Holly and I are official Squirrel-Catchers. Our credentials are in the mail, and will be displayed proudly on our mantel next to Liz and Kim’s masters diplomas and my commissioning certificate from Campus Crusade for Christ. (ADDENDUM: I’ve been informed that Holly’s masters diploma is also displayed there – with the sole purpose, I’m certain, of making all guests aware that I am the least educated person in the house.)
Bert the squirrel dropped down our chimney during small group dinner on Thursday evening, two weeks ago, eliciting screams from several group members. Words were spoken that I shall not repeat.
Bert seemed the calmest of the group, sidling into a corner under the cast-iron grate, trapped in an ashy (but fireless) fireplace by accordion-style glass doors.
Amid much word-saying, googling, and concern for our welfare as well as Bert’s, we secured the fireplace by placing the piano bench in front of it, and decided to give Bert 24 hours to vacate the premises on his own.
For unrelated reasons (that caused me to learn how to change a flat tire in a very short amount of time) I ended up working from home the next day, Friday. I sat in the living room, working, listening to Bert’s increasingly alarming attempts to leave the fireplace. He would scramble around, climbing the metal mesh curtains and leaping toward the flu, then drop to the bottom and emit what I can only describe as very frustrated sounds. Poor Bert. But also poor me, since I kept forgetting he was there until an aggressive escape attempt would scare me into almost dropping my computer. In retrospect, I suppose I could have sat somewhere else.
Regardless, Bert’s attempts were unsuccessful. And so, when Holly arrived home from work, we set ourselves to the task of harm-free squirrel-removal.
Holly secured an oven mitt to her hand with a plastic grocery bag over it and placed a large cardboard box in front of the fireplace. I believe that her plan was to gently scoop Bert into the box, while I acted as videographer.
However, because of the grate placement, and Bert’s excellent hiding skills, it was soon evident that “scooping” was not going to be effective.
Also, Bert learned very quickly that he could startle us by doing his climbing and leaping and sounding frustrated routine. And by “startle,” I actually mean I was in danger of wetting my pants every time he leapt toward our faces, brandishing his scrawny tail and rattling the curtains before ascending to sit somewhere on the flu, out of reach of our hands and even our flashlight beam.
After a few more tries, we changed tactics, as any good Squirrel-Catchers do. We chased him up to the flu, and then placed a much smaller box inside the fireplace and closed the doors. Also, since he had been in the fireplace for 24 hours, we put some water in a Cool Whip container and duct taped it to the bottom of the box, hoping Bert’s dehydration would be enough to get him to climb in the box. Then we would open the doors, close the box, and carry him out.
But, as you can imagine, all that really happened was that he jumped in the box, appeared to have a panic attack, knocked the box over (flinging water everywhere and turning the ash to a sticky, glutinous substance), and climbed back up.
Next tactic: nuts. We got some almonds (with sea salt) and set them in the box, leaving it sideways, so that Bert could just walk in.
But while we were doing this, we heard Bert scrambling up above, and then we heard nothing. We discussed at great length whether or not Bert had finally had enough and found the inner strength to make his own escape back up the chimney. Having the same thought at the same moment, Holly and I both ran outside, staring up at the roof and the trees around it.
“Bert!” She yelled, waving her oven-mitted hand. “BERT!”
“If I was a squirrel that just climbed out of a chimney,” I said, “where would I go first?” So, of course, I ran around to the backyard. Unfortunately, there were already three squirrels in the backyard. We conferred and decided quite quickly that two of them were too brown and one too fat to be Bert, not to mention the fact that they didn’t seem at all concerned by our presence. Surely Bert would be scarred by the image of our faces.
There were no signs of Bert.
And then the neighbors pulled into their driveway and started to unload their car, and for some reason Holly got self-conscious and didn’t want to yell for Bert anymore, so we went inside.
Not 5 minutes later, Bert was back, sniffing around the box.
It took several tries. The front glass doors are difficult to open, and whenever we would try to open them to close the box, Bert would fling himself toward our faces and back up the flu.
(At one point Liz and Kim came in and witnessed this flinging, and screamed bloody murder and ran out of the room, where I’m told one of them climbed up on a chair. I say this [mostly] not to embarrass them but to explain how utterly terrifying this experience was.)
I promise, this tale is almost done. You just can’t shortchange these sorts of things.
Finally (with the witnesses safely closed in their bedrooms to prevent further screaming) we gently opened the doors and pulled the mesh curtain across the gap, leaving room for Holly’s mitted arm. There was still a gap near our faces, so I held up a Neat Sheet across the gap to protect us from Bert escaping. But because of that, Holly couldn’t see the box, so I also acted as watchman.
Bert jumped down, and started sniffing toward the box and a fresh pile of almonds.
My legs fell asleep.
Finally, he started to step in.
“Wait.” I breathed. “Wait. Almost there…almost…GO!”
Holly’s mitted hand shut the box, with Bert’s tail still sticking out for a moment, before he yanked it in after him.
I’d like to say that we released him without incident, but unfortunately when Holly opened the box out on the sidewalk, 30 feet from the house, Bert leapt out and ran up the driveway, up our stone path, and directly across the front step. Kim, who was standing behind a closed glass storm door, lost sight of him until he darted across the step right in front of her. More screaming may have ensued.
But after that, no Bert. We closed the flu, cleaned up, and felt proud of ourselves.
We’re pretty sure we spotted Bert a few days later in our backyard, sniffing for acorns. At least, it looked like his scrawny tail. So there you have it. Unfortunately, my role as watchman and face-protector meant that I was unable to video the events. But I shall include a picture.
Holly and I plan to be featured on Dateline.