For the Squirrels

Our garage came with a house.  That’s one of the reasons we bought it.  You see, the one thing we don’t have is time.  (Well, that and money.)  When we were contemplating moving, we had no time off.  Vacation days for the remainder of the year had been allocated, and employers don’t like to encourage personal improvement.  Not on company time, anyway.  Which, of course, is as it should be.  We had to find a house with space enough to sort through things after we moved.  Ha!  As if there would be more time!  Still, the sorting would have to wait.  Our house has a detached garage with a second story.  It’s a converted barn, but I doubt its conversion story.  It still seems pretty heathen to me.  The neighborhood squirrels love it.

We store our unsorted stuff upstairs.  Shortly after we moved in, the squirrels had chewed through the stop-gap remediation the previous owners had put in place to satisfy our post-inspection demands.  It was pretty clear their solution wouldn’t keep out rodents, but our lease was about to expire and the market favored sellers, so we closed anyway.  Shortly after moving in I noticed styrofoam poking through the ceiling boards of the garage.  Then I began to find styrofoam chips in the yard nearly every morning.  I soon figured it out.  Squirrels raid the trash receptacles behind restaurants in town, and bring their carryout here.  No, seriously!  They haul styrofoam between the roof and ceiling, presumably licking off the scraps before tossing out the remaining foam.  I figure it’s a form of insulation, if nothing else.

Squirrel remediation is on our list of projects.  I’ve seen the squirrels run up the side when they spy me stepping outdoors.  When I reach the garage, they’ll stick their little heads out the hole they chewed and scold me.  This is their place, the garage.  They’ve insulated it, and the inside is a mess where the birds also get in and there are little animal parties every night.  I don’t have time to clean up after the squirrels.  It occurs to me that if we didn’t have a throw-away culture we wouldn’t have styrofoam containers for the poor beasts to plunder.  The food’s probably not healthy—the squirrels I see look plump and sassy.  They like the convenience of living in a shelter someone else built and on which someone else pays the taxes.  Perhaps I should start a zoo.  But first I’ve got some stuff to sort through, when I find the time.  If only I could teach the squirrels some other tricks beyond dining out. 

Rule Britannia

Being back in Britain serves as a constant reminder of how conspicuous consumption has come to be a hallmark of American culture. When my wife and I moved to Britain back in the 1980s we soon became acclimated to the shift in scales to a size that seemed much more within our grasp. Yes, civilized people could live without undue excess and still be quite happy. Living in the States swiftly eroded the confidence that less is enough. Those who do not climb die. Back in Britain, there is evidence that the unabashed capitalism is spreading like a poison through this nation as well. Too readily the draw of gain and personal comfort outstrip our concern for other people. On a whole, however, the ideals of a society where all have health care and the elderly are not simply forgotten still remains intact.

Perhaps it is the benefit of having once been an empire that spanned the globe, or perhaps it is a hangover from having borne the burden of monarchy and a stratified society where noblesse oblige ensures that those below are not left behind. Not that such a system is without its faults. A century ago Titanic was setting forth from these ports and sank with the humble classes going first. Such tragedies show that even where noble ideas hold sway, the inexorable draw of evolutionary development will favor those who assert themselves. The monkey on top when the ship sinks gets to draw the last breath.

Back in my Nashotah House days I used to have recurring nightmares of sinking ships. In our attempts to extend mastery over the largest environment on our planet, the one in which we cannot survive, we face an uncomfortable reality. Even if those whose names still register a nod of recognition are those who had amassed the most wealth, they are equally as deceased when the hull strikes the Atlantic floor. Is it such a difficult matter to make sure that everyone has enough before allowing those enamored of wealth to accumulate superfluous amounts of it? When the ship sinks, those with the wealth to buy themselves extra minutes may have time to think. And if those thoughts are honest, they will realize that the cost has been too great all long.