It's a given that no matter how urban we get, some people will want to be more so, often driven to concrete zealotry by city wildlife. Many are the curmudgeons who'd love to see all the pigeons sucked into the windmill or all raccoons lost to booby-trapped garbage cans. I didn't sympathize. Most of the creatures were here first anyway. But lately they don't all seem so cuddly. Don't misunderstand, I don't want to see all squirrels hunted down - just one squirrel. Let me explain.
I've recently moved, despite impressive attempts on the part of my material possessions to destroy me through their sheer, implacable volume. Last week, on my final night, I was busy filling boxes, and my cat was busy figuring out why. Ever the alert multi-tasker, she heard something from the living room, and bounded out to save us all from certain doom. She does the same thing when a plastic bag catches a draft, but I followed anyway.
I found her engaged in an apparent staring contest with the radiator, and I couldn't tell why until I heard that chilling noise. All of a sudden I was reminded of the day that forever destroyed my false sense of bipedal security.
Living on the top floor of a downtown house, you don't expect to be woken by a duck. But as far as I could tell on that morning three years ago, there was a duck on my windowsill, or so I thought, and a pissed-off duck at that, emitting the sort of long, forced quacking I imagine Donald Duck makes when he hyperventilates. But then, suddenly, it stopped, and there was a shriek from the laneway below.
"What the fuck was that?" asked a voice. "That squirrel just jumped on my head!" was the answer. If may have quacked like a duck, but it had a bushy tail.
Much happened in the following months, most of it unrelated to squirrels. But as the weather warmed up and the feral cats in the backyard frolicked, I noticed a new visitor terrorizing them - a strange, ratty-tailed squirrel. Soon I settled into a bigger bedroom in the same house, with a window perpendicular to my earlier room. The squirrel, apparently relying on faulty intelligence reports, did not know this. The attack happened with no warning. From my new window, I saw the beast grappling with the old window.
I watched, impressed and horrified, as the thing wrestled with gravity and good squirrel sense in at attempt to gain ingress. Soon it saw me watching, paused, leapt backwards into the air, vaulted off a narrow fence and took off across a parking lot.
Neither of us would forget this meeting. Months later, sitting at my desk, I was startled by a noise behind me. The squirrel was clinging to the corner of my window screen, bending the frame back with its weight. Then it leaped down between the screen and the heavy inner window. Not expecting a second window, it froze. Though I feared the thing, I had to admire its efficiency in removing the screen. For its part, though it clearly hated me, it seemed to offer similar respect: "Ah, human, you are clever prey. You have two windows."
A housemate and I went to the backyard and removed the remains of the screen using long pieces of wood. The squirrel repeated its disappearing act. I later did the same, moving west and almost forgetting my seed-eating nemesis. But last week, when I heard that awful rasping again from behind my radiator, I knew immediately what was happening: the squirrel had tracked me down, and, discovering that I was moving again, was attempting a desperate assault before it lost my trail for good.
But it had not counted on a bodyguard. When we last clashed, the only cats had been the bums outside. With my feline familiar shadowing the intruder, I chased the thing out with a hockey stick.
I take no comfort from having repelled these attacks, and neither should you. Maybe it was rabies, or maybe it was a test of human defences before an all-out urban squirrel offensive. Squirrels are crafty. They now know that we bring cats inside our homes, wield long sticks and have multiple windows - and may adjust their strategy accordingly. Stay alert and trust no one, for they could even now be strengthening alliances with other animals. They obviously have friends among the ducks.