Kristin Livdahl, red squirrels

Today’s post comes via Kristin Livdahl. Kristin is a good friend and a wonderful writer.  She works for an animal welfare association, assuring the good condition of animals in her local shelter.  Check out her novella “A Brood of Foxes,” published by Aqueduct Press.
What follows is a story about how scary cute creatures can be:


One summer during college, I drove up from the Twin Cites to visit a friend in Two Harbors north of Duluth and we decided to do a short trip in the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area. As canoe trips went, it was a lazy one, just one portage and a couple of nights at a single camp. It was early enough in the season that we had our choice of campsites and we chose a pretty spot in a clearing on a small island. We thought the island would protect us from bears. We found out later from a passing fisherman that that was far from true. A bear made an almost nightly pass of the island, walking right through camp as he swam from one side of the lake to the other. A bear had ruined a previous canoe trip for me, leaving four adults with six hungry kids, a pack of soggy saltines and a long day of canoeing to get back to civilization. The crafty bear had climbed a tree and pulled down the rope on one side until the pack of food swung close enough to be snagged. My dad had held my hand up to one of the monster claw marks on the tree. We were all very glad the pack was kept away from camp and that we’d slept though it. This isn’t about bears, though.

The first night, we had a quick, cold dinner after setting up camp, hoisted the big, canvas Duluth pack up on a tree branch and crashed. I had to chase down a couple of the empty packages that had held our dinner. We assumed the culprits were some of the numerous small wildlife hanging around the campsite but didn’t really think anything of it. The next morning, breakfast was pancakes made on the campfire and that’s when we noticed the little red squirrels. They crept up to us as we ate and one succeeded in grabbing a pancake right off the pan. We spent the day exploring the lake by canoe and swimming in the rocks at the landing near the campsite. We made dinner as the sky started to darken and that’s when the squirrels began an all out assault, trying to steal food from our plates and the pans. We were relieved when we were finally able to hoist the pack back up the tree. A clever little squirrel climbed down the rope, and kept trying to crawl under the tightly closed flap. After it returned after we shooed it away a few times, I picked up a fallen tree branch and snuck up to the tree. All I could see was its tail peeking out from under the flap. I hit the tree as hard as I could making a pretty loud noise and shaking the tree and the squirrel darted out and disappeared into the leaves. The woods around us became dead silent. I looked at my friend and she shrugged. I put the branch down and started back to join her at the fire. Suddenly, the air filled up with the chittering of a million angry squirrels. I looked up to see them gathered on branches surrounding the entire clearing and I had a brief flash of our bones lying in the campsite, picked clean by sharp, nut-breaking teeth. The scolding diminished over time but picked up any time we moved. Our tent was off to one side, right next to the woods and far from our fire pit, but being inside made me feel safe enough to sleep. I woke to the sound of rain dropping on the tent, only enough to wonder why the weather report had said it would be clear, and drifted back to sleep. The next morning, we exited the tent to find twigs and acorns piled four inches high all around its base. We didn’t say anything to each other as we packed up the canoe, but I knew we would never be camping on that island again.

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