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Squirrels are busy building nests and planning for offspring, and you can tell they’re in a hurry by the number of munched branch remnants which float to the ground from above almost every day. Each year this reminds Larry Jensen of two things: taking and giving advice, and his days as one of the legendary squirrel relocators in his suburban neighborhood.

Larry is married to a magnificent gardener. His wife doesn’t have a run-of-the-mill green thumb. All ten digits are bright emerald when they’re not smeared with potting soil or compost. Most Saturdays you will find Larry and his wife in their yard digging and planting and rearranging things as if this tiny plot of land of theirs was located somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates. She is the brains of the operation, the artist in touch with textures and colors and placement of plants. They both are the brawn, their huffs and puffs a lyrical duet that at days-end brings great satisfaction and towering aches. Larry is often breathless at the beauty of it all, and from hauling 60-pound bags of mulch.

Their house is surrounded by oaks and hickories, so they are also surrounded by squirrels. Too many of them. These gray rodents chase birds from the bird feeders or eat the bird seed. They tear up the yard burying nuts or looking for them. Squirrels have noticeably terrible memories.

Larry tried to reduce the squirrel population one spring. He was emotionally and theologically torn between his beliefs in creation care—tending God’s garden, including creatures—and creation care through protecting the good growth of plants and trees. He was fed up with the holes in the lawn and the plants uprooted and dying.

He went to the local garden center for ideas, and they suggested that he put predator’s urine around bushes and trees. He considered this, found bottles in the appropriate aisle, and then noticed the price. Those little bottles were very expensive. “Must be hard getting the foxes to pee in ‘em,” he thought. He bought cayenne pepper spray and powder instead. Cheaper, and came with a guarantee. It’s supposed to work like squirrel anthrax, only not deadly. He sprinkled and sprayed all over the garden, and the next day saw squirrels using the stuff for acorn fajitas.

Larry did an Amazon search and discovered a wonderful invention called a “tender trap.” With a little bit of peanut butter on some Triscuits set inside this rectangular cage the clever critters would find their way inside and trigger the trap. Why a trap? Because Larry had done his research on the World Wide Web. Not completely as it turned out. But a lot of it.

Larry discovered that there are 300 different kinds of squirrels, including 36 species that actually fly. They are on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. They can fall more than 100 feet without hurting themselves. He wished he could see one fall just to find out. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s daughter, Mildred, had a pet squirrel named Custis Morgan. (But you probably knew that.) Squirrels can bury up to 25 nuts an hour. And spend 25 hours trying to find just one of the nuts they’d buried. There is one squirrel road kill every 10 miles on average. And the most important fact: the only way to get rid of them, alive, is to relocate them.

Larry set the trap with great anticipation. He kept track of his conquests each month on one of the cabinet doors in the garage, like a wild-west gunslinger notching his holster. In October one year he relocated 63 squirrels. He would bring them to the densely wooded campus of a nearby university. He knew there were a lot of nuts there.

And then one day one Larry’s above average children said, “Dad, how do you know if you’re not capturing the same squirrels over and over?” Larry knew about general revelation, but this was something special. It was the telling gap in his research, and the kind of advice he needed much earlier in his relocation project.

So, Larry began to use bright fluorescent orange Rustoleum spray paint on the tails of several of his captives before bringing them over to the university. And sure enough. First, friends down the street reported the strange sightings: squirrels with orange tails loose in their yard. Then he saw them frolicking around his own backyard, surrounded by swarms of squirrels, welcoming their version of a celebrity, outlandishly dressed.

With more research he discovered that relocation must be at least ten miles distant or squirrels would find their way home. Now Larry was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier—he’d never been delegated to his church’s Synod—but he was not about to drive 10 miles to relocate every captive. So, he brought them to a nearby nature center and turned them loose. It wasn’t 10 miles, but if they were to come back to his property, the squirrels had to cross a four-lane intersection, five if you counted the turning lane.

This seemed to solve the problem. The squirrels lived safely in their new surroundings with their natural hair unpainted. And the Jensen garden was restored to its Edenic, and God’s, glory.

Larry’s lasting, recurring nightmare was an image of a relocated, revengeful, chattering squirrel climbing up a stop light to push one of those pedestrian crosswalk buttons.

Dave Larsen

Dave Larsen, humorist and storyteller, is a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, Illinois, along with his wife Sally. He is the retired Director of the Bright Promise Fund for Urban Christian Education in Chicago.


  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    I’d hoped that Larry, his bright & gifted wife, or at least one of his far-from-average children would have figured out how to entice the squirrels to nosh on the emerging cicadas. I’ve heard those bugs have a nutty taste . . .

  • Bill Dykstra says:

    Thanks Dave. Felt good to start the day with laughter.

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Thanks for this hilarious piece! I’ll remember it–especially “acorn fajitas”–as I watch our Holland squirrels forget where they buried dinner.

  • Tom Boogaart says:

    So many lines to smile over. I loved this one: “Must be hard getting the foxes to pee in ‘em,” he thought.

  • George Goris Vink says:

    Dave, if you preach like you write, tell me where you’re preaching next……
    A delightful read with the stoplight maneuver as the clincher….great!

  • Ann Schenkel says:

    Funniest article I’ve read in a long time, Dave!
    Thanks much.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Dave, I needed some humor – you provided it, and now I’m begging for more!

  • Jim Terborg says:

    Many years ago Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion discussed a sure fire technique to solve the squirrel problem in Lake Wobegon. Convert all the squirrels to Lutheranism. Then they will show up only on Christmas and Easter.

  • Christopher Poest says:

    This was delightful. Thanks, Dave!

  • Al Mulder says:

    Thanks, Dave. I used one of those tender traps for a squirrel who wanderred into our home a few months ago. The squirrel spent a bit of time in eachother’s company, and from the squirrel’s perspective the trap was not tender.

  • Nancy says:

    We had squirrels in our attic so I trapped them and brought them to Calvin’s Nature Preserve. It wasn’t far from our house, BUT we too had a 4-lane road (Beltline) between our house and the Preserve. Hopefully those rascals were smart enough to not attempt a crossing. If they did, they left our attic alone. Whew! Thanks for a the delightful story!

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