One morning last fall, I got in my car and turned the ignition key. Typically at this point the electronic memory system kicks in and the seat and mirrors adjust to my personal settings. But not on that day. Instead, a dashboard light flashed, alerting me that the air bags weren’t functioning. But the car was drive-able so I took it to the dealer for a look. The diagnosis: Squirrels had chewed through the computer wires. The price tag for the repair: $1,500.
It’s moments like this that cause my husband to ramp up his periodic desire to buy a rifle. No, he doesn’t want to shoot the car dealer, he wants to off the squirrels (and moles and rabbits and possums and deer) who have tormented us in so many ways during the 20-plus years we have owned our house.
These critters treat our garden as their personal buffet, digging up veggies as fast as we plant them. Others munch the tops off tulips and nibble our trees down to naked twigs. One industrious brood took up residence one winter in the engine of the Volvo we leave in our barn, resulting in an awful stench and another $1,000 mechanic’s bill.
Perhaps the best (or worst) example of a woodland creature wreaking havoc upon us happened a few years ago, when a tenacious woodchuck repeatedly burrowed under our barn to the point where the entire foundation was being compromised. The plan was to smoke out the culprit, then fill the tunnels he’d dug with concrete so he could dig no more.
But that’s not exactly how it went down. It seems the contractor put a smoke bomb in one of the burrows and then left to grab a cup of coffee at the market down the street. By the time he returned, the barn was in flames, along with the antiques, pool furniture, bicycles and vehicles inside. The price tag on that debacle will not be mentioned here.
So back to the rifle: My husband’s argument is that had he shot the woodchuck, we’d still have that barn. If he shot deer, we’d have big beautiful hostas every summer instead of hosta stems.
I get this, and I’m bugged by the damage these animals perpetrate too, but I’ve got two big problems with shooting them. First, I don’t want a gun in my house. I’m an advocate of gun control and horrified by the gun violence in this country. And personally, I fear that if we did have a gun in the house, someone could get shot. Accidents happen all the time, even when guns are locked in cabinets and bullets are kept elsewhere and everyone knows the safety rules. I also believe that the chances of an armed intruder shooting a homeowner increase when the homeowner is armed and fumbling with his firearm in the middle of the night in a dark kitchen.
My second issue with the rifle is I don’t like the idea of shooting animals, not even naughty ones who munch my tender radishes. I’m no Buddhist, but I believe every creature has a right to live and nibble radishes if he’s smart enough to get to them. I don’t even kill spiders (though I will cop to snuffing the occasional roach).
To his credit, my husband has respected my feelings, even in the face of his own desire, as well as friends, neighbors and his own sons telling him he’s crazy to let varmints rule the day. In deference to me, he even instituted a chipmunk relocation program a few years back, wherein he’d catch his tiny prey in a humane trap then drive them three miles away and release them. I thought this was a pretty silly exercise given the army of chipmunks ready to replace those who had been shipped out, but the effort was truly endearing.
I put my foot down on so few issues in life, preferring to let my spouse, my children and, well, everyone, make their own choices. But this one is non-negotiable, people, so you may as well stop trying to convince me that a rifle will protect us — or solve our critter problem.
In my mind, the answer to that one is vigilance and acceptance (and a couple extra packets of radish seeds.)