Flying Squirrel jam
Sunday, September 20 2015
At some point in the night we'd experienced fierce winds (with no evident precipitation) as a cold front blew through. Both Gretchen and I got up late, and, after she went off to her weekly bookstore shift, I went down the Stick Trail to the area where I've been gathering firewood of late (about fifty feet below it) and gathered a backpack load of Chestnut Oak whose sapwood had mostly rotted it way. It ended up weighing 129.65 pounds. At the time, my only clothes were a pair of Crocs and boxer shorts, and the air was cool enough that the only sweat I broke was on my forehead as I climbed the short length of mountain goat path up to the woodshed. As I attempted to split it, my head flew off my splitting maul yet again, indicating that a second attempt to fix it with expensive epoxy putty had failed. So I added a splitting maul to my nascent shopping list, where it joined "a flat furniture dolly" and "a small suitcase similar to the one Ahmed Mohamed used to house his digital clock."
Back at the house, I returned to the basement to spray some more water on the still-curing finish on the south wall of the main guestroom when I looked down and saw what looked like yet another dead rodent. There had been a killing spree of late, I'd seen something similar earlier this morning and had given it to Ramona (and she'd actually eaten it). But this poor thing, though cold to the touch, was alive. I looked it over and soon identified it as a baby Flying Squirrel. Though its eyes were still closed, it was covered in fur and had extra skin under its arms with the hope that one day it might glide from tree to tree. It was periodically gasping for air and making little squeaky noises as if it might be about to die. Horrified, I considered my euthanasia options. I'm squeamish about such things, but in a pinch I have been known to perform an emergency mercy killing. But I could think of no form of death that was sufficiently painless. I did not, for example, have a tank of helium handy. I could have flushed it down the toilet and been done with it, but that's a horrible lonely way to die for a baby mammal.
Back in the laboratory, I did a quick web search and found a webpage that gave me some useful information. Based on its level of development, the Flying Squirrel looked to be about four weeks of age. The reason the squirrel was cold but alive was that squirrels this age depend on the body heat of their parents. I looked around the laboratory for a steady mild heat source and settled on the FM transmitter, which, when it is on, is always rather warm (though not exactly hot) to the touch. Using a 64 ounce grapefruit container as a makeshift terrarium heated from below by the FM transmitter, I gave the Flying Squirrel a few hours to warm up. After it was warm and showing more signs of life, I mixed up some rehydration fluid and administered it orally using a large syringe (the only one I had handy). The squirrel demonstrated enough will to live to give me a little hope, and so I added Esbilac dehydrated milk substitute to my shopping list (this is what that webpage had recommended, specifically cautioning me not to use cows' milk or formula designed for use by human infants).
This afternoon, I loaded up the dogs and drove to town to but the things on my shopping list. The list also included "beer," and that meant "cheap beer," because my friend Mark was threatening to pay me a visit, and he likes cheap beer. So I got that at the Stewarts, along with a cup of driving-around mixed nuts and a cup of driving-around coffee. I've found that the best bet when buying Stewarts coffee is to go for the "richer roast." It was pretty good today, but not as good as a cup I'd had a couple weeks ago. That one had been one of two or three best cups of coffee I'd ever bought at a gas station.
I bought most of the stuff I was looking for at Lowes, where I randomly ran into Susan and David, who were out shopping for a nail gun. My hunt for an Ahmed-Mohamed-style case proved surprisingly hard to satisfy; nothing at Lowes, Target, or Best Buy was anywhere near satisfactory. At Dick's Sporting Goods, I briefly considered buying an ammo case, which was about the right shape. But even it was too thick. In the end, I bought something called a Really Useful Box at Staples, but even it was just a bit too big in all dimensions.
Back at the house, I mixed up some Esbilac and fed some to the baby Flying Squirrel, though the creature wasn't interested in sucking for more than about 20 seconds.
I turned my attention to building a little platform to be installed about 20 feet up the trunk of one of the White Pines just east of the house. This platform would support a shallow container housing the Flying Squirrel along with a couple microwave-warmed freezer gel packs to keep him warm. The hope was that his mother would hear his cries and come take him back to nest. This was another suggestion of that website I'd been consulting, though of course I made the platform much more robust than it needed to be. It ended up being 20 inches by 20 inches, about 20 feet above the ground, and almost perfectly-level. I have other uses for such platforms, so my effort here was with a view to to those other uses as well.
This evening, our friend Carrie (of Carrie & Michæl) came over to watch the Emmy Awards with Gretchen. (It should be mentioned that Carrie has returned from her multi-month stint in Los Angeles working as a nanny for her sister, who works as a writer in the television industry.) I had no interest in watching this with them, so I puttered around in the basement, putting bookshelves back where they'd come from using the brand new (and much more handy than a handtruck) furniture dolly. As I was doing these things, I found evidence of a massive leak that had damaged the ceiling above the south end of the basement's walk-in closet. There was no evidence that the leak was ongoing, but it's looking like I am going to have to tear that ceiling apart to diagnose the problem. There's always something else that needs attention in this house!
Carrie had brought over pasta and salad, but I was antisocial and ate it alone in the laboratory. By this point I really was alone; I'd put the squirrel in a box up on the platform and was hoping for the best.
After more than two hours, I returned to the platform to see if the little guy was still there. I could hear him crying in the cold, so it seemed his mother wasn't coming. So I brought him inside, warmed him up, and fed him before going back to sleep. I told Gretchen to wake me up in the night whenever she woke up so I'd be sure to give him a feeding somewhere in the middle of the sea of hours between bedtime and late morning (when we've been waking up).
Mind you, I'm not delighted to find myself having to insert a bunch of Flying-Squirrel-related activities into my day. A purely rational decision would have been to throw the little guy out into the bushes. But I don't want to be the guy who would do that. I want to be the guy who would stumble into a situation like this and do whatever needed to be done to help the unfortunate. So many of the little detours of my life are about trying to maintain myself as the guy I would want to be and avoiding being "that guy." Most of these detours are about the spending of money and avoiding obvious suckerly actions. No, I don't want to be the guy who spends $50 more for the convenience of a rental car whose offices are in the airport. Really? You expect me to spend $10 for a beer because this is Bonnaroo? But then I see Celeste with a dragonfly in her mouth and I do what needs doing to save it. Today or yesterday I actually rescued a Horsefly (something I would gladly swat if it were attacking me) who was drowning in the lower-sink of the brownhouse. And here I am, in yet another squirrel jam.
I should mention that I suspect the Flying Squirrel's nest had been destroyed in the night by that wind storm I'd heard. The babies had probably fallen to the ground, been found by the cats and brought into the house. But since they didn't flee or do any of the normal things prey animals do, the cats had grown bored with them and left them to die. But one of them had survived long enough for me to find it manifesting signs of life.
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