Where the Wild Things Are

The Night the Squirrels Sent a Message

And it wasn't the nice kind.

May  9, 2019
Photo by Danie Drankwalter

We spend a lot of time at Food52 offering up ways to improve your home life, with inspiration for cooking, handsome home goods, and tips to keep it a beautiful, organized, welcoming sanctuary. We don’t spend a lot of time on the realities of home ownership. Well, buckle up—that’s about to change. In Where the Wild Things Are, Amanda Hesser introduces us to some of the critters with whom her family has not-so-willfully cohabited over the years, hoping to inspire you to share your own stories. Bring on the funny disasters. The rants. And the helpful solutions, too!

(This is the second in Amanda’s six-part series—check out her prior story here.)


My family lived with squirrels for too many years to admit. We had our stove repaired 73 times, but did we try to consciously uncouple from the rodents? Nah.

Perhaps it was because life had gotten more complicated since the first squirrel moved in. I was working around the clock getting Food52 off the ground, and my husband, Tad, was working around the clock trying to make up for my lack of a salary. We had kids now, too—boy-girl twin toddlers. Dealing with the squirrels became another item on our to-do list, the kind of item that gets dragged to the bottom by scope and infeasibility and expense and sheer dread.

Ignoring the squirrels only made them bolder. They felt right at home. One day, back when we used to do weekly Food52 photo shoots at my apartment, we put a dish of Korean short ribs in marinade out on our deck to rest before grilling. The dish was covered with plastic wrap. Admittedly, this wasn’t a smart move, but the kitchen was crowded with cooks and steaming pots and laptops.

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“The cuteness of squirrels is deeply deceiving. ”
— Amanda H.
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The squirrels caught on quickly. They didn’t try to eat the short ribs, as you might expect. Instead, I caught them fornicating on top of the plastic wrap, as if it were a picnic blanket at Woodstock. When I clapped my hands in a rage to scare them off, they left droppings on the dish. They could have gone about their business anywhere else on our deck, but squirrels turn out to be pretty rude.

They took it up a notch one night a few months later. Tad and I were getting ready to go to sleep. At the foot of our bed is a long upholstered bench, handed down from Tad’s grandparents. Under the bench, just a few feet from where Tad was standing, I saw a fluffy gray tail. I wanted to warn Tad but no words came out. I resorted to waving my arms like I was flagging down a taxi. Having gained his attention, I pointed, and we both froze.

The tail didn’t move, either. When we mustered the courage to look more closely, we discovered the squirrel was not cowering in fear or poised for a pinball run through our home. It was dead.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

But it was not yet very dead. Which meant that during the evening, while we were home having dinner, washing dishes, tucking our kids in bed, this squirrel had entered our apartment—how, we’ll never know—and had carefully made its way to the foot of our bed to die.

I tried to see this as validation, as a sign that we’d created a welcoming home. In darker moods, I wondered if it was some kind of Godfather-like warning from the squirrel gangs of Brooklyn.

If only I’d known what was next.


P.S. You may be asking yourself how you dispose of a still-warm dead squirrel? Four easy steps:

Photo by Amanda Hesser

1) Standing over the squirrel, unsure of what to do, yell to your husband, “We need to call my mom!” He’ll reply, “And what will your mother do?” Move on to step 2.

2) Get a broken-down box (Fresh Direct boxes work well) and wedge it under the squirrel like a pizza peel while your husband tentatively holds a heavy duty black garbage bag open for you to drop the carcass into.

3) While he takes the bag down to the garbage bin, ponder whether or not it would be gross for the vacuum cleaner, which is also used on your bathroom floor and kids’ bedroom rug, to be used on this spot. Conclude that you have no choice.

4) Vacuum and go to bed. The next morning, when a handful of editors and cooks from Food52 show up for the weekly full-day photo shoot in your bedroom, pretend everything is normal.


Check back next week for part three of Amanda’s series.

20 Comments

cookinginvictoria May 13, 2019
We lived in New York City when my daughter was a toddler, and I remember the revulsion I felt when I realized that a squirrel had decided to make himself at home in my daughter's stroller at the park (luckily she was not in it!). After that I pretty much stopped letting her snack in the stroller

Now we are homeowners in the Pacific Northwest and our big challenges are living amidst deer, raccoons and the not so occasional rat. I agree wildlife is not so cute when they are invading your home and yard and staring you down with no trepidation. Really loving this series, Amanda. So glad to see your byline again!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 15, 2019
Thanks so much!
 
deidre May 12, 2019
I have never liked squirrels. They are rats with bushy tails. I have shot over 300 squirrels out of my windows. I'm a good shot. But there are still tons in my neighborhood. I love animals and was on a road-kill team. We took road kill to either health department. or Div of Wildlife. I only get happy when I see a dead squirrel. I have a full length beaver coat made from road kill that I learned to clean. I am 69 and have hated squirrels since I was 5!
 
Cecilia May 12, 2019
Once I had a last minute "I volunteered to make cupcakes for a bake sale for my daughter's school and forgot" moment, and pulled open the drawer under the stove to retrieve the muffin pan. There, staring up at me in true glassy-eyed Beatrix Potter style was a mouse, sitting in the muffin tin with its little hands folded sweetly together. I quickly slammed the drawer closed and made cookies.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 12, 2019
Good call. Growing up, we had the occasional mouse but I never minded them as much as I do other rodent/wildlife. The cuteness goes a long way, I guess.
 
maria S. May 11, 2019
This is making me confront the possibility of squirrels in my attic. I have been telling myself that the thumps are coming from on top of the roof.

 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 12, 2019
I'm sorry -- stay strong!
 
Karen W. May 10, 2019
We've have had a family of squirrels living in our backyard for years. I have three squirrel feeders (they have to be up high -- dog chases squirrels, who of course laugh at her) in the trees, which I replenish every other day. Yes, people, I bribe the squirrels to leave my house alone. It works, and I figure a few bucks a week for in-bulk, unsalted, unshelled peanuts is cheaper than rewiring my garage, which happened to my aunt...
 
Karen W. May 10, 2019
PS -- I love this story1
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 10, 2019
Thank you!
 
Chzplz May 9, 2019
Miracle Max the Wizard: Turns out your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. See, mostly dead is still slightly alive.
 
Judith H. May 9, 2019
Do you remember the skunks that decided to live under our back porch. Every time someone walked across the porch, which was necessary to get from the garage to the house, the skunks sprayed their perfume. Our house seemed to always smell of skunk, which was not pleasant. Then one day a young mechanic that worked in our shop told me the secret of ridding our home of the skunks. It was so easy and clever. All we had to do was hang a light under the porch and leave it lit 24 hours. The skunks did not like the light and moved out. We all cheered.
I love the squirrel saga. I now have them living in Gram's garage. Please help!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 9, 2019
I remember the constant smell of skunks around our house (and in one of your cars) but I didn't remember the light trick!
 
M S. May 9, 2019
My god. A horrible experience with squirrels. Followed all Amanda's writings in those days. Had no idea it was this awful. BUT, CONCERNED AMANDA IS NOT SHARING THE WHOLE TRUTH WITH US. Back in those days, Amanda and team were producing great videos on Food 52 recipes etc. One day, there was great excitement because a food writing colleague brought a pet squirrel to Amanda's apartment. The squirrel got loose, driving Amanda to the outer limits of her sanity. It was filmed but never shown. I have been trying to see it for ten years. Certainly appropriate to provide a link to the video now. Thank you. And, cheers.
 
Rhonda35 May 9, 2019
I love that you have photos! Also, really like the art accompanying this series.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 9, 2019
Agree -- Danie Drankwalter's work is so great!
 
mrslarkin May 9, 2019
LOL!!! I love this series, too. It's reminding me all too much, though, of the time we had an extended family of flying squirrels living in the attic. They are nocturnal. And very adorable. But they are way cuter when they aren't living in your house.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 9, 2019
The cuteness of squirrels is deeply deceiving.
 
Panfusine May 9, 2019
Absolutely in love with this series. Can't wait for the next installment!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 9, 2019
Thanks, Panfusine!