I Once Hit a Squirrel — or, should I say, He Once Hit Me

I was riding my bicycle along a very pleasant path, winding between shade trees, when I heard rustling in a bush next to the path. Suddenly, even as I was passing by, an orange-brown ball of fur shot from the underbrush, headed right for me.

“Whoa! Hey buddy!” I shouted even as the rodent went into my spokes. The impact knocked him up and away from the wheel, to glance off my shoe. By the time I was stabilized enough to turn around, the squirrel was gone.

I was not far from here when I first wrote in this blog about the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult, back in 2004. (It is an episode worth revisiting, if only for the comments.) Now they are throwing themselves at passing bicycles as well.

I see a pattern among squirrels, a rule that goes something like, “whatever side of the path you are on, it is safer on the other side, and there is no limit to the risk required to justify getting over there.”

One stretch when I saw no squirrels today was when I was 20 miles into the ride and the shadow of a large bird of prey fell in next to me as I pedaled, and followed me for a while. I suspect it was one of the larger hawk varieties, but I had seen a buzzard on the ground earlier in my ride. Hopefully I wasn’t looking like the bird’s next meal, but rather something that might cause a rodent to do something stupid. Because they will.

Also on my ride today I saw a large number of water fowl, doing water fowl stuff, and chickens, raised by a homeless family between the creek and a golf course. Then there was the Caballero riding his dancing horse. He was an older gentleman, with ramrod-straight posture, plaid shirt over blue jeans, a white straw caballero hat protecting him from the sun. The horse was a big bay with a light step and plenty of moves.

At the southernmost point of my ride, I was debating whether to turn back or push on a little farther. That was decided by a friendly park ranger who told me that the path was closed, due to fire risk and some “hazard trees”. I’m assuming those are trees at risk of lighting up due to sparks. He told me that I could take the road and rejoin the trail a few miles south in Morgan Hill; I just laughed and turned around for home.

It’s not unusual to have a story after a ride, but today had Extra Story Density.


Suicide Squirrels Revisited

Recently I learned something about myself. When faced with a squirrel who seems determined to be bisected by my 100-psi 28mm bicycle tires, my response is to shout “Dude!” at the rodent. Perhaps better spelled “Doooooode!”

It is an involuntary response on my part, and it has expressed itself a few times lately. So far my shouting has worked.


The Squirrel of Darkness

I pass through a cemetery on my morning commute, and I’ve come to know many of the residents. There is, for instance, a family of red squirrels that live in an ancient tree that shades a primarily Japanese section of the graveyard. It is a tradition in many Asian cultures to honor the departed by leaving offerings, including citrus fruits and other items of food.

The squirrels play a vital role as agents for the spirits, gathering and appreciating the offerings. It is not theft; the squirrel is a proxy for things that can be felt but not seen, things that cannot eat but gain their nourishment through their furry surrogates.

Sometimes the squirrels make a mess of things, knocking over the cup that holds the burned-out incense sticks, scattering flowers and decorations. Spirits can be mischievous; it is the duty of their agents to express that in the physical world.

I said it was a family of red squirrels, but that is not strictly true. There is one among them with fur as black as the heart of a killer on a moonless night.

The dark spirits need their sustenance as well.


A Few Links of Note

A buddy of mine sent me an email the other day wishing me a happy Squirrel Appreciation Day. That holiday has come and gone with a minimum of squirrel suicide, but here’s a squirrel video I actually can appreciate. (In case you’ve already seen the video, which has made it’s way around the world via email of all things, I found a long-play version with a little more info and footage of a second clever thief.) Apparently the perpetrator of the video added obstacles one at a time, with this as the final result.

It is purely coincidental that the next two links are by the last two people to comment on this blog as of this writing.*

My favorite climate scientist has given us all reason to fight global warming: the supply of chocolate is threatened! This is a must-read, kids.

And earlier today I popped over to a blog and read an article about… blogs. It’s an interesting read about the blog life-cycle, how they grow and why they die, to which I can add a few musings. Muddled Ramblings is an outlier in blog taxonomy, I think; it lies outside the regular life-cycle, in a place where many blogs die. It’s a blog without any clear theme, and without any real growth in readership. The bloggcomm is small but strong; the comments provide a huge lift in value for everyone. But gone are the days of the Millennial Office Holder and similar hijinks, and no insider silliness has grown to replace them. Still I blog along, more than eight years and 1800 episodes worth. It’s a blog that will not die — a blog zombie!

After reading that article I’m pondering ways to better foster community here at MR&HBI. I don’t want to lose what we already have going, or to diminish in any way the contributions of the faithful, but it seems like there’s more stuff we could do together. I think the collaborative writing experiment It Goes Without Saying was on the right track, but the barrier to participation was a little too high – you had to know what was going on. Something collaborative that people could just drop by and toss in a contribution without too much effort would be really cool. (The Fantasy Novelist’s Scoreboard awaits your input!)

The writers of Web comics often have events where they write episodes for each others’ strips. That would be fun, to have guest posts from other bloggers here, while I blog there. Fun for me, certainly, but would it be compelling for readers? In the comic world, the guest artist borrows the characters from the strip and puts a new twist on them. It would be pretty hard for someone to take such an unfocussed forum as this one and put any sort of twist on it. Then again, since when has ‘not fun for the readers’ stopped me before?

I enjoy writing challenges; Elephants of Doom was the most elaborate response to one such challenge, and just a few days ago I cranked out The Secret Life of Sporks. That was a hoot, and I wouldn’t mind a bit if there were more challenges like that. I’d formalize something (“Wacky prompt Thursday!”) but I’m petrified that no one would suggest anything and the sound of crickets chirping would be embarrassing.

Also, I need to get the Muddled Calendar back up and running. Maybe we can finally name all the holidays.

But now I’m rambling far, far off the “post a few links” intent of this episode, staggering around the blogosphere like a drunken beachcomber with a broken metal detector, looking for answers but really too lazy to find them.

You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

* Actually, that’s not strictly true.


Rakin’ in the Big Bucks!

Now that Jer’s Novel Writer is selling just a little more briskly than I had hoped, which sure is nice (my warm gratitude to all those folks who have purchased a key… you guys rock!), I can breathe a little easier about the whole eating-and-paying-rent thing. It will be longer before the money runs out.

Nice mug!

You want one. You know you do.

And now, today, a whole new revenue stream opened up! Yowza! Yes, the laws of statistics dictated that sooner or later it would happen. With billions of people bouncing around on the Internet, and some percentage of those people either intoxicated or otherwise mentally challenged, it was only a matter of time before factors converged and someone clicked the fateful button.

Someone bought a Suicide Squirrel Alert Coffee Mug.

I’m not sure how long I’ve had the link over there in the sidebar, but it’s easily been more than two years. Piker Press will put a link to Jer’s Junk up when I have something in the current issue (thanks guys!) so it’s quite possible that this sale was related to my Peek of the Week over there this week.

Yep, 2 1/2 years, one mug sold. It doesn’t sound terribly impressive, but when you consider it in terms of percentage growth, this year has been explosive! And don’t worry, you can still be the first on your planet to sport a Suicide Squirrel t-shirt!

SSDC t-shirt

I think I’ll spend some time today on the Muddled University merchandise.

Finally, thanks to those folks who start their Amazon shopping adventure by clicking the link over there in the sidebar.

The Day the Squirrels Took Over

It was on this day in 1903 that Hinsdale, Illinois fell to the squirrels. The city fathers imported sackloads of the the fuzzy menace and declared them a protected species. That the citizens of that oppressed town still have not realized their own slavery and celebrate this day by offering up sacrifices is a testament to the diabolical cleverness of these rodents.

The Scandinavians, apparently, weren’t so easily fooled. According to their legends, the squirrel lives in the tree of life, and is the cause of all our trouble and bad luck. Possibly the nuts as well.

Squirrels manipulated events in England to cause the Pilgrims to seek the new world, then stowed away on their boats and swiftly conquered North America.

Glendale, Ohio fell to the squirrels in the 1940s, when, with the help of Tom “Benedict Arnold” Carruthers III, six black squirrels broke through perimeter defenses and took over. In another indication of the mind-control powers of the invaders, the black squirrel is now the city’s mascot.

All this stuff was culled from even less interesting factiods on this page, and then rephrased to remove the flagrant bias of the original author. I tried to find more details about the Miss America Pageant Disaster, but couldn’t find any dirt except other people quoting the same page.

Mail Call!

I got four things in the mail today. Two were good, two, well, not so much. Goodness was proportional to size.

Mail arrives on the first step of the flight up from the landlord’s place to mine. Today I was heading out to meet fuego to watch some hokej (rhymes with hockey) when I discovered a stack of stuff waiting for me. On top, two envelopes. Two rejection letters, one from an agent and one from a magazine. Neither came as a surprise, but of course I would never have sent them anything if I didn’t think I had a chance. The magazine is a forcefully independent one-man show with a good reputation. I like the way Brutarian thinks, and when I raise my game, he will be hearing from me again. I can run with those dogs. (My submission had been previously published over at Piker Press, which couldn’t have helped its chances. Brutarian will consider previously published stuff, but not with the same enthusiasm. Or something like that. Although I consider it a paying market, I would not have received any money for this submission.)

A bigger disappointment was the agency. These guys are big time, and they don’t take many new writers, but dang I wanted to be one of the few.

Of course, these folks send out thousands of rejections every year, and they have no time to give me a clue how to make my pitch more attractive to their competitor down the street. Forward, ever forward, is all I can do. Hone the message, sharpen the pitch, and try again. This is not a business for the fragile, as much as we want it to be. (Show us your inner heart, we ask of the artist. Lay bare your soul. Artist complies. Never mind. You suck. People wonder why Van Gogh cut his ear off.)

Next in the mail pile was a package from a Muddled friend. I now have in my paws More Booze Than Blood, by Sean Meagher. He posted here a while back that he would send people his book and I was not slow to take him up on the offer. I haven’t read past the cover yet, but the story is calling to me in a language that I don’t know, but understand. I’ll let you know. Perhaps it was some subtle way with words he showed when he posted here, perhaps it’s just that he paid the postage, perhaps it’s the striking cover, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.

At the bottom of the stack was the birthday box. Cans of green chile, a nice card, and a squirrel. Alas, the squirrel took some damage on his trip across the deep blue sea — the tail, which almost but not quite can be used as a beer holder, was forcefully and brutally separated from his butt. A team of mocrosurgeons is standing by to attempt what before has only appeared in science fiction: a squirrel retail. While they’re at it, they’ll see about beer-sizing the little guy.


The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy

Bixby awoke with a start. He had been dreaming again. His stepmother had taught him to remember his dreams and record them; she said that dreams carried messages and told of the future. Dutifully he picked up his journal and turned a blank page to the moonlight streaming in the window. His stepmother insisted that he include every detail of his dreams. “You never know what will turn out to be important,” she would say. She was renowned far and wide for her knowledge of magic.

Bixby thought back over the dream. It was one he’d been having often lately. There wasn’t much conversation to speak of except for things like “Oh! Oooooooh! Yes! Yes! YES!” but he remembered the elf-maiden vividly. Not her face, so much, but the way her elf-hair cascaded over her smooth elf-shoulders, the softness of her generous elf-breasts as they defied gravity, her narrow elf-waist… Bixby set to work sketching what he had seen in his dream. He didn’t know much about dreams, but he was really hoping this one would come true.

Over the years Bixby had demonstrated a flair for sketching and drawing. His mother had always encouraged him, and if anything his stepmother was even more enthusiastic. He was uncomfortable sometimes sharing his drawings with his stepmother, but she always just shushed him. “This is important,” she would say. “Don’t be such a baby. Now, think carefully. Are you sure there weren’t two elf maidens?”

Suddenly the moonlight was broken by a shadow. He turned and was looking into a pair of beady black eyes. The squirrel regarded him, unblinking. “We know you have it,” the squirrel said. The squirrel grinned. “And we’re gonna get it.”

In shock Bixby jumped up and turned to face the creature. Had it just spoken? Was he still dreaming one of those dreams where you dream you wake up but really you’re dreaming and then you wake up and you’re confused because you didn’t think you were dreaming before? He shook his head to clear the cobwebs.

“Honey, are you all right?” came his stepmother’s voice from the doorway behind him. “I heard a noise.”

“Um, I’m fine, ma.” Sure, fine. Talking squirrels. No big deal. It must have been a dream.

“Oh, I see you’ve had another of those dreams,” she said.

Not a dream, a nightmare. He turned away from her, back toward the window desperately trying to find a way to disguise the bulge in his pyjamas gracefully. The squirrel was gone.

Bixby did not get any more sleep that night. His stepmother had wanted to sit next to him on the bed and hear about his dream right then, but he had finally managed to put her off. Between getting caught by her in that condition and the talking squirrel, he was a wreck. At first light he decided to chop some wood to work off some of his tension. Ax in hand he was stepping out the door when his stepmother stopped him. “I think we have enough wood already, Honey,” she said.

“Can’t be too safe,” Bixby said. “Winter’s only a few months away.” He dashed for the forest. It was a longer dash than it had been; Bixby had transformed the small meadow that held the cottage into a much larger clearing, dotted with the stumps of the trees he had felled and chopped into firewood. He found a stout oak and set to work with the ax. Once the tree was down he hauled it over to the woodpile. It was much easier for him to move the trunks around these days; his constant chopping had caused his body to bulge with hard, lean muscle even as he grew into his tall frame.

He split up the log in record time, climbing the tiers of ladders to reach the top of the towering woodpile where he put the new logs. He could see all the way into town from up there, high above the treetops, and he imagined them laughing and pointing his direction, mocking his mighty accomplishment. “Just wait till winter comes,” he muttered. The exercise did the trick, though. He felt much calmer. He would be able to face his stepmother now, as long as she didn’t say anything that made him think… those thoughts.

He was surprised to find the tall, thin man waiting for him at the bottom of the last ladder. People mocked Graybeard, but never to his face. He wore the long flowing robes of a man who doesn’t have to work for a living, and the tall conical hat of a wizard.

“Hullo, Graybeard,” Bixby said.

“Hello there, young man. I have something very important to discuss with you. Is there somewhere we can go where they can’t hear us?


“The squirrels. I see you’ve done your best to eliminate their hiding places near your house, but they can be sneaky.” The wizard looked around and lowered his voice. “I need you to do something for me. There’s a thing, see, that I need you to go find.”

“What sort of thing?”

“Shhh!” Graybeard glanced nervously at the woodpile and steered Bixby away from it. “It’s an important thing. I’m putting together a team of experts.”

“I’m not expert at anything,” Bixby protested.

“Can you chop heads as well as you can chop wood?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“There you go then. The others are gathering in a rough tavern in a rough town many leagues from here. The journey will be very dangerous, as the squirrels and their evil minions will hound you every step of the way. Keep your crackers sealed tightly.”

“Why should I go, then?”

“Oh, there you are,” his stepmother said. “Oooh, you’re all sweaty.” She ran a finger over his sweat-slicked pectorals. ‘Rarrr,”

“When do we start?” asked Bixby.

Important Notice

Just a quick note (there’s been a lot of those lately, haven’t there?) that due to an unprecedented spike in squirrel chatter and some very disturbing news out of Toronto the Suicide Squirrel Watch Center has raised the alert level to RED (psychotic) worldwide and to the previously unheard-of MAGENTA in Toronto. Those of you who recall the movie Infra-Man (NTSC VHS is apparently very rare now, and goes for as much as $195. That, in itself, is appalling.) will understand the severity of high magenta levels.

Apologies for the Silence

Just a quickie here to explain my relative silence. The problem is that Bill is such a good host. When I go to the bar he comes to, so I leave my technology behind. Then he’s driving which means I’m not (he won’t fit in my car) which means, well, bring on the Big-Ass Beers! That means when I get home I have lots of things to say but not the fingers to say them with.

Oh, all right. The real reason is the game he has on his computer that swallowed my brain for a few days. But that’s all going to change today. I’m going to a bar and I’m taking my laptop with me, by gum!

On an unrelated note, Squirrel Chatter is at an all-time high, and — AND — yesterday as I was pusing my flat-tire bike (healthy lifestyle courtesy Bill) the Black Squirrel of San Angelo scampered across my path. I am not sure what evil this portends, but please take the necessary precautions.

Finally, Haloscan seems to be having trouble right now. If it weren’t for all the comments already in their system, I would consider switching. Hopefully by the time you read this the problem will be fixed.

Suicide Squirrel Threat Level Meter

I have realized that as I sit atop my media empire I have a responsibility to the community I serve. Having originally broken the story of the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult, I must take on the mantle and continue to monitor this nefarious and fuzzy organization. Therefore I have spent my precious afternoon putting into place the Suicide Squirrel Threat Level System. I will now be monitoring suicide squirrel communications activity (“chatter”, we call it in the biz), and based on that and other less tangible data I will periodically update the Suicide Squirrel Threat Level indicator on this site. Please be sure to check back often. Remember, preparedness is their worst enemy!

The threat levels are:
RED: psychotic
ORANGE: peeved
YELLOW: sick and tired
BLUE: ready to jump
GREEN: peaceful, easy feeling

Note that blue is where we would expect the greatest suicidal activity. Please pay close attention to the current threat and adjust your duct tape stockpiles accordingly. There may be times when the threat level seems arbitrary, but please be assured that this public service is backed by 100% USDA choice Science.

If you want to be part of the Suicide Squirrel Alert System, simply paste the following tag into your page. Your page will instantly update with the correct image:

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://homepage.mac.com/vikingjs/blogstuff/ThreatLevel.js”></script>

Thanks in advance for helping with this serious problem. If you do choose to become involved, I’d like to hear about it, either through the comment system or using the trackback thingie below.


Update! WordPress users can now become part of the network simply by dropping in a widget! Go, Team WordPress! Let’s take this battle to the next level!

Wildlife Survey

The other day I was walking the fifty meters between the house and my car when out from under my road-trip mobile scampered a bushy-tailed gray squirrel. There are two things I must remind you at this time. 1) Bushy-tailed Gray Squirrels are tree squirrels. They usually leave the scampering around on the ground to their diminutive chip-‘n’-dale ground squirrel brethren. 2) 87% of all documented squirrel suicides are by tree squirrels.

Naturally, before I drove, I checked my brake lines. I imagine that for a suicidal squirrel the car brakes are the greatest enemy. He dashes out into the road to his certain demise only to discover that his chosen vehicle of death has ABS and remarkably sticky tires. The squirrel survives and his squirrel buddies give him hell for it. Peer pressure can be ugly, even among squirrels.

All right, so Friday I caught a squirrel sabotaging my brakes. I caught him in time, no harm done. Saturday, yesterday, I stopped short as I walked to my car. There was a bear next to it. A fine, not-yet-full-sized California Brown bear. (Although I am now in Nevada, apparently there are treaties in place allowing certain limited visitation rights.) There was a time, not so long ago, I imagine, that the bears would go down to the lake or visit one of the tributary streams much as you and I get up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. Now I understand the paperwork is endless for a bear to get permission to take water from one of the streams. Don’t get them started about shitting in the woods.

Today as I went out to my car a golden eagle coasted overhead. It was huge. It was majestic. I’ll bet you a buck-fifty it was looking for squirrels. The raptor turned slowly, perhaps catching a draft over the release of hot air as I lowered the car’s top. It was so close I could have touched it if I had those telescoping arms like Dr. Octopus, or maybe if I was that rubber guy. You know who I mean. No, no, not the wonder Twins. They give me the creeps. There’s a few too many possibilities there, if you know what I mean. Anyway, wasn’t there some other rubber guy? He always won the arguments against Glue Guy.

Suicide Squirrel Death Cult

Location: John and Janice’s house (map)
Miles: 805.3

I got my first inkling of the seamier underside of this quiet town a few days ago while a passenger in John’s car as we headed up the Glenwood cutoff toward Highway 17. It was a peaceful morning; we had a few errands to run – I needed ethernet cables, John had an item to drop by the tailor’s in preparation for his upcoming Polkacide gig. The sun shone down through the branches high overhead. Visibility was excellent, and the day quiet. Not even a Metro was going to sneak up on a woodlands creature on that day.

Yet, inexplicably, as we approached a tree (map) a squirrel leapt out of the foliage directly in the path of the car. John stomped on the brakes, but it was far, far too late. The squirrel vanished out of sight beneath the hood. John looked in the mirrors while I turned around to see the aftermath, but there was no obvious body. Perhaps he had got lucky.

John and I laughed about it, imagining the other squirrels on the side of the road egging that one on, but John must know. He’s been around here too long to not know about the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult. People keep their dark secrets to themselves in small towns.

It was today that the truth became obvious to me. Driving peacefully up Glenwood from the main town (map), two six-packs of beer placed carefully so that the side-to-side forces of the upcoming twisty road would not dislodge them, a squirrel came dashing out from the far side of the road and ran full-tilt to intercept me. I hit the brake, dumping bottles of beer out onto the floor on the passenger side, but as I slowed the squirrel changed course toward me. I cringed as my car passed over the squirrel. Once again, however, when I looked in my rear-view mirror, there was nothing. No squirrel guts, but no squirrel scampering to safety.

“Who trains the squirrels here anyway?” I asked the sky, as if every municipality had a squirrel trainer and the one for Scotts Valley just wasn’t very good. But after my initial innocent outburst, the terrifying truth began to dawn on me.

A hundred yards farther on lay the body of another squirrel. This one clearly had lost his bet with the gods of steel and rubber.

Yet there are eerie parallels between the two squirrel encounters, the most sinister being the complete disappearance of the mad rodents. Ghost squirrels? Perhaps it is an auto-matador squirrel club, keeping points among its members, who try to get as close to the car as possible without buying the acorn stash. Perhaps. But if had been something that innocent, then the locals would have been able to talk about it. No, the secret must be darker. It must be the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult.