“In all our years living here, I’ve never seen so many squirrels,” Mel remarked last summer. “The red squirrel was the only one around when we built this house. Now the black and gray are everywhere.”

Several days later, while sitting at my desk observing a host of the rodents from my study window, their activity confirmed Mel was right. They scampered here and there, sending signals with their tails.

Across the lawn, up and down our redbud and Bradford pear tree they ran. And much to Mel’s disapproval, buried walnuts in the lawn.

As the various trees on our property grow, so does the critter population, which drives our cats, Cuddles and Mittens, nuts. Their gifts as faithful pets, I often find chipmunks, birds, and mice at the kitchen’s sliding door.

“The cats can catch a bird and chipmunk, but they’ll never taste squirrel,” Mel would say with particular authority.

One morning, he sat in the chicken chair (so named due to the rooster print on the upholstery), and I stood at the kitchen sink. A black squirrel scurried up the maple tree that shades the lower garden, chattered gleefully as squirrels do, ran the length of limb, and leapt to a branch of the maple tree shading the upper garden.

“Did you see that?” Mel asked

I nodded. “She’s showing off for you.”

He couldn’t help but grin.

True to their DNA, the red, black, and gray squirrels cohabit peacefully, albeit raucously. I never observe an argument or tussle for territory between them. They seem to share and share alike.

However, on this most pleasant day the end of May, I counted eight black squirrels in the maple tree shading the upper backyard garden. There went curling and whipping their tails again.

And sure enough, I spied their thirsty little tongues slurping from the bird bath in the lower garden. Two at a time! Birds and cats won’t infringe upon another’s water break or bath.

In such a noteworthy moment, I almost turned to the chicken chair to say to my mate, “Now, just look at that. Now the squirrels have invaded the bird bath.”

This is when my heart breaks entirely for what this little homeplace has lost. If I miss Mel’s wisdom, knowledge, and experience gained from a lifetime of observation and reading periodicals like National Geographic, so must our land and its inhabitants.

Now, with intention, I sit in the chicken chair with my meal and watch the wildlife play in the back acres. Cuddles and Mittens, fed and pampered wildlings at heart, would rather hunt and kill their food any day.

For I see their mouths quiver, their tails swag strategically from side to side, when they spy a nearby squirrel or bird.

Dear Reader, my indoor-outdoor pets have yet to capture one solitary backyard acrobat leaping from tree to tree. And I’m glad for it. For squirrels do not invade the house and gardens like mice and chipmunks do.

True enough, Mel was right.

Contact Iris at irisfarmletters@gmail.com