The day Rocky came to breakfast

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, March 20, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The day Rocky came to breakfast
By Aaron J. Brown

Many different woodland creatures live in northern Minnesota but these creatures are knowable, just as the people of a city can be known to the advantage of the wily city reporter or machine politician. Our family got to know one more creature from the woods this past week.

I just wanted to sleep the morning our 3-year-old son Doug came into the bedroom at 4:30 to tell us he saw a squirrel in the hallway.

“Mrrmphh,” I thought. I said nothing. My wife said, “Mrrmphh. Go back to bed, Doug.” He did. Or maybe not. It was early.

Later, when I was in the shower, Christina called into the bathroom, “Henry says he saw a squirrel in the kitchen, too.”

“Mrrmphh,” I said. I hadn’t had my coffee yet. In fact, the morning had begun so early that my sophisticated coffee brewing timer had not yet engaged. It was then that I heard barking from our terrier Molly. This was about to escalate.

“Molly is barking at something in the closet,” Christina said, her voice rising to “lost child” pitch.

Moments later I heard her exclaim through the walls of the closet and bathroom, “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek.” I’m not sure how many “e’s” to put on that to make it an accurate quote. It went on for about three seconds. I didn’t know people actually said “eek.”

“There is a squirrel in the closet!” she called through the door. “I’ve closed Molly in with it.”

“Mrrmphh,” I again thought. “I’ll be right out,” I said.

I could hear skittering in the closet through the wall. Bark. Skitter skitter. Bark. I have to admit I wasn’t in a terrible hurry to rush into this situation. Terriers were bred to catch rodents. If I waited long enough this might turn into a “non problem” sort of problem.

It was determined after a brief debate that the best solution to this dilemma would be for me to enter the closet with the barking dog and frightened rodent. I didn’t have a plan, but I was charged with the task of making something happen. This would not end passively! Everyone knows the best way to handle cornered animals is to hover over them, providing both a motivation and foothold to allow them easy access to your face and especially your eyes. That was the strategy that ruled the day this particular morning.

Inside the closet the dog bounced frantically from corner to corner as this unseen creature moved out of sight. As the dog burrowed into a pile of laundry I saw the animal emerge from a different corner. It was not a squirrel, at least, no squirrel I’d ever seen. With a brown back and white belly, it was the size of a large hamster with a long, flat, furry tail.

Fortunately for this little varmint, Molly, age 10 with about as many teeth, forgot what to do with little animals when catching them. She poked it with her nose about a hundred times when I was in the closet. Christina passed a plastic storage container into the closet. When the little guy hopped up on a piece of luggage I trapped him in the box, slid it onto the lid and removed it from the closet. We took a picture through the transparent container and then released the critter into the woods outside.

The days that followed created a CSI exercise in identifying the animal. If it wasn’t a traditional red squirrel, chipmunk, mouse or vole, what was it?

Photo analysis helped my father in law and other wily woodsfolk in our Rolodex identify the animal as a flying squirrel, just like Rocky of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. People now tell me this sort of thing happens all the time. As much as I’m glad the little guy survived I’m hoping he stays outside, or even considers a move back to Frostbite Falls.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. I get these guys on the bird feeders at night. Last night they, or it, was especially active. I was unable to get a picture last night, but I could hear them about 2 feet from my head when I was trying to read.

  2. A flying squirrel came down our chimney when we lived in the bottom unit of a 2.5-story duplex in Mpls. The squeaking and scrabbling of nails on the hardwood floor woke up me and my husband. In the living room, our new kitten from the Humane Society, barely bigger than the flying squirrel, was trying to chase it. We trapped the squirrel in a laundry basket for the night and the next day, Mike built a cage for it in the basement. For two weeks our boarder regained its strength on sunflower seeds and water as he ran on his exercise wheel. We called him “Gazinta” because of how he got into the house.

    The day we released him, we opened his cage near the tree where we suspect he fell from, and sang ‘”Born Free.” Looking back, I’m not sure why we didn’t release him that night. But it was a memorable experience.

  3. That’s a great story, Susan. I have been shocked to learn how common the flying squirrels are, made only more obvious if they are in Minneapolis, too. I always though they were more rare, like what you’d find deep in the northern old growth forests. Goes to show that out of sight, out of mind. We work different shifts than the flying squirrels.

    (Also, we did not consider keeping the squirrel for any length of time. I was instructed to remove the squirrel and it was lucky to survive unscathed.) 🙂

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