Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Less Than 8 Seconds

He looked like Major "King" Kong (the cowboy actor Slim Pickens) riding the bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove. Except "he"was furrier, had no cowboy hat, his ride was definitely not voluntary, and his mount was a clear plastic soda bottle rather than a metal encased nuclear device.

The polymer projectile comprises the seed-storage portion of our nominal bird, de facto squirrel, feeder that hangs in perfect view from the flowering crab tree in front of our family room. "He" obviously was one of the tree rodents, although the entire incident happened too quickly for either Mars or I to determine which one.

It was at least partially my fault. The night before as we went out after supper I noticed that the seed supply was near empty, but I chose to do nothing about it. We returned from our meeting around nine and I opted to fill my own dish with ice cream rather than refill the feeder - although I could have done both. The next morning while I was outside before breakfast I once again let the now totally empty feeder stay in that condition.

In addition one end of the metal wire from which the bottle hung had become detached and the u-shaped hanger, draped over a tree branch, had slid precipitously past the halfway point. Although I actually didn't notice this until a second or two before the crash.

Mars and I were sitting in the family room reading the morning paper, and catching up on the latest Paris Hilton news with Meredith and Matt, when we looked up just in time to see the incident unfold.

What we saw was one of the squirrels (either oblivious to the emptiness of the bottle or irritated at its vacuity) move quickly across its supporting branch, then turn abruptly and accelerate down the thin strand of metal. The wire, which up until then had supported a basically weightless object, began to slip. And the bottle, being jolted by all of this action, began to swing from a vertical to a horizontal attitude.

Apparently sensing that something was going terribly wrong the squirrel let go of the thin medal thread. He quickly shifted his own body from head-down to what would have been a flying-squirrel-parallel-to-the-ground floating posture - if he were that breed, which unfortunately for him he wasn't. Instead of gracefully gliding to earth he landed flat-out on the bottle just as that object achieved absolute horizonticality, and in the process somehow severed the container's connection to its lone piece of supporting wire.

Momentarily conjoined, the tree rodent and the plastic vessel began their rapid, gravity-controlled descent. And remained in that configuration as they passed by the bottom of the window and out of both Mars'and my view.

I got up in time to see the bottle slowly rocking and a gray bushy tail rushing away from the house. Mars asked if I was going to have to "perform mouth-to-snout resuscitation" - I didn't. I wondered if our former veterinarian, to whom I once brought one of our son's hamsters that had broken its leg, was still willing to take on the challenges of microsurgery. Fortunately I didn't have to find out.

So having no medical actions to perform I went outside, refilled the feeder, and placed it back onto the tree.

No squirrels visited the feeder during the sixty minutes. Then we went out for our daily health club workout. When we returned two hours later one of the little gray guys was hanging down the side of the bottle as if nothing at all had happened.

Which it probably didn't - to him at least. As Mars said, our involuntary bottle-jockey however was probably so traumatized that he would need to spend the rest of the day huddled in his nest recovering.

The next morning all five of our regular tree-rats were back at work - climbing on the bottle, chasing each other up and around the tree, and jumping from branch to branch.

If your everyday livelihood depends upon you performing without a net, then you have to have an extremely high threshold of pain, and a very selective memory. Otherwise all you get are the leftovers that fall to the ground - slim pickings indeed!

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