Catching Mr. Nutkin

Mr. Nutkin the Douglas Squirrel
Mr. Nutkin at his outpost

Every wind is fretted by his voice, almost every bole and branch feels the sting of his sharp feet. The Douglas Squirrel, John Muir (1838-1914)


I opened the back door, tossing out a handful of peanuts as I do every morning, and in ran a Douglas squirrel! On the rare occasion, when this has happened before, the squirrel goes no farther than the doormat, does an about-face, and goes right back outside. But not this time.

There was chaos among the pint-sized squirrels. Six of them to be exact, each trying to bully the other, and claim the deck for their own. Anyone who has spent time with these little squirrels knows just how uppity, and territorial they can be. The squirrel wars continued. They quarreled loudly using rapid, high-pitched chatter that hurt my ears. They chased one another in circles, sometimes body slamming the other to the ground. Other times, they would throw their opponent from the deck or spar their challenger like a miniature boxer in fur coat and gloves.

So it was during this moment of squirrel-frenzy that I opened the door and tossed out peanuts. The squirrels, still squabbling, quickly claimed them, all except Mr. Nutkin (named for Squirrel Nutkin, a story by children’s author Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) published in 1903 about an impertinent little red squirrel). He ran inside before I could close the door. Instead of turning tail to run back outside, he thought it more interesting to go exploring. My one thought was How was I going to catch Mr. Nutkin?

Mr. Nutkin, as cool as a cucumber, and as if he’d done this before, went from one room to the next.  In the living room he disappeared for a second behind a chair. This gave me just enough time to close some doors. When I returned, Mr. Nutkin was exiting the living room, and entering my workroom. He was very quiet and casual about it, letting his curiosity lead him through this strange new world he’d just entered. I followed and closed the door behind me. Mr. Nutkin inspected my writing desk, and was now heading for the washroom. I followed, and again, closed the door behind me. Now, I had him!

I tried catching him with a towel, but his fur was as slick as silk, and Mr. Nutkin lost patience. That’s when he turned into a flying squirrel, jumping from the curtain rod, soaring six feet across the room. This he repeated a dozen times. There were moments when I thought he might knock himself out against the wall. Then something funny happened. Mr. Nutkin saw himself in the mirror, which seemed to calm him. His vanity distracted him. Had he had a camera, he would have taken a selfie and posted it on Facebook. I grabbed the closest thing I could, a small, plastic basket, and quickly put it over him. He shouted once, squeak! Carefully, I slipped a towel underneath it to cover the opening, and then drew the ends together at the top. Like a spider in a jar, Mr. Nutkin climbed to the top of the upside down basket and tried to chew his way out. Hurriedly, I moved through the house and out the back door. When I removed the towel, Mr. Nutkin was still gnawing on the basket. (I love squirrels, but really, they’re not the brightest bulb in the pack.) He needed my help. Slowly, I turned him right-side-up, which signaled his tiny brain to react. Mr. Nutkin jumped to the ground, turned and gave me a puzzled look, and then scampered to his outpost upon the woodpile. He was free at last!

Since that wild morning, Mr. Nutkin still comes to the deck for peanuts, and keeps a respectable distance from the door.


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