I FEEL ABOUT squirrels the way Ronald Reagan feels about communists. They lie, cheat and steal. I had my strongest fellow- feeling with him when I looked out my window and watched them scurrying about on missions of sabotage, subversion and other evil.
Alas, this current of understanding was fatally jammed when I read a New York Times account of springtime at the White House. The president, Maureen Dowd reported, gets walnuts from the Park Service to feed to the squirrels.
It was information I could not handle.
Why, I have asked myself a hundred times since, would he do it? Who would seek out squirrels, give them handouts, encourage them to hang around?
To me, it was as astonishing as if he had announced he was having the Sandinistas in for supper.
Obviously, the president does not understand the squirrel menace. Today it's walnuts; tomorrow it's the Oval Office. When his back is turned they will dart in and start pawing through his papers, running up the curtains, hiding in the fireplace. Does he not understand that squirrels are the Brezhnev doctrine in fur? Once they take over, they never leave.
I speak as one with bitter first hand experience.
Take the bird feeder war, which I lost. I like to feed birds. I like to see how long the gorgeous, spoiled male cardinal will eat before he allows his mate a crack at the table. I like to watch the the nearsighted mourning doves groping and stumbling their way to the seed.
But squirrels, who are as singleminded as Soviets and just as much opposed to enjoyment, would not have it. They climbed into the little feedboxes, which were attached to the window by suction cups, and gorged themselves, while the birds sat on nearby trees looking on glumly.
Every morning started with a scene, me banging on the window with a bottle opener and yelling at them. They would give me a blank stare or jump off the ledge for a few seconds, then leap back. Sometimes I would dash out in the snow to chase them away. This greatly amused them and made me late for work.
I took steps. I put the feeders so high up I could hardly reach them. The next morning, the squirrels were furiously flinging themselves against the window trying to bat down the boxes.
They glared at me between leaps. Serves you right, I said smugly. The birds were frightened away by the gymnastics. Nobody got anything. That's the way squirrels like it.
Finally, of course, they won. I came out one morning and saw that the feeders had been knocked down and were nowhere in sight. I found them later; the squirrels had hidden them in the ivy.
Dwight Eisenhower was much more my kind of president in his relations with squirrels. He liked to practice putting on the White House lawn, and the squirrels knew that, so they dug up the turf and ruined the green. He, too, took steps. He had them trapped and transported to the Maryland countryside. There was an outcry from the nature lovers; the squirrels, as ever, had the last laugh.
Let me tell you what the squirrels did to my garden. They do vindictive landscaping, you know.
My garden isn't much, but they see me spending a good deal of time over it, and they made it their Afghanistan.
I plant daffodils. They do not require a green thumb, they do not droop and pine like other plants I know. They have their own support system and do not go to pieces if you forget to water. This year, their ranks looked thin. A friend who frequents the apartment one floor above finally explained to me why.
"There's a wonderful clump of daffodils halfway down the hill," she said. "Why did you put them there?"
I didn't I said, and instantly I knew. It was the squirrels.
They had dug up the bulbs from my plot and replanted them half way down the slope, where I could not see them.
They also dug up the hyacinth bulbs from one of the two beds in front of the building. They know I am chairman of the garden committee of my condominium, and they knew how embarrassed I would be. They only did one bed, so that on one side we had a good show, and on the other, a few bedraggled tulips. I am sure they were snickering in the shrubbery as people sniffed about slackness in the garden committee.
And our president, the expert on evil empires, gives them walnuts.
I have a friend who owns a large, overwrought springer spaniel, who feels about squirrels as I do, and keeps his property free of them. I want to hire Prince the way the Reagan hired the contras to do in the Sandinistas. Proxy war, I know. But that's what you're driven to.
I do not despair that the president will one day sit down with the Soviets. Anyone who likes squirrels will deal with anyone, I tell myself.