Tough Nuts to Crack

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.

“Admit it – you think I’m cute.”

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.

Bring it…

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.

I’m going about this all wrong.  I need something stronger.  Do they sell nuclear bombs at Wal*Mart?

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.


Ricky Gervais, the English comedian, once said, “the only reason I work out is to live longer so I can eat more cheese and drink more wine.”  Maybe he was thinking about me when he came up with that one.  I like a glass of wine, but my love of cheese borders on the unhealthy.  Every time I pose for the camera and “say cheese!”, I’m salivating instead of smiling.  I must be part mouse.

23 - copious

Cheese came into my life at an early age; probably true for most of us.  A kid’s meal was a single slice of Kraft cheese sandwiched between two pieces of Wonder bread, mayonnaise or Miracle Whip for the glue.  The cheese was technically “pasteurized processed cheese product” – infused with enough preservatives to sit in the frig for a decade and still taste the same.  Like margarine.  Or Twinkies.

By middle school I was making my own cheese sandwiches, with real cheddar cut straight from the brick.  You could make the slices as thick as you wanted, and it was a great excuse to wield one of Mom’s biggest kitchen knives.  One time though, the knife slipped from the cheese to the knuckle of my ring finger and the result was a small scar I still carry to this day.  It’s like my little badge of courage, only for cheese.

When I discovered the wonders of grilled cheese, there was no turning back.  We had this little cast-iron sandwich maker (the precursor to the panini press, I suppose) that would imprint a clam shell on the bread as it grilled the sandwich.  Like I cared about an imprint, but it was a convenient excuse to crank out dozens of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Eventually I was adding Monterey Jack to my omelets, a spicy Mexican blend to my quesadillas, and handfuls of Mozzarella to my homemade pizzas.  I was consuming copious amounts of queso.  Cheese became its own level on my personal food pyramid.

Several years ago, in a particularly cruel twist of fate, I developed what I think was an allergy to cheese.  Every time I ate a little Swiss or Ricotta my lips would puff up to the point where they didn’t look like lips anymore.  Picture a blowfish minus the gills.  No amount of antihistamines would bring me back to normal.  It was like God waving a big white flag and saying “Dave, the (cheese) party is OVER!”  Mercifully, the allergy went away and my cheese consumption returned to its previously unhealthy levels.

Trivia time-out: If you sample every variety of cheese ever made – one a day – it would take you more than five years to get through them all.  Dang.  My lips would explode.

My taste for cheese has become more refined in recent years.  I actually sort through and sample all those little blocks you find at your supermarket deli.  I’ll pair my cheeses with a nice wine for an overly elegant appetizer.

On a recent trip to Estonia, my wife and I visited a small dairy farm that specializes in cheese and yogurt production (our tour guide was appropriately nicknamed “cheese angel”).  We bought an entire wheel of Gouda, just because I thought it was cool to have a “wheel” of anything.  Shreds and slices, blocks and bricks; now entire wheels of cheese.

The U.S. is the world’s leader in cheese production, at more than 5,700,000 tons per year.  You could pave a very long, very wide, yellow-bricked road to Oz with all that Provolone.  I’d call us the “big cheese” of the world’s producers, wouldn’t you?  Speaking of the U.S., Vermont has what may be the country’s only “cheese trail”.  40 dairy farms and cheese factories are networked on a back-country circuit of highways that covers most of the state.  Many farms operate on an honor system, with free samples and help-yourself purchases.  I need to go to Vermont.  Tomorrow.

If I’m looking for an excuse to continue my copious consumption, they say cheddar, Mozzarella, and some varieties of Swiss and American help prevent tooth decay.  But they also say without your gall bladder you’ll have a hard time digesting fats (like cheese).  So I need to take care of that little guy.  And there’s my reason to work out.