How to catch a rodent in the multimedia age

NOTE TO THE READER: You usually come to State & Capitol for political news and insight. This story about how my day started today is obviously an exception. — Christopher Cousins


I was all packed up and ready to go to work this morning when I heard my son, Caleb, scream.

“Daddy, there’s a mouse in the bathroom! He’s on the heater right behind the toilet!”

One day past April Fool’s Day, I suspected Caleb wasn’t finished with his relentless quest to fool me. But there in the bathroom was not a mouse, but a baby squirrel. Since I’ve had such a long-term relationship with the rodent (more on that later) he deserves a name. Umm how ’bout Rambo?

If you’re not a dad or a husband, you won’t understand, but having your family call on you in their hour of peril — a hornet in the house, the car needs a jump start, the circuit breaker tripped — makes you feel heroic, relevant and manly. So I puffed up my chest and reminded myself that I’m tough, even in the face of a baby squirrel. Among other evidence of my courage, I played high school football.

We have to backtrack a couple of weeks to fully understand Rambo the squirrel’s story, which started on March 21. I was on a Cub Scout camping trip in Belgrade when I received a text from my wife.

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“How are you going to cech it?” was from Caleb, who has been very concerned about this situation. He’s too young to know the natural order of things in his parents’ marriage, especially when it comes to rodent removal. My wife was headed to her mother’s that day so I suggested she bring back her mom’s Havahart trap.

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(We use voice texting, which explains her “What the check” instead of “What the heck.”) (I have no explanation for how decidedly un-helpful I can be sometimes.)

Anyway, I returned from the camping trip and set up the Havahart trap in our bedroom. It caught nothing. My poor, suffering wife opted to sleep downstairs on the couch, even though I observed, helpfully, that if squirrels can climb trees, they can climb stairs. And couches.

We saw no sign of Rambo until he (yes, I’ve decided unilaterally that Rambo is male) turned up this morning in my bathroom. So I puffed up my chest, reminded myself that I played high school football, and began to contemplate my next move. My first thought, naturally, was Clark Griswold and the squirrel scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

“Russ, go get the hammer,” says Clark in the movie.

“Clark, what do you need a hammer for?” asks his wife.

“I’m going to catch it in a coat and smack it with a hammer!” says Clark.

I didn’t know where my hammer was so I asked Caleb to fetch, naturally, my ice fishing bait bucket. Meanwhile, Rambo was taunting me from inside my rusty heating element. (Note to my wife: Let’s see about finally replacing that rusty heating element. This is embarrassing.)

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“Let’s turn up the heat!” said Caleb. Never have I been a prouder dad, but I didn’t think my wife would appreciate the odor of slow-cooked squirrel.

Another thought that occurred to me was that most people don’t think squirrels are scary. John Holyoke, the BDN’s esteemed outdoors writer, took a selfie with one last fall while he was hunting. I don’t know if John played high school football.

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Anyway, Rambo was focused on chewing on the rug of my bathmat, inches from the Havahart trap I had put down. (Note to wife: Let’s wash that bathmat.) (Note to self: Havahart traps don’t work.)

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If someone ever tells you that a wild animal is more scared of you than you are of it, they’re probably lying, even if you played high school football. Rambo let me creep up with the bait bucket. In a flash I clomped it down over him, incredulous at how easy that was. I asked Caleb to fetch me a book I could put over the top of the bucket, but he returned with a paperback that was 1/3 the size of the top of the bucket.

“No problem,” I said to myself. “There’s no way this tiny squirrel can leap out of this bucket.”

Wrong. Rambo saw daylight and leaped a full three feet out of the bucket. In seemingly slow motion, like those action scenes from The Matrix, the spread-eagle squirrel suspended midair, eye-to-eye with me, before tumbling five feet to the floor and scurrying back to the heating element.

Caleb screamed. He plays basketball.

“I’m going outside to pee,” he said. “I really have to go.”

“Yeah, bud. That’s probably a good idea.”

Even with me standing there, the squirrel kept coming back to chew on the bathmat, but he didn’t fall for the bait bucket trick again. I tried at least six times but he was too quick. Once, I sat on the edge of the tub and, channeling Wile E. Coyote and his pursuit of the Road Runner in Looney Tunes, I held the bucket at a 45-degree angle, right over the spot on the rug where Rambo kept returning. This time, though, Rambo went for my foot. I flinched, dropped the bucket and he escaped again. I hope my high school football coach isn’t reading this.

He burrowed into my wife’s robe and I wished again that I knew where my hammer was. (Note to wife: Wash your robe.) By this time I was wearing heavy leather welding gloves that we use to stoke the wood stove.

Eventually Rambo made his way to a plastic box full of bath toys. (Note to wife: Let’s wash those toys.) He ducked into a tin cup we use to rinse the boys with and I saw my opportunity. I clapped my gloved hand over the top of the cup.

There was a bounce in my step as I walked outside. I’d proven my worth as a husband, a father and a man. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife: I won. I could feel Rambo hurling himself against the palm of my hand. “Silly squirrel,” I thought. “This glove is designed to repel molten metal. You are no match.”

Then I felt Rambo nibbling on the glove. I flinched again and nearly dropped the cup, but the courage I learned in high school football, for once, didn’t fail me. I shook the cup to keep Rambo at the bottom. I shot video of his release, so my wife (and my high school football buddies) will believe me.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.