Janetʼs Pumpkins

Truck bed contents; please compare with list to the left

Right now in the bed of my pick-up, I have :

  • two bags of water-softener salt (ballast for icy roadways)
  • and an old birdbathʼs supporting pillar (also ballast, although it may have to go because when I brake, it just rolls around battering savagely into the bed liner and sides of the truck),
  • along with a piece of plastic sheeting which contains evergreen remnants not used in this yearʼs winter decorating
  • and three pumpkins (which also roll around freely when I drive).

I have been determinedly instructed that the pumpkins are not to be used to make pumpkin pies. Why not? “Theyʼre not the right kind of pumpkin.” The list of things about which I donʼt possess the vaguest iota of understanding increases.

About this point, one might begin to wonder why I should take such an interest in the detritus in the truck bed (and as for actual detritus, thereʼs the remnants of the truckloads of leaves I hauled to the yard waste recycling area last Friday, barely hours before the snow buried our yard seven inches deep). All that stuff, except perhaps the leaf remainders and the winter weights, are remnants of Janetʼs seasonal decorations. The pumpkins are left from her autumnal adornments, the greenery, as I said already, constitutes what she didnʼt need, but paid for, to embellish the house for this festive current season.

The pumpkins, as the title for today may have indicated, comprise the focus of our attention. Janet has loved to decorate with pumpkins, indoors and out, for as long as we have been at our present home. A couple annual visits to the local produce farmer have been a regular feature to our late-summer lives for decades — just so she could acquire up to a dozen variously sized and colored “winter squashes.” These she would place strategically and cleverly in her interior and exterior displays of fall-like stuff. And it was all good (even lugging the sometimes hefty pumpkins from the gardenerʼs sales counter to the car or truck). Until the squirrels attacked.

About seven years ago, The Lovely One noticed a troubling development with her outdoor displays: something had disrupted them, scratching the winsome surfaces of the pumpkins, even gouging out craters — defacing the seasonally contrived bits of beauty. That first year the problem didnʼt go much beyond creating holes in the pumpkins, if I remember correctly. But the next fall was chaos. The trouble-making wild creature opened every pumpkin available, usually just one or two at a time, repeatedly and unrepentantly scattering seeds and innards across the rest of the display and the yard. We made more than one or two trips for pumpkins that year, perhaps five or six, and each time the new pumpkins, within only a few days, would suffer the same depredations and defacements. It was heart-breaking (well, for her; personally I was preoccupied directing the Andrew fall play, not getting home until many hours after dark so therefore not observing the greedy destruction). And that year, the nefarious perpetrator of damage made him/herself known, cockily sidling up to a fresh pumpkin even as Janet watched horror-stricken from the front window, not even darting away when she rapped vigorously on the window, only skittering a few feet off when the perturbed wife exited the house onto the front steps to drive the tiny terror away.

A squirrel! (From the damage done, I would have guessed a whole horde of rampaging, barbarian squirrels, but we never sighted more than the one bold and saucy malefactor.)

two of this yearʼs three pumpkins

An insolent, villainous, impudent, nefarious and shameless squirrel. Who didnʼt even eat the molested pumpkins!

The following year was just as bad — surprisingly because I had been under the misapprehension that squirrels lived but a single twelvemonth. Had the vicious and insulting little tree rodent taught the trick to its equally verminous offspring? Or were we dealing with a super-squirrel, a remorseless and immortal sciurine pest?

Janet tried every remedy available from the laudatory experience and folk wisdom of friends and neighbors to the plethoric superabundance of the Googled internet. She sprinkled red pepper, which our squirrel evidently took for an Hispanic twist, pumpkin salsa. She sprayed the pumpkins with hairspray. She liberally laced the area with blood meal (which never did much to inhibit the depredations by rabbits on our bushes in the back yard, but…) and with ammonia, and even let me spray the pumpkins with bug poison.

All to no avail.

The little critter got even more daring and boldfaced in its vandalism, once going out of its way, when we attempted to scare it away from the pumpkin display, to leap into a tree via one of her other autumnal exhibits and deliberately knocking that arrangement over as it kicked off up the trunk.

It appeared that the squirrel was taking a personal joy in frustrating and defeating The Lovely One, who nevertheless continued to clean up the widely spattered messes, procure more pumpkins, and repair her displays.

The ultimate ignominy occurred over a weekend we had been gone. Arriving home, even as we pulled the car into the garage, she instantly realized the pumpkins by the house had again been despoiled. Heading right to the orange globes of goodness to verify her suspicion, she found the paramount insult… The squirrels had left her a note! It was only semiliterate and not particularly clever (but then a rodent brain is none too substantial), saying “Thanx for the treats, Janet” and, I believe, requesting a better quality of pumpkin in future.

We were both outraged to think that fellow humans, someone from the neighborhood, rotten kids, apartment-dwelling and cigarette-smoking laggards, demonic students, deranged old folks from across the way, whatever, had actually contributed to the devastation. And then thumbed their noses through cocky, pseudo-sciurine epistles! (We didnʼt learn for months, nearly summer of the following year, that the note actually resulted from her puckish old friend and niece to our neighbors, Nina, who in visiting her relatives learned of Janetʼs plight and thought of the prank to play.)

In the long war between the Martha-inspired beloved wife and the diabolical rodents, the squirrels had at least temporarily won.

2010 was the first year following that fatal fall that we had tried actual pumpkins outdoors. In the years between, since that ugly autumn, Janet had avoided squashy decorations altogether and then acquired some ceramic imitations of the real things to use. However, this fall she elected again to try real pumpkins (at least one outside, I think two), and except for a very late-season scratch on one of them, nothing bad happened. Has super-squirrel expired at last?

Now I just need to find a good time to dispose of the malingering curcubitae at the (steep and icily hilly) vegetative recycling spot…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

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