One of my parents’ pecan trees is out near their driveway, fifty feet from the edge of their property. Across the property line lies a thick young pine forest, dark and tangled with undergrowth. Wild animals live there— deer, racoons, opossums— and squirrels.
The squirrels have no respect for boundaries or property rights, and they think of this tree as their own. Early on, when the pecans were just hard green pods hanging in clusters, the squirrels would hop tentatively out of the dark woods into the grass, pausing, standing upright, little heads periscoping for dogs and cats, then skitter across the driveway and charge straight up the pecan tree. They worked in shifts, pillaging and feasting, hauling away bounty their hands had not produced.
When my father saw what they were doing he was filled with wrath, and swore that he would not let the squirrels have his nuts. He spent hours in the garage with a pellet gun, but at that distance he couldn’t hit them, and after awhile they learned to watch out for him and pillage when he wasn’t looking.
Clearly, what was needed was a way to keep the squirrels out of the tree. He wrapped the trunk of the tree with a sheet of aluminum so they couldn’t climb it, and waited.
But the outer limbs were so heavy with pecans that they hung near the ground. My father was watching from a window one day when a squirrel charged across the yard, vaulted easily onto a low-hanging limb, and went to work.
Now, my father is eighty-five years old, and he has become frail with a serious heart condition, but underlying nearly all his character traits is an innate, unyielding stubbornness. He conscripted children and grandchildren to haul down a bunch of two-inch pipe from the rafters of his shop and fasten scrap lumber across the tops to make something akin to goalposts, which were then hauled out to the tree and, with herculean effort, propped up under the outer limbs. On the off chance that a squirrel could climb PVC, he slathered axle grease all over the uprights.
Peeking out the windows of his house, he watched with smug satisfaction as, one after another, the squirrels came bouncing over to the tree, sat looking up at it in profound confusion for a few seconds, and went away dejected.
But time passed, and the pecans ripened. In late September the little green husks opened; the pecans turned loose and started falling to the ground. The squirrels were ready. While my father watched from his house, the squirrels watched from theirs. A pecan would fall, and by the time it stopped bouncing a lean gray shape would charge out of the woods to fetch it. As the weather cooled, the nuts dropped from the tree in greater numbers, and again the squirrels worked in shifts. They were quicker than he was, and they were winning.
He had to find a way to make all the pecans fall at once and gather them up before the squirrels could get to them. My sister drove up to his house one afternoon and caught him at it. He had stood a six-foot step-ladder in the back of his truck, climbed up to the top of the ladder, and was swinging a ten-pound piece of lumber overhead, whacking the limbs. My sister (who hauls him to the doctor two or three times a week and knows how much coumadin is coursing through his veins) threatened to kill him on the spot.
He did eventually manage to salvage a five gallon bucket full of pecans from his tree. Then one day my phone rang and he said, “Do you know any way to get crows out of a pecan tree?”
“Sure,” I said. “Douse it with diesel fuel and set fire to it.”
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