, stepped through the door.

“Oh, the poor thing is going to hurt itself” she cried. “Somebody please catch it.”

The lady who ran the store finally managed to snare it under a blanket where it fought to escape. She pleaded with the police officer to grab it but he informed her that he wasn’t about to tackle a honked off squirrel. It squirmed from under the blanket and shot to the back of the store again where it stood in the aisle eyeing its tormentors. Judy, wringing her hands, opened the door and began cooing, “Come on honey, come on. Come through the door.” I couldn’t believe it. The little critter loped up the aisle past Judy and casually ran out into the street where I expected to hear the screech of tires and. a thump, but “Ol Rocky made a clean getaway. Judy will forever be known as The Squirrel Whisperer in Huntingburg.

After the excitement we dined in a quaint little restaurant where we ordered pan fried chicken (it looked like squirrel), mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie for dessert. I expected Judy to try to resurrect the chicken and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it worked. I haven’t changed my opinion about bird seed stealing tree rodents, but I now regard Judy with a new respect. Maybe she can talk them into spending more time at the neighbors feeders.