Pippin is a very gentle dog, though you might not guess it to look at him. He actively smiles, and only people who have had a smiler of their own recognize this look as one of love and excitement as it is admittedly similar to a snarl. Sometimes we meet people who tell us that they don’t have a dog but they have cats, we always say, “Oh, Pippin loves cats!” and every single one of these cat people has given us an uncertain side eye, waiting for us to add that he loves to eat them. But that’s not the case. He has several feline friends in our neighborhood who come out to greet him on our walks, and he only chases cats if they run. Granted, he’s almost always on a leash when he meets a cat, but on the few occasions that he’s been off leash with a cat, if the cat doesn’t run, Pippin just tries to goad the cat into playing with him. He just genuinely likes cats.
He also chases squirrels (which invariably run) but his varying styles leave me doubtful that he would know what to do if he caught one. He obliterates stuffed toys and has mastered the emergency squeakectomy, but sometimes he approaches the squirrels so casually that you’d think he was going to chat about the weather. Sometimes he goes into border collie mode, crouching and stalking so stealthily that it takes him ten minutes to get across our tiny yard. Other times he covers the distance from the porch to the fence in two great bounds and he gets so close to catching a fluffy tail. I don’t want to encourage his vicious side, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the only option I have left.
In the early days of Quid Facis (okay, it was just a little over a year ago), I wrote about the pesky but amusing Sparky, a squirrel (or possibly Nordic cryptid) causing a bit of havoc in my back yard. Sparky was begrudgingly forgiven for his acts of vandalism when he (or another squirrel on his behalf) brought me surprise plant babies. Haha, good ol’ Sparky.
But Sparky hasn’t brought me any presents this year and I’m having a tough time looking past this year’s transgressions. Sparky’s original sin, much like the common (and somewhat misogynistic) original sin story, involved the taking of forbidden fruit. But Sparky didn’t eat an apple (or fig, depending on your interpretation); I don’t grow those in my yard anyway. I do have a cherry tree, and we did have a peach tree until it just gave up on life last year. Sparky didn’t take those prize fruits either. You see, Sparky seems to live not in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but rather in the Tree of Idiot Rodents, and Sparky partook of the forbidden fruit known as the patio string light.
To my knowledge, there was no snake directing Sparky’s actions, though we do have some rather shifty looking lizards about; I’d better add them to my list for questioning.
In addition to last year’s patio lights, Sparky seems to have also nibbled on our patio furniture, gnawing through the plastic weave to expose the metal framing in a few places. It’s not bad enough to have to replace the whole set (good, it wasn’t cheap, and I really like it!), but it’s enough to put me in a bad mood whenever I remember it.
Determined to make our patio a fun little outdoor hangout, we resolved to replace the lights that Sparky had destroyed the previous summer, and bought some replacements. The Tree of Idiot Rodents happens to be burr oak and produces the most grotesquely enormous acorns I’ve ever seen, and when we saw how Sparky had expertly cut the bulbs from our string lights (before burying them in a flower bed like a tiny confused would-be tulip gardener), we assumed the style of the lights was the problem. The bulbs were of remarkably similar size and shape to the monster acorns produced by our tree (with differences that were glaringly obvious to all creatures besides Sparky, apparently) and dangled from the main wire on a little stem. In purchasing replacement lights, we carefully chose lights that didn’t have a stem, but rather had the wire running directly through the base, sort of like outdoor Christmas lights.
We even found a pole specifically made to help hang patio string lights, and we made use of it to drape the lights all the way around our cozy little seating area. It looked really nice and set the space off from the rest of the yard in a way that I was really proud of. We were lucky enough to enjoy the space with friends once before Sparky struck again, telling us in no uncertain terms that the stem was not the issue.
I cursed the wretched rodent as we took the remaining lights down until we could find a solution. I researched online how to keep squirrels from eating patio lights because there was no possible way I was the only person with this problem. Some of the solutions called for the use of things like coyote urine to keep squirrels away, but that didn’t seem like the ambiance I wanted for the patio, so I continued researching. Another resource said that hot pepper would deter them, or even peppermint oil, applied directly to the string of lights, although the advice cautioned that the oil would have to be reapplied after any rain.
We had also noticed that our lights were a little heavy for their own wire and were sagging. We were considering getting steel cable to hang them from to relieve some of the tension on the wires themselves, as is sometimes seen with the patio lights for restaurants and bars and traps set by conniving but practical faeries. I had an idea that sort of combined the two issues.
Rather than swabbing the wire with peppermint oil every time it rained (and maybe more frequently? There was almost no information about how long the oil would remain potent in a drought), I wondered what would happen if I soaked some twine in peppermint oil until it was really pungent and minty fresh, and then wrapped the twine around the wire to serve as both a little extra support and hopefully rodent deterrent. (I also liked the idea of peppermint as opposed to chili pepper because peppermint is also rumored to keep mosquitos away, and the mosquitos have historically been terrible in our yard.)
Essential oils are expensive, but not any more expensive than buying yet another string of yard lights, so I decided to try and maximize the mintyness (the little red line tells me that’s not a word either with the y or an i, but you and I both know what I’m saying, so the little red line can fuck off). I put most of a whole bottle of peppermint oil on the spool of twine, eventually placing the whole roll into a jar and then cramming the remaining space full of peppermint leaves from my garden, so that it looked like the world’s driest mojito (smelled lovely though). I put the lid on, gave it a hardy shake (to muddle the leaves), and left it to steep. I had intended to only leave it over the weekend so that the fresh mint leaves had time to contribute but not so long that they began to get slimy and gross (although I had bought a spare roll of twine just in case it went all salad-greens-in-the-back-of-the-fridge on me). I even took pictures in case it worked brilliantly and I could put in on the internet as a helpful how-to for all my fellow victims of squirrel vandalism.
It ended up being a couple weeks before I took the twine out of the jar to wrap around a new string of lights (and the remaining strands that we had moved to safety in the meantime). The twine was pungent but not gross and I took a wild guess at how much it would need to cover the wire to adequately deter Sparky. I wrapped it pretty tightly on the new strand, but spaced it out after that because my observations indicated that Sparky was only taking lights that were strung along the fence. An additional string that we had along the garage had remained in place and untouched even after we removed the strand that Sparky had snacked on.
At long last, we had the lights back in place and the patio looked lovely again. Except, it was July and grossly hot, so we weren’t too keen to sit out in the sweltering and stuffy evenings at present.
Only a week or so later, we had results. The twine seemed to have no effect on Sparky who still managed to harvest a light bulb, but this time it took us longer to notice because the twine kept the line from drooping all the way (and because it’s light so late, we were often in bed before the lights automatically turned on, or failed to turn on, as was the case of everything downstream of Sparky’s harvest).
I don’t know what to do. I want to have lights for our patio. I love the way they looked for the two weeks that they worked. The biggest problem seems to be that Sparky never learns that the lightbulbs offer no nutritional value. We’ve even thought about leaving the lights on constantly in hopes that Sparky, who only seems to seek out his forbidden fruit during daylight hours, would get a good old fashioned electrical shock that would either teach him his lesson or send him on to greener branches, but that feels like such a waste of electricity. And what if it takes a couple shocks to learn the lesson? I mean, Sparky clearly isn’t an intellectual, and his lethargic logic might extend to experiencing electrical current.
I guess in the mean time I’ll keep telling Pippin about every squirrel I see in the yard so he can chase them down in his own curious and gentle way. He’ll either chase Sparky off or learn to tell him that the light bulbs are off limits. Good boy, Pippin.