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Squirrel versus man

After 20 years of jumping from one apartment to the next, I now have a backyard and all the trappings that accompany it, including a variety of birds. So I bought a bird feeder. That triggered the opening salvo in the battle of squirrel and man.

I've never owned a home before. I've never even owned a car before. My biggest expenses of the past 20 years have been an engagement ring and an iPhone. But my wife and I bought a house a few months ago — a small home in a D.C. suburb close to the metro. After 20 years of jumping from one apartment to the next, I now have a backyard and all the trappings that accompany it, including a variety of birds. There are drab-looking sparrows, bright red cardinals, and curious gray chickadees. So I bought a bird feeder.

That triggered the opening salvo in the battle of squirrel and man.

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A man's journal of his back yard is a window into the Lehigh Valley's changing environment.

A squirrel effortlessly scurries straight up the 4-foot shepherd's pole, reaches out to the base of the feeder and hops over. He feasts. I send out the infantry: my aging dog. That provides a few fleeting moments of peace while I strategize. My first countermeasure woefully underestimates my opponent. I simply grease the pole. If squirrels laugh; they were certainly enjoying a hearty one.

This adversary demands an unconventional approach. I search the barracks for a more worthy defense. My daughter's slinky. Ingenious. I promptly secure it to the pole, let it drape down and return to my outpost. There it is again. The sound of squirrel laughter.

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The weight-activated system of this feeder prevents damage from squirrels. It can be hung or pole-mounted and has a removable roof peak for easy filling.
The weight-activated system of this feeder prevents damage from squirrels. It can be hung or pole-mounted and has a removable roof peak for easy filling. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It's now time to dust off the big guns. Enter Google. This can't be the first time man encountered squirrel. A squirrel baffle! Essentially a dunce cap to wrap around the pole — a metaphor for my intelligence or the squirrel's? Time would tell. I keep the enemy at bay for two days with a healthy mix of infantry and loud clapping until my reinforcement arrives via Amazon Prime shipping. The baffle works. But it turns out the pole is simply a convenience. They can jump the four feet from the ground to the base of the feeder.

Two days later, I'm negotiating a 10-foot box through the threshold of my new home. In that box is a nine foot shepherd's pole. Cue my mother-in-law, witnessing the struggle: "They have a pea-sized brain. You still haven’t outsmarted them?" Thanks Susan.

I have a soft spot for red squirrels. If you have conifers like pines and spruces, there’s a chance you may have them.

I wake the next morning to the sound of a squirrel hovering now nine feet above the ground, feeding his swollen belly. Chuckling. At me. I send out the infantry, call her back, and then wait for my nemesis to return to engage in a reconnaissance mission. He returns, but doesn’t even approach the pole. Instead, he climbs halfway up a not-so-nearby tree, launches himself 10 feet through the air and lands directly on top of the bird feeder. Now they can fly. Thanks Darwin.

Strange things happen in the fog of war. Things I'm not proud of. On paper, it sounds vicious. But again, it is the fog of war. I purchase spikes that I intend to secure to the top of the feeder — their landing pad. When the spikes arrive two days later, I realize it's wrong. Or perhaps I just realize that I don’t want to un-impale a squirrel.

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I've now fortified the tree with sheet metal, rendering it difficult for my adversary to traverse it — but not impossible. And so the battle continues. In the end, this former apartment dweller is grappling with the reality that the cost of purchasing a home could eventually pale in comparison to the cost of defending it.

Brandon Levitt is an attorney; his email is BRLevitt@gmail.com.

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