Just the Other Day: Stealing Bases

Fall is a wonderful time of year. A season of change and preparation for change. Colors burst in bright, magical shades of red and gold against a backdrop of dark green pines. Leaves flutter; floating to the ground as the trees make room for new growth to come.


Squirrels are busy hiding nuts; stocking up on seeds and other things to eat in the cold days ahead. Bears are on the final stretch of their feeding frenzy before settling in for a long winter’s nap. Deer, moose and other large animals make this a season of love. Courting and mating to bring the wonder of new life that will arrive in the spring.


The animals aren’t the only busy ones. People hurry to finish painting or outdoor projects before the weather turns cold. Lawn mowers get tucked away and snowblowers brought forth. Boats and campers are winterized for storage, while snowmobiles, ice houses and winter toys are brought out, tuned up and made ready for winter fun.


The days continue to get shorter and temperatures cooler.  Mornings now greet me with frost on the grass. Just a little sunshine melts it away for now, but thicker, heavier frost is on the way. The last of this year’s days, nice enough to sit outside and have morning coffee on the deck, are upon us. I decided this would be a good day to put most of the patio furniture into storage, leaving one table and two chairs, just in case the weather holds out longer than I predicted.


Melissa was just finishing her coffee on the deck when I came out, still in my pajamas, to join her. As soon as I stepped outside I was warned, “There’s a red squirrel on the deck by the bird feeder. Don’t scare him. I don’t want him to jump off the edge.” she said. “What’s the big deal?” I questioned, “That squirrel is perfectly capable of jumping off a four-foot high deck and he’s not going to get hurt doing it.”


It seems the squirrel had gotten himself into a

predicament. Our deck sits in a corner of the house with the kitchen wall on one side and the three-seasons room on another; the other two sides are open. The squirrel, I call him Rocky, was so focused on filling his cheeks with sunflower seeds from the bird feeder, he failed to notice our dog, June, positioned herself in the yard below waiting for him to jump down. June loves to chase squirrels and she is fast enough to catch them.


Rocky could run toward the other open side of the deck, except our cat, Edgar, was on the deck with his leash fastened to the leg of a chair. Edgar, crouched down like a sniper in a tactical position. He was guarding his side of the deck with all the intensity of a goalie in front of the net, waiting to pounce on the squirrel if he dared to come that way. There is no doubt in my mind, Edgar would easily catch Rocky even if he had to drag the chair with him to do so.


Melissa said, “He’s been running back and forth, from the feeder to the gas grill, hiding under the skirting of the grill cover.” She went on, “He knows June is in the yard, and Edgar has him pinned down from the other side.” I stood there next to the grill taking in the excitement as it played out.


The scene reminded me of a baseball player who tried to steal a run. He was trapped between the third baseman and the catcher guarding home plate. The third baseman and the catcher throw the ball back and forth, closing in on the thief who intended to steal a base. Sprinting back and forth, desperate to survive, the runner knows the end is near, but he keeps trying in hopes one of the two pursuing him will make an error, allowing him to escape to safety. June and Edgar would allow no errors. They worked together with every intention of catching this thief who snuck onto their deck to steal sunflower seeds.


Rocky ran from underneath the grill, back to the feeder on the edge. June was waiting for him. Tensions were high and building. The squirrel’s tail snapped and twitched nervously. He ran a couple feet toward me and stopped. He looked up and stared me in the eyes. “Call off the dog!” he ordered. “Ha!” I laughed and held my ground. “Don’t drag me into this mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”  Rocky sprang a few more steps toward me, jumping up on the rim of a blue plastic pail. His steely eyes, black as coal, locked onto mine. He gave me a second warning, “I said call off the dog!”


In a condescending tone, I told the red rodent. “Don’t come crying to me, thinking I’m going to save your hide.” I lectured, “If you hadn’t been so greedy stealing the bird’s seed, you might have noticed you were being closed in from both sides…”


Before I could finish my spiel, Rocky jumped off the pail. I thought he was going to run under the grill again. Instead, he jumped on the front of my leg, climbing my blue flannel pajama pants and ascending to the side of my thigh. He crossed my bum and continued up my back. I could feel the tips of his sharp little claws penetrating the fabric, reaching my flesh.


Now a normal person might think this was the time to jump around, doing a hysterical dancing with arms and legs flailing about; slapping at the squirrel, trying to shoo him away. I figured swinging at him would most likely result in me getting scratched or bit, of which I wanted neither. I remained perfectly calm.


Rocky stopped on my shoulder. Standing on his hind legs he reached his front feet above my ear, grabbing my head, pulling it toward his. In a low, convincingly scary voice, he repeated in my ear, “I said call off your dog.” He pushed my head away, then my assailant started down my back.  Remaining calm I asked my wife, “Melissa? Are you seeing this?” She began taking a video recording – evidence I could provide to the police when reporting the theft and ensuing threats to my personal well being.


Rocky made his way down my back, stopping in the middle to reaffirm his threat, “I’m not kidding!” he said looking up at me, then continued down my back, crossing my bum to my thigh, and on down my blue flannel pajama pants.  He ran under a chair, then passing under the glider, he made his way to the edge of the deck.


Heeding the squirrel’s warning, I called out, “June, leave it!” Rocky jumped from the deck to the yard, then scurried off to places unknown.  June came up on the deck. “I could have had him, Dad.” she said. “Yeah,” Edgar joined in, “We could have had him.”


“June, how many times do I have to tell you? If you keep messing with those squirrels, one of them is going to latch onto that long nose of yours and you’re going to have a snoot full of trouble.” Edgar defended June, “Don’t worry June. If a squirrel gets on your face, I’ll save you.” Edgar extended his right paw, bearing his sharp nails, saying, “I’ll let that squirrel know what real claws feel like!”  “Come on guys, give him a break!” I said, “A squirrel’s gotta eat too, ya know.” All the while in the back of my mind, I was silently plotting my own revenge against the intruder. “I’ll be ready for you next time, Rocky. How’d you like that brushy tail of yours smacked with the super charged tennis racket mosquito zapper?”


I moved the furniture from the deck to the storage area below where it will be protected from the harsh weather. I worked outside most of the day, preparing for winter. When I was done I went in the house and lit a fire, then to the kitchen to make a big pot of potato soup.


While the soup was cooking, I wanted to catch up on the news. I read where the Boston Red Socks and the LA Dodgers are playing in the World Series. Another great spectacle that comes in the fall. I smiled reflecting on the day. “There is no way that runner would have got away. Not with Edgar on third base and June at home plate.”


I love fall and everything that comes with it.


It’s the time of year when a pot of soup simmering on the burner and a fire in the wood stove fill the house with an inviting aroma on a chilly evening. In a comfy chair, wrapped in a favorite blanket with your cat curled up in your lap; or sitting on the floor in front of the fire with your dog. You’ll soon be spellbound; caught up in an embracing warmth that holds you, assuring winter is going to be okay.


Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98