If crickets are good omens, what does it mean when a squirrel comes in to watch TV?
A loud, chirping cricket may be considered a good omen. But Mychal Wilmes reflects on all the creatures in their house over the years that weren't so positive, like bats, birds, mice and squirrels.
"“What’s that squirrel doing in our house?’’ Kathy asked on a chilly fall night while we watched television. I thought she was kidding until I saw the red squirrel not far from the TV. Maybe it just wanted to catch its favorite show. "
- Mychal Wilmes
Ancient Chinese texts reveal that women collected crickets in the fall, domesticated them, and kept them in ornate hollowed out gourds so their music could be heard year-round. (The gourd cages are eagerly sought by collectors who are willing to pay princely sums.)
Chinese superstition tells us that a loud cricket means money is coming and that harming one would lead to bad luck. Millions of crickets were shipped to the nation’s capital to curry good health and great intelligence. Although one cannot imagine how, crickets were trained to fight each other for sport.
Grasshoppers are shirttail cousins to the cricket and symbolize peace, freedom, joy, and many other things. Grasshoppers spread a path of destruction and disaster in the Dust Bowl years when billions of them darkened the sky, chewed through grain fields, and bankrupted farmers.
It may have been unwise to be so upset by the cricket’s chirp, but it ruined a good night’s sleep and left me cranky when the sun rose.
“Why are they getting into the house?’’ Kathy asked.
Even if our abode was locked up like Fort Knox, a cricket, mouse, bat, or bird can and has found their way in. A tennis racket came in handy to fell the bat, but our daughters insisted that the sparrow not be harmed. It took the bird more than an hour to find the open front door. A trap set with peanut butter dispatched several mice.
“What’s that squirrel doing in our house?’’ Kathy asked on a chilly fall night while we watched television. I thought she was kidding until I saw the red squirrel not far from the TV.
Maybe it just wanted to catch its favorite show. All kidding aside, its presence hinted at a major structural problem. A windstorm had buckled flashing from the porch, leaving wood exposed.
The final straw came when Kathy called to say that she was stranded on the highway. The car stalled, wreaked of gasoline, and a pool of gas had formed on the pavement.
The mechanic easily spotted the problem — the fuel line had been eaten through by a squirrel. The incident could have turned the car into an inferno.
“You should do something about them,’’ he said.
The shotgun had been given away years before, and red squirrels had free run of the farmstead because our dog was no match for them.
Live traps were set, but no squirrels were captured. An exterminator visited, explained that squirrels in the attic spread disease and could cause fires by chewing on electrical wires. He visited for a couple hundred dollars and there would be additional charges for each squirrel caught.
You are lucky, he said. A business owner who operated a fleet of skid steers suffered a huge financial loss when squirrels invaded a building and ate through several electrical harnesses.
“He carries a gun with him whenever he walks around the yard now,’’ the would be-squirrel catcher said. He never did catch a squirrel and explained it happens on occasion despite his expertise.
The squirrel problem was left behind — or so I thought — when we moved to town. The farmstead’s new owner has shot several red squirrels. With them mostly gone, chipmunks moved in.
Squirrels appear to have followed us to town. Several nearby walnut trees provide ample food. The rodents seem to be forgetful, given that digging in the garden reveals buried nuts. Corn planted by the squirrels grows in the flower bed.
The neighbor across the way shoots them on sight, but the population continues to grow. Maybe, like crickets, squirrels are good omens.
Nope, they do not seem to be.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.