With my 32-foot aluminum extension ladder affixed to the mossy side of a big oak and trusty chainsaw in hand, I slowly begin my ascent. A tree surgeon buddy once told me that about 90 percent of all tree-cutting accidents involve a ladder. Not wishing to add to that statistic, I anxiously climb higher and higher. Yes, anxiously.
Why hasn’t my wife come outside to tell me to be careful or talk me out of this? And why am I shaking so?
When I was a kid, I used to climb trees much loftier than this and never stopped to give it a second thought. On this occasion I have to pause well above 25 feet and glance down, looking for any sign of the patron saint of squirrels.
Where is my wife? She’s probably rifling through important paperwork looking for that life insurance policy of mine.
I then ask myself that all-important question: Is it really worth risking my life to rid our home of one pesky squirrel?
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. This story actually begins about three months earlier.
Sprawled out in my living room on Christmas Eve, watching Hammy the squirrel in my favorite animated movie, “Over the Hedge,” pay homage to the Great and Powerful Steve (yes, “Steve’s a pretty name”), I hear “pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump.” The unrelenting beat resembles a rolling flat tire being acoustically equalized by the lack of insulation beneath our hot-tin roof. My pooch pals and I glare at the ceiling as a real-life mad rodent DJ is mixing up sounds similar to eight tiny reindeer scurrying along the rooftop.
Hammy says, “Steve is angry!”
The offending critter has to be one of my wife’s beloved squirrels.
God only knows why she feeds those pesky tree rats that regularly damage to my tomato garden each spring.
She launches a preemptive strike to disarm me from responding with animated violence. “You are not going to pop that squirrel with the pellet gun. Besides, you’re not much of a sniper,” she warns in her best Dirty Harry voice.
I don’t have to sit here and let her take shots at me — do I?
I want to channel my inner Arnold and reply with, “Stand down, sister, The Verminator is on the job.” Instead, I fire back with: “I’m not planning to shoot one of your dad-blamed Sciurus carolinensis, Annie Oakley,” sounding a bit like Granny Clampett.
It’s hard to admit, but she really is a much better shot than me.
As I often do, I procrastinate in dealing with the pesky varmint. Every morning before sunrise and every evening after sunset, I grow accustomed to “pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump.” All five dogs, including our deaf and almost-blind 16-year-old Chihuahua, have joined the rodent’s band with off-beat barks and growls worthy of “Who Let The Dogs Out?” And the enthusiastic Chihuahua has nary a clue why she is barking.
But what was funny the first 200 times is now annoying.
Weeks turn into months. As March rolls around, the canine-tree-rat band finally receives its first royalty payment and I discover a hole chewed through the soffit at the roof peak where the intruder sees fit to use my weather vane to pole dance its way into my attic.
Time has come for the Great and Powerful Steve to devise a clever plan to outwit, outplay and outsmart my fuzzy-tailed nemesis before he chews clean through my house wiring and causes an electrical short that would reduce my modern-day Cracker shack into ashes and dust — lots of dust.
The tiny trespasser’s entryway is just too difficult to reach without a bucket truck. Even my Spider-Man-like climbing skills would be no match for the steep-pitched roof.
After three months of thoughtful strategizing, my cartoonish plan really is not all that well thought out. In the midst of reconnaissance, I notice several boughs stretch above the roof that our squatter squirrel may be using to travel to and from the home. I’ll just remove the limb route this ornery treetop transient is using to get to the house. The suspect tree is just outside the bedroom door leading to the backyard and the limb in question is close to 30 feet skyward.
I am ready to put my seasoned plaid-shirt skills to the test.
“I’m a lumberjack, and I’m OK.
I sleep all night and I work all day.”
But I digress. (And even if you know the song, please ignore the last verse.)
With my wife still absent except in my thoughts, I now stand quavering nearly atop the ladder. I place my trusty Secret Squirrel chainsaw against the lengthy bark-covered appendage. It begins gnawing away at the branch until gravity finally takes over.
But the best-laid plans of squirrels and men sometimes go awry.
A slight miscalculation causes the longer-than-expected limb to hang up as it crashes onto my bedroom skylight. The limb, tethered to cable-size muscadine vines, creates a more perfect suspension bridge from the tree to the house.
The back door flies open and the reigning Supervisor of Squirrel Relocation already has launched into her assessment of the situation.
“What are you going to do now, Paul Bunyan?” she spews with her two front teeth bared.
After a few seconds of serious reflection, I opt for biting my twisted tongue and decide to willingly accept her slings and arrows as an old testament to my superhuman strength and most awesome tree-cutting skills.
When all else fails, break out the Come-a-Long winch and rope to carefully wrest the branch off my thankfully still-intact skylight. I lasso the wayward limb, tie the rope to my Come-a-Long and begin ratcheting. With each sturdy crank, the huge limb inches forward.
What happened next left my wife in stitches, and I just avoided needing some, too.
The tethered tree limb comes sliding down the steep-pitched roof, creating a vegetative landslide that crashes onto my decorative gazebo that I had built to surround my hot tub. This unforeseen maelstrom leaves my hand-doweled, western red-cedar structure smashed into hundreds of pieces. My resplendent work of art now resembles a pile of pick-up sticks.
With the aroma of cedar filling the backwoods air, these words from “Apocalypse Now,” spring to mind.
“It smells like … victory.”
And the Great and Powerful Steve stands defiantly on solid terra firma, shaking his mighty fist at the not-so-hidden squirrel kingdom above and offering an uncharacteristically strident warning.
“Someday this war is gonna end.”