By Lois Winston
Beatrix Potter made us think that squirrels were cute. Most homeowners and gardeners would disagree. A recent conversation with some writer friends reminded me of an experience that proved how deviously cunning those little critters are.
Years ago, our next-door neighbor was hosting a large celebratory family dinner. The interior of her home had recently been painted and new carpeting installed. The dining room table was set with her good china, crystal, and silverware.
It was an early October afternoon with a bit of a nip in the air. They hadn’t yet turned their heat on. The husband decided to light a fire in the living room fireplace to take the chill off the house before their guests arrived. Within a few moments of the logs catching, black smoke began to billow into the room. Thinking he’d forgotten to open the flue, he swung open the glass doors to check. Out scampered an extremely angry and sooty squirrel.
The squirrel proceeded to run throughout their house, leaving black paw prints on the carpets, furniture, and dining room table. By the time the homeowners were able to shoo the squirrel out of the house, the damage was extensive.
It turned out the squirrel had been building a nest in the chimney. The next day, a chimney company arrived to install a cap on the chimney to prevent any further squirrel incursions.
A few days later, my husband was walking into our house and noticed a squirrel with a large twig in its mouth scamper down our magnolia tree. As my husband watched, the squirrel ran up our chimney and disappeared. A minute later, he reappeared, minus the twig, ran down the chimney and up the tree.
My husband went into the house, opened our fireplace doors, and discovered a nest in progress. He called the chimney company to arrange for a cap installation, but it was a Friday, and we’d have to wait until Monday. Throughout the weekend, every time the squirrel deposited twigs in our chimney, my husband removed them. You’d think the squirrel would give up and move on. Not that squirrel. He was tenacious. He’d just continue to chew off twigs and deposit them in the chimney.
Two days after our cap was installed, I noticed the chimney company truck parked in front of our other next-door neighbor’s house. That darn squirrel had decided to stake a claim on our street, and he wasn’t about to give up. He kept moving from one house to the next.
Was he eventually successful? I don’t know, but I began to suspect the squirrel was female and eventually gave birth to a litter of squirrels. She then taught them to build nests in chimneys. I came to this conclusion when I noticed more chimney repair trucks than usual in our neighborhood the following spring.
I had seen videos of squirrels who had been trained to waterski. I have to wonder if the owner of the chimney company hadn’t trained that squirrel to build chimney nests to drum up business for his company!