Tales of adventure form life with my leaky-waders hero, our furry overlords, and my day-job pushing back the frontiers of science

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Raising Wildlife Babies & Other Extracurriculars

By Sandra Stenson   /     Jan 08, 2016  /     From Life  /     , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Loki in nest

Living the life.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, the husband likes to quote to me any time I leave him with the tiniest, little chore to complete – you know how husbands are. This fall, however, the song fit on the spouse. No spouse in the history of spouses has ever picked a worse time to disappear for two weeks of “work”. My fishing nut’s account of the exercise (i.e., his latest Skeena Meadows trip) can be found on his blog Skeena Meadows Blog ( http://www.sweetwatersadventure.com/skeena-meadows-2015/  ). My experience of the whole thing was quite a bit different.

2015 was a heartbreaking year for the Stenson family. February that year, we lost our beloved Dixie. Her loss left a huge hole in our hearts. So much so that, even six months later, when a tiny baby squirrel fell at our feet, we were unsure if we could cope with becoming emotionally attached to, and losing, one more little critter. Loki, when we found him, was cold to the core. Even though it was August in Alabama, he did not warm up until I wrapped him in heated fleece slippers. What were the realistic chances of survival for such a tiny thing after such a big fall?

Loki on his first day

Day 1: Trying to get warm

Life does not often ask what is convenient or if we feel ready. A helpless little creature needed us. We were not about to turn our backs. Nevertheless, the Stenson household is not the most obvious choice for raising a baby squirrel. Setting aside that neither the husband nor I had ever rescued a wildlife baby before, the fact that our home is teeming with predators who spend their days window-hunting squirrels might also be somewhat inauspicious. As a result, hubby was “volunteer” to call through the list of wildlife rescuers in Alabama the next day while I took the squirt to work with me. I had never expected to have an infant squirrel in my shirt pocket as I filled out paperwork for my promotion, but life is an adventure.

Although Loki and I faired well at work, the experience of calling professionals proved rather discouraging at home: Everybody had advice. None of the advice agreed. Nobody actually helped. Overall, the effect was rather like what I expect young parents go through after the birth of their first child. Long story short, nobody we trusted wanted to take our baby. Nothing left to do but take turns for the night shift feeding a baby every three hours.


Day 2: In mom’s pocket at work

Taking turns is all good and well, but the husband was scheduled for a hosted trip to Canada. Those of you who have read the Sportsman’s Widow columns before might have discerned gentle allusions to a lack of enthusiasm on my part for being left to hold down the fort alone while Mr. Indispensible explores the greatest fishing destinations in the world – “for work”. The addition of a wildlife baby that needed to be fed every three hours did not exactly ameliorate the situation. Nor did the fact that I was in the middle of putting together my application for promotion at work. To add insult to injury, the University had been so kind as to switch to a software program designed to expedite and facilitate the application process. Anybody who knows anything about software programs designed for universities immediately realizes that the process afterward conversion took five times longer and was significantly more complicated. 


Week 2: Growing like wildfire.

My fishing nut, bless his heart, did sense that the time might have been a bit ill-chosen to go off and explore BC. Possibly, he interpreted finding the car keys in the fridge and the dog food in the microwave as subtle symptoms of the onset of mental exhaustion on my part. He might even have imagined a hint of grumpiness and interpreted it as additional evidence that putting further burdens on me at that time might be ill-advised. Although I am completely innocent of these charges, I did notice that my soggy waders hero kept the chocolate drawer extremely well stocked during the weeks leading up to his trip. As a bit of irony, he also ardently longed for a visit from my mother. Mind you, he did hope for that visit to commence just after he  had left. This hope was not significantly diminished by any of the seven times I told him it was not going to happen.  Then again, my fishing nut has never given up hope that his Dolphins will make it to the playoffs again one day. Apparently a bit of obstinance in the face of good evidence is one of the hallmarks of a good fishing nut. What else could make a man opt to fly fish for wily creatures like permit or steelhead and continue to do so after days of having been laughed at by his prey as they happily ignore his skill in selecting flies, casting, and sneaking up?  

Although hope may spring eternal in my man’s heart, reality does not much care. One morning, my hero had no choice but to depart for the airport and leave me to fend from myself. How bad could it be, I foolishly wondered. We had been through challenging times before. Working our way through college and struggling through graduate school came to mind.  Sure,  I was a tad younger then, but surely only by a few, insignificant blinks of the eye. I am woman, hear me roar – and all that jazz.  

photo 1

Discovering a love for grapes.

Initially, I could almost convince myself of the veracity of this proud roar. I arranged my schedule, rushing back and forth between home and campus, so that the squirrel was fed and the dog walked, the classes taught and my office hours held, the furballs fed and the cat litters cleaned, the house swept and the daily messes cleaned up. I even found time to fix me some food now and again.  Admittedly, I was not getting as much sleep at night as a woman my age might have needed to function efficiently and my research students had to fend for themselves a lot during that time, but, for a short time, I was coping quite well, thank you very much. 

The year would not have been 2015, however, if things had stayed at a manageable level – oh no! A couple of days into my man’s absence, I am awoken by the dog’s insistence that right then was the time she absolutely had to go out. A little nervous that there might be a burglar in the backyard, I turned on the outside lights to warn him off before I let the dog loose. The light was a good – my timing, not so much. As soon as I had let the pup go, I realized, to my horror, that I should not have. We had an injured opossum on the back porch. 

It took an extended battle of will and strength to prevent the pup from attacking the opossum and getting her back into the house.  As reward for my success, I spent the rest of the night worrying about what to do with the injured opossum in our yard. I put out food and water, of course. Worried, I also Facebook-messaged questions to the local wildlife rescue – the one who does not take baby squirrels. Thanks to Loki, I had all their contact information.

The next morning, I got to add checking the entire backyard for injured opossum to my list of pre-work chores. Fortunately, the opossum was gone. Maybe that meant it was not as injured and helpless as I had feared. During the day, I also received a response from our wildlife rescue that, yes, they would take an injured opossum. I hoped the information was no longer relevant.


Combination wash basket and opossum catcher.

No such luck. The next night, the opossum was back. I could clearly see that it was unable to use its hind legs. There was nothing for it; I had to catch it and bring it to the wildlife center the next day. Not much of a huntress, I departed into the garden armed with a towel and a wash basket. I am not sure who was more scared of whom: the opossum of me or vice versa. Nevertheless, catching the poor things was surprisingly easy. I put a towel over it so it could not see. It played dead. I picked it up and put it into my wash basket. A little weary of counter-attack, I lifted the basket and carried it to the squirrel condo my fishing nut had built in the backyard for when Loki was bigger and needed to observe other squirrels. Again, thanks to Loki, we were prepared.

Weeks and weeks of diminished sleep had reduced my mental faculties to the point that I had to wrack my brain for the rest of the night pondering how to convey the opossum to the wildlife center. I came up with the goofiest ideas – such as emptying out a litter box and using it as an opossum carrier. It took until ~3 am in the morning to alight at using the perfectly good pet-carrier. You know, the one I had sitting out because we had used it as Loki’s nest before we bought him his big-boy cage.

With that settled I could move on to worrying about how I would find the wildlife center given my deplorable sense of directions – oh yea, and the minor distraction of having classes to teach, a dog to let out, and a squirrel to feed four times a day. The biggest of these problems was my sense of direction – or lack thereof. Navigating by myself in a sleep-deprived state, with an injured possum in the car – not a good combination. Fortunately, my good friend Mara, offered to drive with me. That way, we arrived at the wildlife center without having gotten lost. We did get a little lost on the way back. It turns out, we are both navigation champions. But, with two of us in the car, we could convince ourselves that it was more an adventure and less a catastrophe. 

photo 3 copy

Getting big.

All is well that ends well. With the opossum incident behind me and the weekend upon us, I had high hopes that the worst was over. Best of all, our baby squirrel was starting to eat some solid food. That meant I could get away with only one feeding during the night! Ah, the elation! 

As was perhaps to be expected, the elation did not last very long because it began to rain. Rain is usually a good thing. It means I do not have to water my garden. The enthusiasm fades a bit, however, when ist starts raining inside. The house always does this; as soon as the husband leaves, something breaks. Normally, it is little things. This time, it was going a bit far. A leak in the roof is no laughing matter. I had two options: total meltdown or sage serenity. I chose the latter. Leaks in the roof are the hubby’s department, I decided. Furthermore, it was a slow leak.  Even better, it stopped raining the next day – problem solved! 

Although the leak in our roof was extremely subtle, the flood that came at my feet the next time I got into my car most certainly was not. Naturally, if the house is going to start, my car had to follow suit. Cars are also the husband’s responsibility, I decided once more. So, I coped by adding a few more steps to my morning routine: (1) wiping down the fogged up windows, (2) putting a jacket on my seat to prevent a soaked bottom and (3) placing fresh towels on the floor to soak up the worst of the flood from each new volley. Why the manufacturer had designed a drain spout directly by the driver’s feet, I could not fathom. It was good fun for my fellow commuters, though, I suspect to see me wringing out towel after towel of wet mess during each traffic light stop.

Eventually, the fishing nut retuned.

All my troubles were over, right?

Well, the trouble with waiting for a knight in shining armor to come and fix everything is that only the luckiest of us even get a knight to begin with. Then, it requires even rarer fortune to get one that actually fixes anything. In the end, there is only so much luck to go around. Thus, should you have hit both jackpots, you may have a lovely knight and he may fix everything but he will do so only EVENTUALLY. 

photo 4

Getting too old to be cooped up.

As I am writing this, just before Christmas 2015, my fishing nut has not even fully unpacked his bags yet from his Skeena Meadows Trip. The leak in the roof is still “fixed” by putting towels underneath it when it rains. The car was finally brought to the dealership for repair – only three months after the hero’s return.

As for Loki, we rescued him but, in a way, he rescued us as well. Caring for him helped us heal a little from losing Dixie and prepared us better to cope with the loss of our kitty in November 2015. Despite all my worries of how I could possibly take care of him properly and teach him how to be a squirrel, he grew up strong and healthy and left the nest just as he should. He lives out in the backyard now along with all the other squirrels who are surely wondering why they are suddenly all so spoiled with extra food, water, shelter and treats. 

In closing, as 2015 is on its last leg, we wish you and your family the very best for the new year. No year brings 365 days of happiness, but may your 2016 bring your far more happy days than hardships and may you have the strength and support to handle anything 2016 dishes up.

Postscript: If you enjoy my creative nonfiction, please consider taking a commitment-free sneak-peak at my fiction, also available on this blog under From Panda . It is written with the same humor but with the added bonus of a bit more adventure, suspense and romance. Winds of Change, the first novel in a series named Panda, can be accessed for free here on this blog. Donations in the form of social media shares, comments, and spreading the word are ever so welcome. Early chapters are already posted; more appear at regular intervals. Should the pace become tedious at some point, just nag. We will listen.

photo 2

Living in the wild. Last snuggle-visit to say good-bye.


  1. Sylvia Martini Says: January 10, 2016 12:42 pm

    Dear Sandra,

    You were always talented to write. Cute story! The right one on a Sunday morning.
    The pictures open my heart. Your little zoo in the backyard!
    2016 has even one day more than 365. Maybe another surprise is waiting for you on February 29th.

    Many greetings from Mike & Sylvie

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