Everybody seems so down these days, she said, because of the way people are being taken in by that Sarah Palin. Why don't you cheer people this time?

Me? Cheer people up?

Yes, she said, write about animals, or something that makes people forget about how gullible voters can be. This Palinomania is getting to be nauseating.

Animals? How about gullible voters? That topic sound more appealing.

No; try animals, she said. Look at all these squirrels around here.

OK, but I have to confess, all squirrels look the same to me.

Sure, one might be shaded a little grayer or a little browner than another, but when you look them in their faces _ I just can't tell the difference.

And that's despite having to get to know more than a few of them this summer. Squirrels, however, are just the most populous species of those that have created a menagerie on our property more aptly suited for a zoo, despite living in the city of Oneonta.

Our property is landlocked by streets, houses and civilization, but we have so many critters around that our two cats wish we would move to the country so they could have more privacy.

Everybody knows about the deer ``problem'' in Oneonta. In fact, most people have stopped complaining because they've resigned themselves to peaceful coexistence.

But at least the deer don't live on our property, unlike the woodchuck, opossum, skunks, raccoons _ and squirrels. Some of them even have second homes under the back deck.

The cats don't know what to make of some of our furry invaders. They know enough to leave the skunks alone and don't quite know what to think of the opossum, which, let's face it, could only look cute to another _ and randy at that _ opossum. The cats don't mind the groundhog, unless it gets under the deck and interrupts their afternoon naps.

This year, however, the squirrels are getting to be an issue. I don't know how many litters these rodents have every summer, but I've had it with them knocking the vent covers off an attic wall and having their babies in there.

As soon as a baby is mature enough to leave the enclave, I make sure they're really gone and pound the vent covers back on the four-inch openings.

When I found those vent covers five or six weeks later lying in the yard and had to get back up there again, I was not a harmonious hammerer.

In fact, I found that the new member of the tribe was just a toddler and not ready to leave yet. After getting loudly chewed out by the mom, I gave up and had to wait another week or two.

When finally they abandoned what was becoming the neighborhood birthing room, I yet again pounded those covers back into place. This time, I figured maybe they were done procreatin' for the season.

Yeah, right. Last week, I came home to the news that a vent cover was found in the yard. The next day, there was another one.

Over the weekend, I went up to check on the latest new arrival and there they were, mother and baby, doing fine.

And you know, they always look the same _ just like all the other squirrels running around the hillside.

But this time, I'm really going to put a stop to it. When they leave, those covers are going to be nailed in so tight they're going to need a crowbar to pry them off.

Meanwhile, there's this little red squirrel that climbs to the heights of the pines out back to seek out the hundreds of pinecones. Apparently, pine cones are like ice cream to red squirrels.

So, every morning the bombardment begins with loud crashes on the deck as Red picks the cones and drops them below to be gathered later for his winter stash.

The cats probably think it's an aerial assault intended for them as they duck under a chair to escape direct hits.

Years ago, living in the country, we never had so many animals around because it wasn't natural. Dogs control the woodchuck population. The only time you saw an opossum was when it was road-kill. Raccoons and deer generally stayed away from people and their abodes.

I'm not sure what kept the squirrels away but we never had very many around our property.

Now, however, I can handle the other animals; in fact, I wish there were a few toads hopping around. But I feel haunted by that universal face of the squirrel, even as the nation is spellbound by the face of Sarah Palin.

No matter how many different faces I see, they're all the same, even in my dreams _ and nightmares.

___

Cary Brunswick is managing editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at (607) 432-1000, ext. 217 or at cary@thedailystar.com.

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