Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Creature Habits

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into slovenly habits when you no longer commute to an office. While I haven’t shaved every morning, I have fastidiously showered and washed my hair daily to avoid any appearance of seediness. But a little more than a week ago the NY Times ran an article about people who blithely let days go by between showers and shampoos, or even an application of deodorant, what we used to call in summer camp a “marine shower” (

Especially as we flow through the parched-skin fall and winter months, the option of not subjecting my (sensitive) outer layer to excess water looms as a very appealing morning option. After all, how grungy could I get just hanging around the house, or running the occasional errand?

Well, I’m not going to tell you what I decided. Next time you see me, though, I won’t take offense if you keep your distance, or at the very least sniff the air around me before approaching.

Three Birthdays: Last Saturday Gilda and I went to two birthday parties. We started the day at the bar mitzvah of the youngest son of one of the doctors in Gilda’s office. Michael made his parents proud.

Saturday night we helped celebrate the 85th birthday of our friend Milton. He was the art director of my publications for close to 20 years. Several of his paintings hang in our home, my favorite being a self-portrait that, to me, makes him look like a Portuguese fisherman. I become transfixed whenever I gaze upon it.

Over the years I worked with many art directors, none who possessed the love of literature Milton did. Moreover, he always took the time to read our stories before designing a page. Never an easy man to get along with—cantankerous would be a mild description of his usual workplace demeanor—Milton has mellowed, even becoming quite sentimental. He reads poetry to his partner of many years, Marianne, as they walk along the Hudson River. To the assembled friends and family at his party, he read the following poem by Robert McCrum:

I have learned, in short, that I am not
Immortal (the fantasy of youth)
and yet,
strangely, in the process I have been renewed
in my understanding of family and, finally,
of the only thing that matters:

Next Tuesday will be the first birthday of our grandson, Finley Hawthorne Forseter. It’s a race to see if the tree we planted last spring, a Winter King Hawthorn, will lose all its leaves before the milestone day. It’s also a race to see if Finley will master walking by then. He’s already able to stagger about before dropping into the arms of his parents. Any day now he will permanently defy gravity. For a video of his latest efforts, visit

Rocky and Friends: I really like watching squirrels. I know they’re rodents, as Gilda repeatedly points out to me. But they’re industrious. Extremely smart. Resourceful. And cute.

Squirrels are attracted to my bird feeding stations. They feast on seeds indiscriminately dropped to the ground by the birds. Of course, being rather self-centered creatures, squirrels prefer to eat seeds straight from the feeders, but I’ve prevented that possibility by strategically placing inverted funnel-shaped plastic squirrel guards along the chains above two of the main feeders that hang from nearby trees.

The other day as I was eating breakfast, I looked out the window at my new bird feeder, a white house with an A-frame metal shingle roof hanging from one of our pine trees. It recently replaced an open gazebo-style feeder that surprisingly never interested the squirrels. The new feeder was promoted as squirrel proof—its perches are levers designed to close up the seed area under the weight of any bushy-tailed scavenger that might pull up a chair, so to speak, to the dinner table.

The new feeder had been up for about 10 days without incident, but on this morning I was brought up short in my Cheerios-crunching by the sight of a squirrel busily munching away on bird seed while it rested comfortably on the perch. Four or five times I shooed the squirrel away, only to witness its methodical return. The squirrel would climb up the pine tree, scamper across the limb from which the feeder was suspended, and shinny its way down the chain till it plopped onto the roof. The last straw was when it didn’t even bother to sit on the lever. Rather, it hung upside down from the roof to casually chomp away at the cache of seeds at its disposal.

My daily rounds that day included a trip to the wild bird store to purchase yet another plastic baffle to baffle and confound the squirrels. Only the squirrels were not content to go down without a fight. For the next day they repeatedly crawled down the chain from the tree limb until they’d get to the edge of the squirrel guard. At the bottom of the guard, the widest part of the funnel, they were forced to leap for the house. But it was too steep an angle. They’d tumble four feet to the ground, shake themselves off, climb back up the tree and try once more. It took several unfortunate falls before they learned they could not get around the squirrel guard.

But perhaps they could avoid it. So the most resourceful did his best impersonation of Rocky the flying squirrel. He jumped from a tree limb toward the feeder. Alas, for him, at least, I had placed the feeder too distant for a successful aerial assault.

Granted, outwitting a squirrel might be considered an insignificant achievement, but it sure beats the office political games I once had to play.

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