Posts Tagged ‘squirrels’

Rattlesnakes Are Scary but Fair

June 8, 2017


A soft-spoken older guy stopped me in the store and I thought asked me if we had potty. I figured he had been watching his grandkids a lot lately. So I pointed him toward the restrooms in the front corner of the store. “No,” he says, “P-a-t-e.” Oh. Pâté. I hadn’t thought about pâté in years.

When I was a kid in Indiana, my family liked to eat at a place called Strongbow Turkey Inn. No question about freshness. They had the turkeys wandering around in a fenced yard right behind the restaurant. It was a great place for a full turkey dinner. One of the things they served with that dinner was a pâté made from turkey liver. I liked it.

Years later when I was living in Kansas, I worked with a woman I’ll call Betsy Parker. Betsy had moved up to Kansas from Arkansas. She was a settled, inconspicuous woman. Our co-workers hardly noticed her. Her one claim to fame was that she was a third cousin to Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde. She said the older members of her family still talked about meeting Bonnie and Clyde. Said they were a pair of hissing rattlers you knew you had to walk around. Nothing like quiet Betsy.

Betsy had a girlfriend from Boston that liked to make fun of Betsy and her family for eating squirrels. Wow, I can still remember the aroma of my mama’s browned and baked squirrels. Good eating. Well, Betsy invited her friend’s family over one time for a beef pot roast dinner. And for an appetizer she served them pâté. She said they thought it was great. It wasn’t until later she told them she made the pâté out of squirrel brains.

Worth remembering. Copperheads don’t rattle before they strike.

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

You want a garden here? - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

You want a Garden here? – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer


May 31, 2017


One summer a few years ago, I poured some old bird seed, a mixture of sunflower seeds and millet, into a child’s wagon in our back yard. I regularly saw five or six squirrels in the area and I thought they would enjoy it. What happened, however, was not the general feeding I expected.

One squirrel soon arrived and began to eat and eat and eat. Other squirrels arrived too and hopped frantically near the wagon. If they got close to the wagon, the squirrel inside jumped out and chased them away. When he was full he set about hiding the rest of the sunflower seeds, still not letting any other squirrel near the wagon. In squirrel world, it seems, there is no sharing even in abundance.

When I went out the next day I found only millet seeds in the wagon. I decided to scatter more seeds around and between our two large maples. Our bully squirrel could hardly defend the whole area. This worked to some extent, but there was still no doubt about who was lord of the bird seed and who had to sneak in and run. Eventually all the sunflower seeds were gone and only the millet remained, which the squirrels seemed to ignore.

Enter a dove with a taste for millet. He was a stranger. No doves had been visiting in our yard. He went contentedly pecking about the millet leavings while the boss squirrel chased the other squirrels about in the trees. As it happened the boss squirrel chased another squirrel down one of the maples as the dove was ambling about at its base. The boss squirrel altered course to jump directly on the dove, sending it flying. In the squirrel world, I guess, there is no sharing even of what isn’t wanted.

But it is not a great thing being a boss squirrel. You generally get enough to eat, but you must constantly fight off intruders. These squirrels seemed to spend half their time chasing each other up and down and through or flipping their tails at each other. No truce is ever called in squirrel land.

But that is squirrel nature. A generous spirit can hardly be practiced when the next month may bring starvation. Any sunflower seeds conceded to a fellow will be missed when there is nothing more to dig up. And millet is really much better than starvation. Squirrel survival depends on a selfish nature.

At first I shook my head at the squirrels because I like to share, within reason. Sharing has great social rewards and it makes me feel good, and I can be pretty confident that I am not going to starve. I have the luxury to share, just as I have the luxury to write these words rather than chase my neighbor Jerry around the trees. Well, all right, he would probably be chasing me. Or he and his wife Judy and their kids would probably be chasing me and my wife Vera and our parrot Walter. The point is it would all be very tiring if I lived a squirrel’s life and I don’t think I would be pondering how to live well.

You can’t concentrate on philosophy if you have to constantly guard your seeds. So I am grateful that I have so much leisure in my life, that I have the option of spreading some seeds around without starving to death. I could share everything I’ve got and still get by. Human society makes that possible. And I thank you all.

Fortunately being generous doesn’t absolutely require asceticism or washing the sores of lepers. I’m not ready for that. But I think I could give up some of my seeds and make more space in my tree. I have always wanted to be more consistently open with people. That’s why I write. And personal openness is probably the kind of sharing that people with full stomachs value most.

I am going to try to be more open when there are actual people around, not just while constructing sentences on the page. But don’t expect too much. I’m just a holiday hiker on the road to spiritual fulfillment. If I really knew where the answers lie, I wouldn’t still be squirreling up all these verbal seeds.


Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

An earlier version of this essay was published in 2010 in Brother Michael This Morning.

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Upside Down

June 1, 2010

This revised poem Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer


Upside down beside the walk,
        a doped squirrel hung on a tree,
a tag on his ear, a twitch in his nose,
        and a sad little look for me.
“Squirrel,” I said, “You’re dull as lead.
        What can your trouble be?”
But well I knew the drugs they brew
        for modern zoology.
To hang in the air as dull as a bear
        asleep in a sewer drain.
To stare at a man who is reaching a hand
        to staple a tag by your brain.
To twitch like a sprout that is twisting about
        under a new-paved lane.
To look down at me here under your tree
        and not even know to complain.

(first published in Mostly Maine)

I’m Not Sleeping in the Snow: 7 Midwest Poems

May 1, 2010

These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer

I’m Not Sleeping in the Snow
It’s time to blow out the nose
and breathe about the yard.
It’s October and the air draws in cold.
My fingers untangle my hair.
Two hairy arms roll sleep from my eyes.
It’s time to rise up from the weeds.
Squirrels have poked walnuts up my ass.
Wasps crawled under me for the winter.
Sow bugs are settled in my ears.
It is time for a cold bath.
My beard is as ragged as the trees.
(first published in Cottonwood Review)
Late-Night Café in Missouri
It’s 9 p.m. and they’re
        out of mashed potatoes,
        out of corn,
        almost out of beef.
        (Mine’s the last order.)
In the john the air dryer’s
out of air.
Behind the cashier they are
out of Brach’s candies
in the Candyland display!
The tossed salad is out of
everything but lettuce.
The waitress is out of pep
so the cook refills my coffee.
Got any apple pie tonight?
Sorry, he says, you’re
        out of luck.
(first published in Poetry Now)
He Ain’t Barking at the Clouds
Squirrel’s not happy.  He’s
flipping his tail
up and down.  He wants to
punch someone out.
Look out!  Squirrel’s gone
squirrelly.  He’s mad I
tell you.  Stay clear!
Keep out of squirrel’s
mulberry tree.  Keep away
from his lady.  Shit!
This ain’t no time to
go out on a limb.
(first published in Graduate Newspaper, Univ. of Kansas)
Among the Not Included
(for anyone who has published an anthology)
Among the not included
is an angry poet from Somewhere, Kansas.
He is stomping on the fields
and yelling in the clouds.
The crackling volts from his eyes
have filled the sky with imminent lightning.
Eternal darkness is his shadow
and H-bombs explode in his swinging fists.
Sound the alarm from the silos of Kansas.
He is striding out over the hills.
It is time publishers and editors left town,
for printers to close up their shops
and go to lettering tombstones.
The very Thunderhead Poet of the Prairie
is moving in from the west.
Editorial advisors had best not be found.
(first published in Graduate Newspaper, Univ. of Kansas)
I Dream My Mother Enrolls in Freshman Lit.
“Why,” I ask, “did Cather superimpose
a plow on the face of the sun?”
But the sullen guy I call on won’t talk,
and you, Mother, you sit next to him
in the front row,
“No doubt she had her reasons,” you reply.
“Could the plow symbolize
the domestication of the prairie?
Could the sun represent life?”
“Oh, I doubt that, Dear.
Now take your words outside.”
(first published in Taurus)
After Failing at Sex I Dream
of Garage Doors Opening
Returning apologetic with tacos,
I get out of my car and pause outside
our garage door in the night.
The touch of my finger opens the door.
The touch of my finger closes the door
and opens it again.
I am opening and closing our garage door!
Spotlights whip across the sky.
Orion dances.
And all the garage doors in our town
are opening and closing together.
(first published in Platte Valley Review)
Going Flat in Bowling Green, Ohio
Flatness has a leveling effect, I said.
This horizon thins you.
No mountains lift your eyes.
No valleys drop the ground from under you.
Summer melts you over like a candle in the sun.
Then winter freezes you flat with level snow.
Or flatness attracts flatness, Ann said.
Eagles nest in mountains.
Whales sound the ocean deep.
But the buzzards flock to Hinckley,
and potato cakes come here.
Dan came back from Toledo.
If it weren’t for friction, he said,
you could slap a puck from here to Lake Erie
without finding a hill to stop it
or a natural dip it could fall in.
(first published in Red Rock)