Squirrel relocation logistics

Red squirrel siblings peek out from the ceiling of Kathryn Olmstead's garage this spring in Caribou. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Olmstead)
Red squirrel siblings peek out from the ceiling of Kathryn Olmstead's garage this spring in Caribou. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Olmstead)
Posted Oct. 14, 2010, at 7:47 p.m.

I hadn’t thought much about what it means to “Havahart” until faced with the task of finding a new home for the cunning red squirrel rattling around in the trap I had set in my garage. The last time I performed this fall ritual, I drove to the rest area on the Caribou bypass, but that is gone now, and I am sure the animals found their way back to my house from there anyway. This time, I have to go farther.

First I have to separate the dog from the process. I let Lucy, my chocolate Lab, out into the yard before opening the door from the house into the garage. I try not to notice how cute the little squirrel is as I lift the trap into the back of my station wagon.

Fortunately, I had put down the back seat yesterday so I could move storm windows from the barn to the house. There is room for both the Havahart trap and my trash. I can take them both to the dump. I have to move fast. What if the thing gets loose in my car?

I wonder whether the dump forbids live trash. Will I be penalized, denied access for the rest of the year? I will drive past the dump, let the squirrel out, then come back with the empty trap. If asked about it when I pass through the checkpoint, I will know.

I lure the dog back into the house, load the trash into the space between the trap and the front seats and set out for the dump — excuse me — landfill.

Actually, I could set the critter free anywhere along here, I say to myself as we drive along the Aroostook River on the Grimes Road — just as long as the distance is greater than that to the rest area on the bypass. The important thing is to stay away from houses, especially those of friends, and to be sure no one sees me.A riverside release might be nice, I think. He will need a source of water, as well as a substitute for the crab apples he has been stealing from the basket on the porch and storing in boxes in the garage and along the top of the willow wreath hanging by my front door. And while I certainly don’t want to irritate neighbors, he will need some shelter comparable to my garage and the crawl space under the eaves of the house.

I hear the squirrel scratching and look in the rearview mirror. There he is, busily trying to unlock the flap that closed behind him a short while ago.

I turn onto the dump road. The broccoli fields are dotted with bright green Porta Potties, white buses and stacks of white cartons on flatbed trailers. I don’t see any workers, but head for a deserted stretch of the road to ensure my anonymity.

The squirrel is silent. I no longer can see him in the rearview mirror. He is in a part of the trap obscured by the bags of trash. Or did he get out? Oh, no. I would hear him scrambling around in the trash, wouldn’t I?

He must be sleeping, lulled by the vibration of the car like a baby — or petrified with fear.

I see a farm road between recently harvested fields devoid of crops and people. I pull in to let my passenger go. I read the bold red letters on a sign with an image of a face with down-turned mouth and eyes and an upheld hand:

DANGER PELIGRO

Pesticides Pesticidas

KEEP OUT

NO ENTRE

Oh, my gosh! I can’t let the little thing out here. It will die. I back out and head up over a hill and down toward a wooded area with spruce trees not unlike those in my yard from which the squirrels jump onto the roof of my house.

He’ll like it here, I think. There must be water in this dip. I think we are far enough from those toxic fields.

I wait for the last truck loaded with potatoes to roar past. Coast is clear. Not a soul in sight. I get out of the car and raise the hatchback. There he is, secure, waiting. I lift the trap from the car and set it down in the long, wet grass.

“So long, little fella,” I say as I lift the confining metal flap. Is he delighted or terrified as he bounces over the clumps of grass toward the woods? At least he is alive, I tell myself. He should be grateful.

But I can’t stop feeling he must be lonely, if not frightened, in this strange new environment, separated from his family. I must get home quickly and collect them. I will bring them all to this very spot.

Kathryn Olmstead is a retired University of Maine associate dean and associate professor living in Aroostook County. She was the founding director of the Maine Center for Student Journalism at UMaine. Her columns appear in this space twice monthly. She may be reached by e-mail at kathryn.olmstead@umit.maine.edu.

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