When I was 20 years old, some neighbor kids brought me a baby gray squirrel to tend to. A local boy had shot the mother squirrel in her nest and all the other babies died except for this one. I was a Natural History major in college at the time, so I consulted with my professors about the best way to care for this feeble female newborn squirrel. I ended up feeding her a concoction of yogurt and mashed oatmeal from an eyedropper. She began to get stronger and to grow. Actually, by the time this squirrel was a year old, she was huge. She was bigger than a house cat.
I named her Bourgeois. I have no idea where that came from or why; I certainly didn’t speak French. I called her Boojie for short. I fell madly in love with this animal and cared for her as anyone would for their pet. My house, which was an old Grange Hall in Bradford at the time, became full of stashes of walnuts and cranberries under every pillow and in every crevice. When Boojie was extremely happy or startled, she would do a back flip straight up in the air. She was very playful and sometimes naughty—like when she would run up my body like a tree trunk and frantically dig in my head for no apparent reason.
I remember the time I took Boojie to Saint Louis to visit my girlfriend, Nancy, who used to be my freight train hopping partner. Boojie and I went to Missouri from New Hampshire on a BUS. I have no idea what I was thinking, but I hid Boojie in a fancy hatbox and off we went on an overnight bus ride. Boojie was pretty good until the middle of the night when she made it very clear she was getting pissed at being confined in such a small space for so long. It was quiet and dark on the bus, so I put Boojie on a leash and let her run back and forth up above on the luggage rack.
Unfortunately, a bleached-blonde woman in the seat in front of us woke up and saw what probably looked like a giant rat running above her head. This woman had on more eye-makeup than Tammy Faye Baker…which accented her eyeballs as they grew huge and she was about to scream. I quickly covered her mouth and told her that it was my pet. She looked at me like I was a freaking madwoman and she continued to track my girl’s movement out of the corner of her heavily mascara-caked eye—but she didn’t bust me by complaining to the driver.
When we got to Saint Louis, the city was experiencing a deadly heat wave. I was assigned to stay in the third floor garret apartment of Nancy’s parents’ brick house. It was so stifling hot up there that I spent a great deal of the time soaking in a large claw foot bathtub, drinking gin and tonics. Boojie was so hot she got peevish and growly. I gave her ice cubes, which she would lick and then turn the cube around and around in her paws like she did with walnuts. She loved those ice cubes. She loved them so much that she stashed them all under a pillow.
Boojie spent a lot of the time lying—spread-eagled—next to me along the cool porcelain rim of the tub. She was panting. Me too. We were from New England, so this sultry heat was kicking the snot out of us both. When Booj got too hot she ran to the pillow to retrieve her ice cubes. She dug further under the pillow, and when she discovered they were gone she turned to me and started chattering at me full blast with what I can only imagine were the worse cuss words that a squirrel could come up with. When I started laughing at her, that only made her madder. She was ripshit. She ran back and glared at my glass, which was full of the ice cubes that she knew I had stolen from her. It was the only time I was actually afraid that she might bite me.
When Boojie reached sexual maturity she got bitchy and moody—like any other pubescent female. She started hibernating in the fiberglass insulation in the attic of the Grange. She got testy and screamed at me when I pulled her down—kind of equivalent, I guess, to a 14 year old girl calling you an asshole and slamming the door to her bedroom and staying in there for days. It was when Boojie started chewing the electrical wiring that I admitted she was depressed and needed to be re-introduced into the wild.
I re-introduced her slowly. I had a little land-locked cabin in Newbury that overlooked the backside of Mount Sunapee. I took Boojie there and we camped out for the remainder of the summer into early fall. We took long walks in the woods. At first Boojie stayed pretty close to me, running high above in the trees but always coming when I called. Then I left her for a few days at a time. Every time I returned I would call to her, and within a few minutes a huge gray squirrel would gleefully pounce on my shoulder, sniffing my neck in greeting. It was breaking my heart, but I knew that she was adapting well.
The waiting time it took for her to return to me got longer and longer and longer—until, finally, she didn’t return at all.
Excerpt from Bad Beaver Tales: Love and Life in Downeast Maine by Carol Leonard, 2018