By Darlene Paranoia
In the absence of activity on the Washington College campus, the beloved campus squirrels have grown exponentially more courageous, venturing into areas previously occupied by people. To date, there have been no incidents of squirrel-on-human violence as worlds collide, but it seems the squirrels have turned on one another.
The campus squirrels have divided into organized factions, the two most powerful being the Martha Washington Square Squirrels and the Library Terrace Squirrels. Presently, these groups are locked in a dangerous territory battle over control of the Cater Walk, complete with well-choreographed musical numbers reminiscent of the 1957 Broadway musical, “West Side Story.”
While no violence has been observed yet, many individuals living on campus fear that a recent silence from the squirrels indicates they are rehearsing a major fight scene.
“I personally think this campus is big enough for the both [groups]. I just wish for my squirrel brethren to stop this before we enter the dangerous rumble territory,” William Reid, senior and liaison between squirrel gangs, said. “We have already seen the expected finger snapping, ballet leaps, and nut-cracking, so a rumble is the next step in this turf war.”
With the threat of a rising rumble on the horizon, intervention may be necessary to prevent any serious harm to both the squirrel and human communities. But is it our place, as outsiders to the squirrel ethos, to assert authority?
“I would strongly advise against WC community members getting involved. If there is one thing this reenactment does not need, it is an Officer Krupke party,” Reid said.
Despite our best intentions, we humans are not privy to the ways of the squirrel. We do not yet understand the complex relationships between squirrel gangs, nor their primal fondness for musical theater. Thus, we do not have the means of staging an appropriate intervention or negotiating a truce.
The squirrel world is one rife with internal conflict. In the past, the College community has seen far more dangerous battles resulting in squirrel casualties as well as property damage. If anything, this newfound method of conflict resolution is a healthy improvement for both squirrel and man.
“We all remember the tragic squirrel reenactment of the battle of the Somme that took place a few years ago between the oak and American beech tree-dwelling squirrels in front of Bunting,” Dr. Martin Connaughton, associate professor of biology, said. “All those trench lines dug and occupied. What a tragic waste of life over some acorns and beechnuts. I think that this musical has a great chance of solving this territorial clash with minimal loss of life.”
Moreover, the squirrels have not demonstrated any ability to cause great harm to humans. With precautions, we can avoid any bodily harm.
“Presuming that none of the squirrels on campus are rabid, I think the worst we could expect is a few gnawings if we are in the wrong location when it hits the fan between these two gangs,” Dr. Connaughton said. “Frankly, a pair of jeans and sweatshirt would be plenty of protection for anyone targeted by the ire of these little thespians.”
Reid advises we humans remain mindful that interrupting solos of any kind could provoke the squirrels but observing proper social distancing measures should give the tiny performers ample space to both shimmy and shake.
Fears of direct attacks on humans assuaged, Associate Professor of Environmental Science Dr. Rebecca Fox raised a vastly different concern: environmental degradation caused by the increased amount of squirrel feces.
“You would not imagine that I would be interested in a squirrel war. I mean, I study nutrient transformations, but those little critters really poop a lot, especially when they get fired up defending their turf,” Dr. Fox said. “All of that nitrogen in that poop is creating a significant water quality issue for our campus.”
The Department of Environmental Science and Studies in collaboration with the Chester River Riverkeeper is currently working to develop a proper mitigation plan. Recommended strategies currently include installing organic nitrogen filters near the intersection of the Cater Walk and Washington Avenue to filter poo-laden runoff after rain events, as well as fashioning very small diapers for the squirrels.
This conflict allows the College to practice the resiliency we so often speak of — to find unique solutions to allow the natural environment and human society to coexist harmoniously. It will take innovation and patience on the part of the people, but the squirrel show must go on.
Members of the recently formed Emergency Campus Rodent Conflict Response Team — which Connaughton and Fox are both part of — are largely in support of allowing the squirrels to proceed uninterrupted.
“Maria says ‘Te adoro, Anton,’ and I adore the thought of this production,” Dr. Connaughton said.
“I just want them to stop pooping so much,” Dr. Fox said.
History repeats itself as WC’s campus squirrel community revs up for a turf war between the two largest squirrel factions — a dispute which will be settled through song and dance. Photo by Shadow Lady and Joe King.