When I as a little boy, my mummy fed the birds. She loved hearing, watching, and just having them around the house. I learned her love of “the little flying people” who are so simple, and who have made my life so much greater. Now, my mum did not like squirrels! They were “big, grey, bullies!” They sat on the bird feeders, ate the bird food, and kept the birds away. Plus they could gnaw their way into the sides of buildings and be destructive. To my mummy, squirrels were just bad.
My father always tried to help my mother. And thus, the squirrels were a personal challenge for him. He decided that the best thing was to eliminate the varmits – by shooting them.
This sounded pretty good to us boys, who were just learning about real guns and gun safety. My dad had a kids .22 rifle. It was for us, my brother and I, to use, to learn safety with, and to develop an eye for hitting a target. (I have this gun still.) Our gun would fire one bullet only and dad only let us use 22 shorts– a pretty dinky bullet, if you ask me now. The gun didn’t go “bang,” It went “snap.” Still, to me it was enough like the guns I was watching on TV on the program The Big Picture about our soldiers in Korea, or that I saw in the movies of WWII, for me to get pretty serious about.
Our job, shoot the squirrels with safely for us and the birds, and without causing any other damage.
John and I would get to open a window just a crack, and then, if we were quiet, we could poke the rifle out and get one shot. One shot. Well, the damn things would run away at the sound. We weren’t very good. And we missed a lot at first.
Then along came Stripey. Stripey was the old cat, probably 15 years old at this time. (She was the heroine of my story about Putting the Cat Down and fixing interruptions.) And she was wonderfully deaf. Stripey would slowly wander around outside and couldn’t hear a thing. The birds could see her coming. The squirrels were not bothered by her at all. Stripey only wandered around, a danger to no one. That grey striped cat was a source of peace to everyone – kind of….
One day my brother and I were on squirrel duty, again. There were several squirrels in the back yard eating birdseed.. And Stripey was out among them. This is how I recall it. John took a shot at a squirrel – and missed. All the birds and animals froze at the sound, except for Stripey who, hearing nothing, continued to calmly walk across the back lawn. The squirrels saw this calm animal and they calmed. “Hey, that cat ain’t running, didn’t even jump, so I guess it is safe. Maybe there wasn’t that popping noise after all.” And they stayed put and started to eat again. Those guys in the window, we noticed that the “enemy” were fooled and were still in the sights. Second shot, a hit. Third shot, a kill. Fourth shot, another hit. Amazing! And Stripey wandered on.
Now this may seem a bloody story to you, and it was a bit messy, but it did teach a powerful lesson.
When a couple comes in my office and they are all upset with each other, I “pull a Stripey” on them. I stay relaxed – genuinely relaxed. My voice is calm and curious. They may have been yelling words at each other and reacting strongly to what their partner said. I talk to them one at a time. I ask them what they thought their partner said and why it bothers them. I get curious and calm about the very words and sentences that are so threatening to them. And they get to look over my shoulder at their partner’s validity, even when their partner’s words, gestures are scary to them. My calmness tends to relax them.
I believe the issues of tension and panic are similar for us’ns and for squirrels; (see my Lizard/Safety paper) however, I am not interested in shooting anyone. I am interested in people getting along peacefully.
Many a couple, after one of these sessions, has said something like, “Can’t we take you home?” And I reply, “Yup. That’s what I am trying to share with you. To take my spirit and habits home with you. Yup, yup.”
Thanks, Stripey. (By the way, I feed squirrels and chipmunks now, as well as the birds. Don’t shoot anyone.)