Thursday, October 24, 2013

The week of the Eastern Gray Squirrel

I have been working at developing a different lesson for each grade level that visits Arrowhead, and seven lesson plans for our "outreach" lessons for kindergarten -- we visit each kindergarten in the Floyd County school system seven times during the school year. My plan is to introduce a different Georgia animal in each lesson, illustrate several of the Georgia Performance Standards for that grade level through that animal, and tell a story that involves that animal to reinforce a few of those standards. 

I've used the wonderful American marsupial, the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) with several second grade classes. It's a fascinating animal, and I just happen to have several stories in my repertoire that feature this animal.

With kindergarten I've taught about the alligator and the box turtle and used native American stories about how alligator lost his beautiful smooth golden skin, and the time turtle went on the warpath. Watching kindergartners respond to real live animals like these two is a lot of fun.

We have had lots of "outreaches" and field trip visits so far this year, but on Wednesday we had our first Third Grade field trip of the year. I decided to make the ever-present Eastern Gray Squirrel our third grade animal. It is a very successful species as homeowners know. As any bird-feeder knows. As British folk know, since invasive Gray Squirrels from America have all but obliterated the native squirrels of Great Britain.

One of my old standby folktales is the old "Sody Saleratus" and, ta-dah!, it features a squirrel. So I prepared a squirrel coloring/memento sheet, read up on those fascinating critters, -- They can turn their rear feet to face backwards which allows them to run head-first down a tree trunk! -- and practiced my story. I had a great time with the Cave Spring third-graders. 

Our "Coloring Sheet" for Third Grade

We had a lot of work done on our house last year, as some of you will remember. One job I gave the contractor was to squirrel-proof our attic. They made a heroic effort, nailing up hardware cloth inside the attic eaves. Still I have heard occasional tale-tale scurrying footpads over my head, and this week as colder weather arrived the bushy-tailed rodents relocated in noisy numbers to our attic space. I made a mental note last night to buy some more hardware cloth.

Then came today. 

Sheila rises early twice a week to exercise at a local gym. She was dressed this morning and going out the door when she noticed our lights playing games. They would dim down to a faint yellow, then suddenly glow brightly, then just as quickly blink completely off, then bright, then dim then bright then off, etc. Up the stairs she comes to tell me. About the same time my consciousness is beginning to comprehend that something is amiss. I smell a rancid electrical burning and hear periodic pops and crackles. My first thought was: Eastern Gray Tree Rats! --errr, squirrels.

After walking around the house, turning things off, hearing more pops and watching the continuing light show, and ascending the stairs to even stronger acrid smells, I decided to call 911 and keep our 144-year-old from burning down. 

I was too busy trying to find fire to take pics of the wonderful firefighters
who came to our rescue this morning. They came is several vehicles, 
including one that looked a lot like this.

The firefighters were here in no time, in force, armed with some pretty impressive technology. Their heat-seeking video gun soon located a burned out surge suppressor on some of our computer equipment in our bedroom. But the popping light show was undiminished and they decided that cutting electricity to the house was the best course till Georgia power could check things out.

The bucket truck

Sheila HAD to get to work -- big deadlines this week, so she showered in the dark while I waited on Georgia Power, and the fire department were barely out of the yard before two friendly and efficient linemen for Georgia Power showed up with a bucket truck and more amazing equipment. 

The bucket truck

In a matter of minutes they had isolated the root cause of our problems. 

 The section of shorted wire 

Yep. You guessed it. Sciurus carolinensis, the good old Eastern Gray Squirrel. There, right at the old telephone pole at the edge of the road at the driveway, the insulation on the Georgia Power supply line to our house had attracted the attention of a squirrel, and as a result it was shorted almost completely out. 

I enjoyed talking with the two men as they worked, demonstrating the marvelous advances in technology that allow linemen to avoid much of the danger and muscle strain of past decades. They taught me how to read the poles along our street. The new pole across the street with its recent tag with a "12" nail signifying 2012 installation. The many climbing spike wounds and darkened square (from an old-style Georgia Power metal notice) that showed the pole at the drive to be a 1940s pole. The one on the corner with two bands of faded paint that used to denote a bus stop when Georgia Power ran the city buses.

They let me keep the bad section of wire to show off and walked with me to our electric meter and main cutoff so we could let the energy flow again. And they left. 

Sheila was ready to head out to Kennesaw. I showed her the wire. She told mer about our friend Welton's recommendation of Purdy Electric. And she was gone. I walked around the house checking on stuff. The stove was definitely damaged. The microwave was dead. Lights and electronics in the downstairs hall were off. A clock-radio had expired. The laser printer had bit the dust. There may be more. 

Two fine young fellows from Purdy Electric showed up about noon. They got to work, first carefully checking the circuit breaker panel. they found the breaker for the front heat-pump buzzing and hot, and so replaced it. They climbed into the attic and checked out the wiring and junction boxes there, then crawled under house and checked the wiring there. One of the guys is from Trion, the other from Armuchee. He came through our school but missed me by way of Nancy Smith's fourth grade class.

Tomorrow morning North Georgia Equipment will be here to check out the AC/Heat System. It seems to be working fine. And I guess I'll have to get out and find a stove and microwave.

My friend, former student-teacher, present "boss" at Arrowhead, and genuine animal lover, Vivian Davis Chesley kept a pet Eastern Gray Squirrel named Charlie for more than a decade. She loved that rodent. So I hesitate to tell of my current emotions regarding Eastern Gray Tree Rats.


  1. I'll toss a little sympathy your way for the disruption.

    I'm impressed you had a pole from the 1940's.

    two friendly and efficient linemen for Georgia Power showed up

    Will that always be the case going into the future? There is some decline in service and ability among our polity.

    demonstrating the marvelous advances in technology...

    What we see in some areas is societal decline masked by technological advancement.

  2. You are a hoot, Fred.

  3. I suspect human nature to change very slowly if at all. :-)

    While it is important to recognize deadly sins which are evrywhere apparent, I find it pleasant to enjoy good where I find it as well. It was pleasant to have efficient and friendly public and private responders to our little emergency yesterday. May their tribe increase.

  4. *Expect! --- Was that autocorrect at work or weak brain? :-)

  5. I expect human nature to change very slowly if at all. :-)

    I find that demography is destiny, and our demographics are changing quite rapidly. But there is almost no discussion about this. "Some things are better left unsaid", but Nature bats last.

    I was mainly asking here: I'm happy you had good service, but do you think our society is on an arc to maintain that level of service? Improve? Decline?

    The killing of the 4th grade teacher in Danvers MA is quite tragic. Anomaly or sign of the time?