This is Fred, who took time from his busy day of foraging to pose for me. Or maybe it was Fred 2 or Fred 3. It’s hard to tell one Fred from another when they’re all the same size, wear identical clothes, and live in the same trees.

I don’t know why I decided to call them Fred. Some of them, no doubt, should be called Fredricka, but I’m pretty sure this one’s a Fred.

If you’re going to name a squirrel, I suppose, one name is as good another, unless it’s something like “Bushytail” or “Nimble Toes” or “Nutsy,” cutesy names you might find in a children’s book.

These critters don’t belong in a children’s book because they are unrepentant thieves. But so was Peter Cottontail.

Maybe it was the unconscious memory of Red Skelton’s “Freddie the Freeloader” character that brought the name “Fred” to mind. Squirrels don’t come knocking on the door with a goofy grin and an outstretched hand; they just raid the bird feeders and stuff their cheeks.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the ground were not littered with hundreds of acorns, barely hiding in the grass.

But why eat acorns when there are sunflower seeds and peanuts and chunks of cracked corn for the taking?

I inherited the love of watching birds at the feeder from my great-grandmother, known to the family as “Ma.” Others called her “Georgia,” even though her given name was “George Anne.” We think. The records are sketchy.

Ma’s influence was reinforced by my grandmother, Viola, known to the family as “Bubba.”

Suffice it to say that my Uncle Tom couldn’t pronounce the word “mother” when he was small. It’s not the worst nickname to come from the mouths of babes.

Both Ma and then Bubba, in their later years, would sit in an old stuffed rocking chair by the window and watch birds come to a feeding tray perched in a peach tree just outside.

They could sit for hours and never turn on the TV or open a book, just watching the birds.

I confess that I’m not that deep into avian society. I rarely spend more than five consecutive minutes watching birds, but two new squirrel-resistant feeders outside the kitchen window keep us entertained while washing dishes or sitting on the deck out back.

When COVID-19 turned our dining room into a home office, I moved the old feeders squarely into view from my seat at an old oak table I restored. I keep a tray of dried meal worms on the window sill, and checking which bird-friends have come to visit offers a refreshing break from the computer screen.

We have a bluebird pair in the front yard this year after a pair of Carolina wrens took over the “See Rock City” birdhouse in the back last fall. We have cardinals and titmice, nuthatches and chickadees, goldfinches and sparrows. Catbirds lately came calling, and a lonesome dove has been poking around; there used to be two of them.

And then, of course, there’s Fred. Or Fred 2 or 3 or 6 or 8.

Photo: Tony W. Cartledge

Several times a day, Fred scampers across the street from our neighbor’s oak trees and boldly makes his way to the bird feeder, where he shinnies up the skinny pole as if it were a stairway. Sometimes he stops to taunt me, but usually just goes straight for the food.

Since I intended to attract birds and not squirrels, I generally shoo him away – a plastic highlighter thrown at the window usually does the trick – but he always comes back.

I could probably trap him and try to relocate him, but the local squirrels would resent it, and it wouldn’t make a dent in the local squirrel population.

So, we’ve reached an uneasy sort of peace. I figure feeding the varmints may just be the penance due from my teenage years when I used to go squirrel hunting in a feeble effort to fit in with my deer-hunting classmates.

I was always more interested in trekking alone through the woods than in shooting squirrels, anyway, and I’ve recalled those days as we celebrate Earth Day this week; most of the woods I frequented are gone now.

I still love the woods, whether on a trail or not. There’s something about the delicious earthy atmosphere and the blanket of silence interrupted only by the sounds of birds, the crash of a deer, and even the chatter of squirrels.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve made peace with Fred. Squirrels can be pesky, but they’re also one of the cuter members of God’s good creation, an integral part of this earth we inhabit and are called to conserve.

And, unlike many other creatures, they’re good at adapting when humans build houses in the middle of their habitat.

For that I’m grateful. While I’m stuck in my chair trying to focus on a Zoom screen, it’s nice to glance left and say hello to Fred, even when he sticks out his tongue.

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