“Enjoy your berries and vodka, and your “wee beasties”. That was one retirement wish amongst many referring to ”wee beasties” (OK, and a lot referring to vodka and berries). The point was, I was known for my love of the wee beasties. My tree-rats, striped-back rats, Poo Hays, Blinkys, and Tuxedos. Normal people would read that as squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, mourning doves, and chickadees. Maybe not so much the Blinkys and Tuxedos, but mostly the Tree and Striped Back Rats and a particular Poo Hay.
I retired 1.5 years before the wife because, I was born 1.5 years before the wife. So I had 1.5 years on my own to do things around the house, which I did. One of those things was to attend to the wee beasties. I’d get up with the wife @ 4:30 a.m. Have a bit O’ breakfast, see her off, and excitedly start my day. Usually, it started with a shower, then a check of the e-mail to see who still loved me from my old workplace. I’d watch a 1/2 hour TV show called “Departures” about two Canadian lads who travelled the World. Then I‘d do the dishes from the night before. By then it would be daylight. If the weather was bad, I’d have a project to work on inside. If not, I’d be out the door, and that’s where it started.
True Blue was a blue jay. In the early days, I used to marvel at how he seemed to know exactly when to show up at the back door for his breakfast of peanuts. Then, one day I was keen to finish painting the fence so I was out before daylight, setting up. As dawn broke, I heard the distinct CLUNK of a blue jay’s feet on the balcony lantern. It was True Blue, and he didn’t see me way off against the West fence. I watched as he gyrated about trying to look through the back door, down the hall. When that didn’t locate me, he flew up the balcony railing to see if I was still in bed. Failing that, he flew over to the bathroom window to see if I was in the shower. That was all dark, so he took off around the front of the house to check the TV room (I assume). Then I saw him fly around the South side and suddenly drop out of the sky. I kinda figured that was him tapping on the basement/computer room window when I was down there reading e-mails. He eventually came back around to the balcony lantern and started screeching. He knew my daily routine, and in the correct order too. I stepped up onto the deck and told him to shut up as I went to get some peanuts. He continued to screech and howl even with a crop and a beak full of peanuts minutes later. True Blue had a brother who sometimes followed him around. I called him Blue Poo. Together, I called them “The Blues Brothers”. By Summer I had True Blue trained to fly out from a perch, and catch peanuts I threw into the air for him. By “trained” I mean he learned to snatch them out of the air before they hit the deck and the chipmunks vacuumed them up on him.
One day, I spotted True Blue on the lantern under the balcony, unusually late in the day. I stepped out and offered a peanut, but he just stayed crouched down and warily peeking up around the balcony. He was hiding from something. Then I noticed not a sound or motion in all of Sanctuary. Predator ! I leapt up and dropped both feet heavily on the deck which is usually sufficient to scare the crap out of any cat. True Blue continued to cower. I couldn’t see anything out of sorts, so I waved my arms and screeched like … well, something meaner than an urban predator. Then I saw it, a hawk on a branch less than 10 feet away, looking at me with intense interest. “How interesting is THIS you Sonofab!tch” I howled, lunging for the garden hose gun. Setting the nozzle on Jet while doing a Sylvester Stallone tough guy roll, I leapt to my feet. Screeching like a banshee, I held the gun sideways, (‘cause, it really looks cool when you do that eh?), and squeezed the trigger. Water everywhere, except anywhere near the hawk. But did it impress the beasties ? You bet it did. The water hadn’t finished dripping off the branches before everyone was back chirping, squawking, chasing each other around, and of course, begging for peanuts. I walked back to the door and glanced up at True Blue. “You OK Bud ?” I asked. He tipped his whole body down 45° and turned the right side of his head toward me. He stared at me from his right eye for a good 5 seconds before making a gurgling sound and dropping down to retrieve the peanut I’d offered him when I first came out. From shoe level, he stopped and stared at me again, then quietly flew away with the peanut.
Perhaps this is a good place to explain our naming criterion. “Poo-head” is a term of endearment, and is reserved for buddies who’ll take food from your hand. “Crap–head” is a buddy who won’t run away, but will come close to retrieve food you drop for him/her. A “sh!t-head” is an untrusting loser who’ll run away in unholy terror whenever you open the door to offer him/her food. It’s all about … trust. I call it the trusting game. Many are the times people have said to me “Oh, but it’s just a little tiny creature”. Well, so’s the one who just took a peanut out of my hand. It’s all about trust, but then, isn’t everything ?
Conquistador (Con for short)
So named because of his pure white, almost silvery chest, much like a conquistador’s breastplate. Our neighbour Diny, and the wife sometimes called him “Squire” because … well … apparently he was hung like a raccoon. You can well imagine where the ladies’ heads were with that nomenclature. I, on the other hand never looked at a tree-rat’s nether regions thank you. Con was huge (no I don’t mean like that you perverts !). He was truly a magnificent example of a rodent. The biggest, gray squirrel I’ve ever seen before, or since. He always looked freshly washed and brushed, without a single scar or imperfection. A truly magnificent creature with an even more impressive sense of dignity and honour. Yes, I’m talking about a squirrel here.
In True Blue’s eye’s I could see recognition, but in Con’s eyes, I saw intelligence. I sometimes called him “Gentleman Jim” as he would stand on his haunches, towering over the other beasties, waiting for his turn at a peanut out of our hands. Con would stand there while the smaller beasties (other squirrels and chipmunks) would look up at him as though asking permission. He’d look at them, and then sit back as if to show he would wait for them to finish first. And from our hands was the only way he would take peanuts. If I were to throw a handful on the deck, he’d walk right over them and stand at my feet awaiting a peanut from my hand. He knew I kept the biggest and best peanuts in my shirt pocket for special poo-heads like him, but my point is, he knew that.
Chipmunks (aka – striped back rats or SBRs) can actually stuff 3 full sized peanuts into their maws. They stuff one down into each jowl, with a 3rd across the front. Con would have nothing to do with such greedy and gluttonous behaviour. He’d gently reach out for his ONE peanut and after positioning it perfectly in his mouth, he’d respectfully refuse any more and make his way across the deck to hide it somewhere. He likely had a numbered Swiss account he kept them in. He was that smart. I once gave Con a peanut while my “across the street” neighbour Rick was complaining to me about the stench of rotting peanuts under his back deck. “Someone’s been feeding those damned things peanuts, and I gotta put up with the stink” he told me accusingly. He was just kidding though. I saw a bag of peanuts on his garage workbench, hidden under an old Autotrader magazine. So I gave Con the peanut and said to him “Now go put this under Rick`s back deck … he likes that“ I assured Con. Rick started growling at him and followed him out to the front yard where Con stopped at the roadside, looked both ways, (I sh!t you not, he really did) and then crossed the street and ran under Rick’s back deck ! A few seconds later he came out empty mouthed, and I just about soiled my drawers laughing as Rick cussed us both down. Another difference between Con and the other beasties was that he walked like a dog or cat. He didn’t “bound” and “boingy-boingy” away like tree-rats do.
One day the wife and I were working in the yard on our hands and knees when I saw Con running up the deck stairs. We were both quite busy, so we figured he’d have to make do with choosing a peanut from the bowl we’d left on the foot stool. He climbed up on the foot stool, peered into the back door window, looked around the deck and then, not seeing us, promptly stuffed two peanuts into his mouth ! I stood up and shouted “Piggy !”. If one could ever see shock and embarrassment on a rodent’s face, it was then. While staring at me in amazement, he stretched out his right arm and slapped the 2nd peanut out of his own mouth. He ran away without looking back (which he always did, as if to say thanks). We didn’t see him again ‘til the next day.
From time to time I’d hear a tree-rat squawking up in the tree. I learned that didn’t mean aerial predator, everyone went dead silent and hid from them. But ground based predators (aka cats) were (and still are) a constant threat to the very concept of Sanctuary. I cut natural predators a whole lotta slack and usually settle for a scare tactic to keep them away. But domestic intruders are dealt with a bit more harshly. I will heave a rock at them with full intent to cause pain. This may seem cruel to some, but I’ve watched a beastie that I held dear being mauled, terrorized, and tortured to death by a neighbour’s cat while the dizzy b!tch who owned the damned cat sat on her fat ass watching it. I couldn’t do anything because I have a strict policy : What happens in your yard is your business, and what happens in my yard is mine. Imagine watching your cat being mauled by a neighbour’s dog on their front lawn while they watch, and you can do nothing about it. Then imagine what you’d do the next time you see that mutt trespassing on your property. Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me, that’s all I ask.
So anyway, I hear a tree-rat harking away up the tree so I go out to look around. There were the usual compliment of rodents and birds in the yard but no one was paying the squirrel up the tree any attention. Then I saw the cat through the flowers skulking toward the West feeder. I quietly stepped off the deck to yard level and picked up a rock from a pile I keep for just such an occasion. As I cocked my arm to throw it, someone in the crowd on the ground noticed the cat as well. The air exploded as dozens of birds took emergency flight, and at least 7 rodents broke into a dead run to the South. All except Conquistador. He stood up, looked at the cat, looked at me, and ran directly across in front of the cat, straight for me. He ran until directly between my feet, then stopped dead in his tracks, turned around, stood up on his haunches and looked up at me from between my toes. The cat was so intent on Con that it didn’t even see me standing above him. It started “stalking” Con. Crouching low and sneaking along the garden edges. Con just kept staring at it, and looking up at me, staring at it and looking up at me, until the cat suddenly glanced up to see what Con was looking at. As the cat’s eyes widened in horror I could almost hear Con’s Pacino impression, “Say hallo to my leetle fraaaaynd !”. The unfortunate feline, spun and ran in unholy terror straight for the 8 foot fence. He cleared it in one jump. Mind you his ass was smarting and he sported a golf ball sized bruise on it for a few days. I’m not bad with a rock, and even better with a slingshot.
The nicest thing about “wild” pets is that you don’t have to cry when they die ‘cause you don’t know if they did. They just fail to show up one day, and eventually, they fade from memory. But some, like True Blue and Conquistador will remain in my memory, and in my heart, forever.