Did I Tell You Dad Shot the Squirrels?

I happen to like squirrels. The "little people of the trees."

My father didn't.

He once hot-wired the pole that held the bird feeder. Every time a squirrel headed up the pole to get breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and my father saw him (or her), Dad would press the button in the breakfast room to send a shock to the intruder's four, fuzzy, furry little feet. (Old Arnie was retired at the time and didn't have much else to do, I guess.)

Another time, when a family of squirrels invaded the basement, he took his shotgun down to annihilate them. It was, shall we say, over kill. The squirrels did, indeed depart, but so did a few chunks of basement wall.

Hopefully, Massachusetts residents aren't going to those extremes, but most still think of squirrels, and several other creatures, as pests.

What creatures are the pesty-est? pesky-est? Biggest nuisances? Raccoons, squirrels, skunks and woodchucks. Others include snapping turtles, starlings, pigeons, house sparrows, opossums, moles, rabbits, chipmunks, muskrats, rats, mice, porcupines, weasels, foxes, and bats and voles, according to Fisheries and Wildlife. In fact, over a five year period, special agents (called Problem Animal Control or PAC agents) dealt with 22,619 of them. But, 18,270 of the complaints and problems involved those raccoons, squirrels, skunks and woodchucks.

I still like squirrels, sorry! But not the mice or rats in the State House. Speaking of State House, on to the next paragraph. Note that transition.

If you took a tour of the State House on Beacon Hill last year, you weren't alone. Some 118,172 people took official tours last year. No one counted, but I'm sure thousands of others took unofficial tours, or stopped by to visit, without registering.

The only guy who didn't visit the State House was a driver for one of the major overnight delivery companies who claimed he couldn't deliver my package (at 11 a.m.) because he "couldn't gain access to the building." (I had to explain it was a rather large building, gold dome, about a hundred doors and that some 118,000 other people managed to find the door, and got the package two days later.)

Even more people visited Massachusetts last year-28.6 million of them. Massachusetts Office of Tourism has just released its 2000-2001 Getaway Guide. Call 800/227-MASS for your copy, then head out into the Commonwealth to be a tourist yourself. After all, travel and tourism is the third largest industry in the state. (First and second: health care and finance.)

Not just people are being counted. The early returns are in on the midwinter bald eagle survey, and I'm told that at least 54 bald eagles-and one golden eagle-are wintering here. Eleven along the Connecticut River. Twenty-six bald (and the golden) at Quabbin. A loner at Cobble Mountain Reservoir in Blandford.

Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife counts a lot of birds, by the way-goldeneyes, buffleheads, scoters, scaups, mallards. And, interesting to me, because I love to watch them, swans (963 in Massachusetts).

Giving up on transitions, let's continue. Undaunted. With information that has hit my desk this month.

You can't walk on water. Or thin ice. One person, alone, needs at least two inches of clear lake ice to walk on frozen water.

Speaking of water. The single largest source of pollution to the rivers, lakes, ponds and marine waters of Massachusetts is storm water runoff.

Clothing a child? It's not easy if you're a foster parent. The stipend for a child from birth to five is just $53.50 per quarter in Massachusetts. The highest allowance is $141 a quarter.

The Union Oyster House is the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the United States. (And, it's my husband's favorite Boston restaurant.)

Massachusetts has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. Less than 3 people per 1,000 per year at last count. New York and Connecticut are the same. States with the most divorces? Nevada, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Alabama.

Sheriff Michael Ashe published a calendar for 2000. Best month? June. Showing more than 100,000 hours per year of community service. With Ashe's quote, "A good, healthy sweat worked up in service to others is good for a person and an excellent building block for a law abiding life."

Hate those loud boom boxes and car stereos? So did the people in Fort Lupton, Colorado. So they passed an ordinance there to annoy the teens who violate the town's noise ordinance. The young and noisy have to go the city council chambers and, against their will, listen to music purposely chosen to annoy them. Tapes of folks like Barney, Yanni and Wayne Newton.

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