You know in cartoons, where Wile E. Coyote peers around a brick wall or something and his head pops out on the other side a ridiculous distance away while his hind end is still where should be? It’s a classic gag, and usually ends with him lighting his own rear end on fire.
Keep that in mind.
So there I was, phone lifted, taking pictures with my right hand while clutching a full tankard of post-lunch tea in my left. I was also, for the record, chanting oh dear oh no oh dear under my breath like Bilbo Baggins clutching a bobbing barrel.
Around the trunk of the Venerable Fir, the combatants circled. Only they didn’t know they were combatants yet–as far as Boxnoggin knew, there was just a strange sound he was ambling after, not very interested but he’d just peed so he might as well.
Travis, however–I’ve decided that’s this particular squirrel’s name, for reasons that will become clear frightfully soon–was circling the Venerable’s trunk a few feet up, blissfully unaware of the dog. In fact, Travis thought he had more to worry about from yours truly, and headed around the trunk deosil as Boxnoggin tended the same way.
I wish I’d been able to get a shot of Boxnoggin’s ass on one side, Travis’s head on the other, just like the Wile E. Coyote gag. This takes a lot more time to tell than it did when it happened–each time they circled the Venerable I thought that’s it, we’re gonna have a Moment, but Travis juuuuuust managed to stay out of sight. Two whole times they went around the tree, and I decided that while my luck was holding, I’d better get down there.
I stuffed my phone in my pocket, decided not to take a scorching sip of tea, and headed with utterly fake casualness down the stairs, my heartrate rising. I began to baby-talk Boxnoggin, hoping I could entice him up the stairs and away from the tree-rat.
You see, Boxnoggin is part terrier. A large part terrier, and they were bred to chase (furry, rodent-adjacent) things of a certain size, grab them, and shake the stuffing out of them for their masters. The chase-and-shake drive is stronger in some than in others, and poor Lord van Der Sploot got a double dose.1 It’s not so bad–with a larger prefrontal cortex and the advantage of opposable thumbs, it’s usually super easy to see trouble coming and redirect him.
There I was, on the stairs. I had Boxnoggin’s attention for a few precious seconds as he completed his last circuit of the Venerable and was coaxing him towards me. I was even hopeful we’d get through this without any screaming, tea intact.
And then I heard a sound. A ratcheting, spinning sound that for a moment I didn’t recognize.
Then I did recognize it and my heart sank like the fucking Lusitania.
Because, you see, every week I’d been testing the Yankee SquirrelFlipper to see if the battery was still good. (And, not gonna lie, because it makes me giggle to press on the thing and hear it start up.)
Boxnoggin’s ears perked so far they almost separated from his foolish little head. He turned, and what did his wondering gaze behold but a dangling Yankee SquirrelFlipper, working as intended, and clutching the spinning circle at its bottom was something glorious, something wonderful, something even I would have enjoyed seeing if the situation had been otherwise?
Because Travis, you see, had decided fortune favored the bold, and after circling the Venerable several times and finding the coast clear (because Boxnoggin was always just out of sight and Miss B was occupied at the north end of the yard having semi-conversation with Miranda) he had decided to take his shot, make his move, and get himself some sweet sweet sunflower seed action.
Now his front and back paws were clamped reflexively tight around a spinning wheel of death, and even a squirrel’s tiny brain would figure out things were not going well. So he began to yell. “MOTHERFUUUUUUUUU–“
For a moment Boxnoggin could not believe his eyes or his luck. He paused, one front paw hanging in midair because he had forgotten it, his entire body quivering with longing, excitement, and the deep instinctive imperative to get that shit and shake it like a Polaroid picture, man.
I dropped my tea, scrambled down the last few steps, and lunged for Boxnoggin’s collar. But… well, long story short, he wears two collars when out in the yard, don’t ask. The inside collar sits a little lower on his neck, and I thought if I could get it I had a chance of controlling the situation.
I damn near teleported. My fingers closed. I had the collar! Sweet success!
But not really.
I had his inside collar; the collar, in fact, that tends to pop open when one applies pressure. In the heat of the moment, I’d forgotten to grab for the catch instead of the strap.
And so it was I was bent over, my tea somewhere behind me flooding some volunteers from the hop vine since thankfully the tankard hadn’t landed on concrete, and I was beginning to swear. Something like, “oh no, nonono oh fuck me Batman–“
Of course, Travis was making a sound too. Not quite as Sam Kinnison in a blender as a certain one-eyed lord of my former backyard, but a dizzy chittering of high speed squirrel obscenities splashing in every direction with flying sunflower seeds.
Boxnoggin’s haunches tensed, his inside collar came free in my hand, and I was left staggering backwards holding an empty strap because I’d expected to be hauling a dog and my ass, a glorious counterweight in any hauling situation, was a distinct impediment to keeping my balance when momentum had already been achieved.
So to speak.
And Boxnoggin flew.
That’s another thing about this dog–he can catch some serious air. A little less now that he’s at fighting weight (i.e., almost round as a partridge and glossy as a raven’s wing) but if you get the hose out on a hot evening and let him chase the spray, you’ll see a display of gymnastics that would get a 9.9 from everyone but the East Germans.
The deep buried courage of Lord van der Sploot had been lit, and now he was afire with the berserker rage of his people.
“SHAKE IT!” he howled. “SHAAAAAAAAAAKE IT FOR MY LADY’S HONOR!” And he was airborne.
And all I could yell was “OH FUCK NOOOOOOOOOOOOO–“
Because, you see, he was aimed right for the spinning, dangling SquirrelFlipper. And any fool–including yours truly–could see he was going to catch it.
to be continued…