My wife and I live on horse property here in Colorado: flat, open acreage with high-desert grass in all directions. When you’re out in the pastures it can feel like you’re alone on top of God’s green earth. But make no mistake; there’s a bustling world just below the surface. Every day it seems, one or more of our eight billion ground squirrels darts out of a hole, stands at attention, and gives me the cold-eyed stare down, as if to say, “you think this is your property, huh?”
Okay, so eight billion ground squirrels is a bit of an exaggeration (let’s go with seven billion). And they’re not really our ground squirrels (although some definitions of real estate would disagree). The fact of the matter is, we’re cohabitating with tons of rodents, and I often wonder which of us is in charge.
To be clear, we’re not talking about prairie dogs (the larger members of the squirrel family) nor chipmunks (the smaller), but rather those gregarious in-between’ers with the bold racing stripes down the back. Ground squirrels have short tails, beady eyes, and perky little ears on top of smallish heads. They forage for nuts and seeds (of which we have precious few) or insects in a pinch, and they can dig holes like champs. Ground squirrels rise up on their hind legs in an instant when they sense danger, standing straight as a board and totally aware (an annoyingly cute habit). They vanish into the earth with an alarming screech when they sense the slightest movement.
But I digress. I’ve seen enough of these little furballs to know who’s responsible for the Swiss cheese look of our land. I saw one of them disappear down a hole once, then pop up fifty yards away mere seconds later. And damn these little critters are bold. One time I was looping the lawn on my John Deere ride-on mower when a squirrel stared me down from right there amongst the blades until I practically ran him over. Picture that famous photo of the Tiananmen Square protestor in China; the one who refused to back down from the approaching tank. That was me and the squirrel.
We have an understanding, the groundies and I (or so I thought). I willingly cede them the pastures while they keep a distance from the lawn and patio. Their holes are too small to cripple the horses, and it’s not like we have a grove of walnut trees just beckoning them to the buffet. But the lawn? Now that’s sacred territory, friends. I used to think my lawn had a force field around the perimeter, keeping the ground squirrels at bay. No longer. I recently discovered two of their holes smack dab in the middle of the green. In an instant I was thinking, “payback time, you, you rodents, you”. I grabbed a big coil of garden hose, thrust the nozzle down one of the holes like a big ol’ snake, and turned on the water full-blast. Then I watched the other hole with a smirk, waiting for my little traitor to come flying out atop a geyser of water.
Alas, Old Faithful never happened, not even like you see in cartoons. Thirty minutes of fill-‘er-up and then I gave up and turned off the water. Not only did I not flush out a ground squirrel, I didn’t even fully flood wherever those holes led to. Which got me to wondering, just how big is this underground Habitrail? Can you picture one of those sand-filled ant farms you used to get as a kid? Is the foundation of our house resting precipitously on a network of squirrel tunnels and my water-dousing only accelerating its collapse? Let’s hope I don’t tumble out of bed one night and wonder what just happened. I will admit to this: a little while after me and the garden hose, I was at the kitchen sink when a groundie popped right up from one of those holes in the lawn. He didn’t even look wet, but boy did he look pissed. He stared right at me through the window with his beady little eyes, as if to say, “YOU. You killed my family”. Nah. More likely he was saying, “nyah, nyah, nyah – you didn’t get me”. Probably stuck out his teeny-tiny tongue while he was at it.
I’m not one to take up arms, but ground squirrels have me thinking about a BB gun. I’m just an average shot but the little critters make easy targets with their stand-and-freeze habits. Maybe I could fashion a coat out of several dozen squirrel pelts and parade around the(ir) pastures. But seriously now, how many BB’s would it take to make a dent in our Chip ‘n Dale population? Ten thousand? Twenty? For crying out loud, that’s less than one-quarter of one percent (of seven billion). The squirrels seem to be winning.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.