I AM LOSING THE war against the squirrels. I had hoped since I last reported from the front, in June, to report total victory. In fact, I was on the point of announcing that we were all about to enter a new age where the birds would feed in peace, and we could all turn our energy and emotion to tax reform or the future of the whale.
Alas, instead, I am at Dien Bien Phu.
My recent dispatch brought forth considerable response from other people who feel about squirrels as Ronald Reagan feels about the Sandinistas. Retaliatory options poured in. Some of them were of a technical complexity beyond my grasp and one of them was literally shocking.
A woman from Chevy Chase wrote that she and her husband had gone nuclear. They had rigged up copper tubing on the roof of their bird feeder and wired it into the house current.
"The bird can sit on the perches with impunity, but the squirrels sit only once," she writes. "The zap they get sends them flying into the air."
Of course, it was just a prescription for wimpy liberal angst. You know how we blanche at the thought of capital punishment. Besides, if anybody is going to be electrocuted by any charged copper tubing I might be involved in, it wouldn't be a squirrel.
My cousin Katherine wrote from North Carolina. She is a deeply believing woman, but she hinted that God had taxed her patience somewhat by creating the squirrel. Her husband, Ray, a graduate engineer, had come up with a contraption that involves a Christmas tree stand, a lamp standard and an inverted wastebasket. They sent a sketch, showing spooked squirrels and grinning birds.
A gentleman in Washington hurls old tennis balls at the critters. A woman from New Hampshire, who had suffered the loss of endless bulbs and flowers, fires potatoes at them -- she isn't sure why, since she always misses.
All but one of my readers exuded wholesome hatred, but from Dearborn, Mich., came a reproach from a terminally smarmy woman, who said she felt sorry for me because I am not like her, "a lover of all creatures, not just some."
She is of the tribe of Ronald Reagan, who feeds them. She gushed about "furry brown lovable little guys" for whom she leaves goodies on her apartment grounds. One thing completely destroyed her credibility. Some of the squirrels, she said are "a little shy." I never saw one that was any more shy than a state trooper about to deliver a speeding ticket.
Early in July, it was breakthrough time. My friend Frank, who has a strain of St. Francis of Assisi in him and takes pity on the oppressed, presented me with the ultimate state-of-the- art squirrel-proof birdfeeder. He had won it in a raffle. It was the last of its kind to come from the hands of a master craftsman in New Hampshire, who had to quit because of the high cost of production.
With great ceremony and many witnesses, he installed it on a tree outside the dining room window.
I have never seen a handsomer object. It is rectangular in shape, with redwood at the top. It has a glass panel, behind which is stored the bird food. In profile, it looks like a wayside shrine. But its technology is most cunning. When anything heavier than a bird lands on the perch below the glass panel, a little chute falls down, cutting off access to the eats.
I settled down for the day of reckoning. I dreamed of advising all victims of squirrel aggression and terrorism that liberation was at hand, of giving the Yankee inventor such volume that he could afford to stay in business.
So much for my dreams. The first patron was a particularly obnoxious black squirrel. He sat on the end of the redwood top, bent over in the attitude of Rodin's thinker and glared angrily around. Various of his shy siblings made desultory leaps at the tree trunk. I enjoyed it.
But after a day or two, I noticed that the marvelous contraption was attracting only sparrows. Oh yes, I hear the lady from Dearborn telling me, I'm a snob. It's true. I like a bit of color.
I consulted my neighbor, Jim, who lives above and works for the Federal Aviation Administration. He likes anything that flies and feeds birds winter and summer. His usual clientele is still with him; he dropped a few names -- chickadees, cardinals, crested titmice. Maybe, he said darkly, there was a colony of cats under the parking lot.
My next-door neighbor, Marie, said cardinals prefer sunflower seeds and kindly gave me some. I carefully put them at the front of the trough. I tied the bag up and left it out. The next morning there were no cardinals and the squirrels had untied the bag and strewn the seed all over the grass.
The squirrels chewed up the redwood board in their fury. They left deep toothmarks. Now they've left town. But so have the birds. Were they kidnapped, threatened, brainwashed?
I don't know. I've put up the white flag.