Gray squirrels are the intellectuals of the rodent community. With acute vision and three dimensional mobility, they have developed the memory capacity which allows them to scatter-hoard nuts by burying them for retrieval later.

By comparison the North American red squirrel is so dumb that it stores nuts in hollow trees or in piles under logs, unable to remember where they are unless it runs into the hoard by accident in its daily movements. Red squirrels are prone to lightning-fast, arrow-straight dashes toward a destination. They are also brave to the point of foolishness, apparently believing they can duck a bullet.

I would prefer to talk about the grays, which I quite respect. Grays learn rules of survival and seem to pass them down to subsequent generations. For example, in our woodlot, at the first sign of a human, the squirrels get out of the walnut trees and flee across the forest floor to the other side of the 25 acre plot. This is their response to a pair of determined hunters about ten years ago, and I suppose to the presence of migrating red tailed hawks once the leaves have fallen in fall. But coyotes actively hunt squirrels at this time of year, so there must be some complex calculus of risk/reward going on there somewhere.

Having taken over a large, rambling country house surrounded by walnut trees, I have spent the last ten years establishing the rules for the gray squirrels as they apply to access to the power lines, roof and attic. They seem to learn rules, but are very tenacious once they have established a den in forbidden territory. The only solution at that point is to euthanize every member of that family.

To answer the Quora question, squirrels overthink everything unfamiliar to them. During the Battle of the Attic a few years ago I had live traps baited with black walnuts around the property. One sat on a flat gravel parking area just outside our kitchen. A young male examined the trap and its bait with great care one morning. He kept coming back to it, circling close, but refusing to enter and trip the mechanism. He kept this up so long I shot him.

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Yesterday I picked up a 2014 Lexus es300h in Hamilton and drove it 375 km home through holiday-weekend traffic.  Then my wife and I returned to Kingston this morning to collect my Porsche Cayenne from the train terminal.  The shock was in starting Ruby up.  My faithful companion for the last three years had suddenly become a creaky old car.

Driving the hybrid is an entirely different mechanical/gaming experience than I’ve had before. It’s quite interesting on several levels, and promotes a whole new set of bad behaviours. For example this morning I cruised up the hill through Morton at 100 km in a 60 zone so I didn’t have to get out of “eco” and re-accelerate. On the 401 yesterday I tended to hesitate a bit too long when overtaking to avoid getting out of cruise control for the same reason. The car has lots of zip in sport mode, but that lowers your score on the efficiency graph.  120 km/hr remained the optimal pace for travel on the busy road, but slower traffic brought its own rewards in a higher mileage score.

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An item on my news feed today led to a morning of interaction with Virgin Mobility, culminating in a reduced monthly rate for our two cell phones.

Global News led with an article explaining how the CRTC deliberated, and then allowed mobile phone network providers in Canada to fail to notify subscribers of the expiration of their sales contracts at the end of twenty-four months, for example, and the subsequent reduction to which the customers are entitled at that time.  In our case the monthly add-on amount for my wife’s new iPhone was $29. and change.  The contract to pay that portion expired in November of 2017.

In the interim until Global informed me about the potential class action lawsuit against the Big Three, the Bell subsidiary Virgin has overcharged me $503.28.  When confronted with this information a nervous woman put me on hold a couple of times, but eventually offered a new “loyalty” plan for $35 per phone per month with unlimited minutes.  This is effective on the next billing, though I have no written information yet on the unadvertised plan, and Virgin’s most recent mail communication with me was in French.  When I asked for an English version, the operator promised to send it right away, but that was months ago.

The writing of this was just interrupted by a series of texts from the Virgin computer asking for feedback.  In summary, I wrote that I might recommend the phone service to a friend, though anyone who successfully cons me out of $500 had better be either a relative or a Member of Parliament, and Virgin is neither of these.

We’ll see how that class-action suit goes.

Canadians can pay off their mobile phones, but their bills might not drop. Here’s why

Here’s another.

The best, cheapest cellphone plans in Canada in 2019

Years ago I used to play video games in the SIM series where one methodically built homesteads or cities, or even whole civilizations.  A look at Fiery Cross Reef, South China Sea, on Google Earth shows the ultimate SIM game:  build a whole city, including a 2-mile airport runway system, on a sand bar in the middle of the South China Sea.  Memories of SIM Civilization quickly morph into the recollections of the obsessions of various Bond villains over the years.  And Google Earth brings it all to the screen of your laptop, whenever you want to look at it.

It’s not live, though.  The version I saw was filmed in 2014.  Four-storey buildings seem complete.  Others are under construction.  I’d love to see updates.  It would be like looking at a time-lapse ant farm.

I realize that the construction of this project is a major disruptor in world politics, but my first reaction to a look at it was fascination at the detail that I could see in the satellite photos, and admiration for the organization which could mount such a massive project in the middle of nowhere.

Ice-out 2019

April 20, 2019

I just read on Facebook that the ice cleared Newboro Lake on April 18, 2019.  Bill Curwood of Ebb Island is the winner of this year’s ice-out contest.  My map indicates that Ebb Island lies just north of Brothers Island and east of the channel marker in that area.

Thank you, Quora contributor, for this invitation to recount an off-road wheeled experience.

I guess I’ll have to go back to my student days at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It was 1970. I rode my one-speed bike throughout the winter, and had become quite adept at controlling it on glare ice. One winter day I looked out onto Lake Ontario to see a vast sheet of perfectly clean and smooth ice. The ice boats were making their way out in the light breeze. I dropped down a boat launch ramp onto the lake.

Later on they put in a bubbler for the two-mile ferry route to Scott Island, a large land mass outside Kingston Harbour, but at the time drivers ran the ice and took their chances. I rode across the ice bridge to the island. Cool!

I should mention that regular 1960’s bicycle tires, if you let them dry, gripped glare ice surprisingly well. Steering and balance weren’t a problem on this day’s frosty surface.

I turned right at the island and toured the Kingston shoreline, occasionally passed by ice boaters. Man, would I love to have one of those! But I had picked up a bit of a tail wind which made my progress easier. Eventually I came to a wide bay which gave me a bit of the gulps, but I coasted across Collins Bay with the tailwind and fetched up on the opposing shore.

It was getting dark, the wind was rising, and I had covered over twenty miles, so I hauled my bike up a steep, rocky bank and rode up into the suburb of Amherstview where I knocked on my uncle’s door and asked for a ride back to campus. He was a bit gobsmacked by my caper, but I had had an awesome off-road experience on a huge slab of perfect ice.

All other wild animals make every choice, every movement, in the context of danger checks from their environment. Skunks are utterly self-involved.

When I have had a chance to watch skunks in daylight, each has had a slightly comical detachment reminiscent of the best Bond villains.

Case in point: Our cat lived outside in a heated kennel with a heated water bowl and her food dish inside the small shelter. Something had been booting her out and eating the kibble at night recently, so I had been pressed into service with the Have-A-Heart live trap to remove the miscreant. I suspected a raccoon.

It was 6:30 on a summer evening when I looked out the long laneway leading to the house. Up the road at a slow, undulating gallop came the fattest skunk I had ever seen. This Falstaffian character had a magnificent coat of black and white, and everything was in motion as he approached. It wasn’t that he was nearsighted and didn’t notice me. He just didn’t care. All he could think about was another meal of that glorious cat kibble. The image sticks in my mind of this beautiful, clean, shiny, happy critter, with its mind fixed on one single idea: food.

Of course as he grew closer I grew more and more uncomfortable. Here I was setting up a Have-A-Heart, but it was I who felt trapped. There was no point in attempting to shoo the critter away. He was too dumb to frighten, and of course he had the nuclear option.

Sorry, Cat. I must retreat.

Subterfuge time. I built my skunk-removal strategy around coping with the fallout from the nuclear blast. Obviously the interception point should not be the front verandah of a tall, Victorian brick house in mid-summer. I considered the prevailing wind and land elevation and eventually set the trap behind a low stone wall, to the north and east of the house. The rest of the plan involved a small wagon to transport the toxic trap and its contents after despatch with a .22 round. A raccoon would climb aboard the wagon and into the trap quite willingly, but Falstaff, here, looked as though the height might be a problem for him.

So a day or so later I did the deed, then lifted the trap onto the wagon, dropped the handle over the trailer hitch on my UTV, and towed the reeking problem a half-mile back to the woods, where I unhitched the wagon and got out of there to let the radiation die down.

A couple of days later after a rain I was able to dump Falstaff’s carcass out of the trap for the vultures, but I still had to leave trap and wagon out in the weather in an open area for the forseeable future. Back at the house the ground under the scene of the assassination was soaked with musk. A month later the area still smelled of skunk, but it was away from the house and life went on.

Karma did in the trap and the wagon, though. A neighbour’s tractor ran over the wagon and crushed the trap while mowing the field. I guess I had left my skunk-removal rig out in the air for a little too long.

That’s why skunks seem creepy. They produce in us feelings of admiration undercut by fear, revulsion, and guilt. And the skunks don’t know or care.