Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, Guwahatian Magazine (India), The Galway Review (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Osprey Review (Wales), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey) and other magazines. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs
A Writer Who Writes Not Knowing Why
That my parents were Irish immigrants is probably the most significant factor in my writing life. The English expelled my father from Ireland around 1920 at age 18 or so for running guns for the IRA. My mother was an illegal immigrant who somehow got on a different ship around the same time and ended up in Harlem. Nice people took her to her cousin’s place elsewhere in New York. She too was 18. The year may have been 1924. Hunger motivated her to leave.
Words were everything in the home I was raised in. Words flew around the house at times like butterflies; other times like missiles. My father launched most of them. My mother said little.
Most fathers in that immigrant South Side Chicago neighborhood, if asked by a son about a trip to the zoo, might have answered yes or no. My father always said "perhaps" to any question like that.
I think “perhaps” is the first word that sent me to the dictionary. I have spent most of my life looking up words, for years in dictionaries and now online. I think “diarrhea” is a beautiful word to hear and look at in print so that might offer a hint as to how odd in some ways I am.
Other kids went to the zoo during summer vacations. My father took me to the stockyards instead so we could tour the slaughterhouses.
We watched cattle and hogs being slaughtered. No one was allowed to watch the sheep being killed. But my father made sure I saw the Judas goat lead the sheep into the slaughterhouse. I was not shocked by any of this. In fact, I enjoyed it because my father had often talked about slaughtering livestock as an adolescent in Ireland. I wanted to grow up to be rough, tough and hard to bluff like him.
My father could use any tool to fix almost anything. I could fix nothing with or without any tool. Words were the only tools I had. I kept them in an invisible quiver and kept buying bigger quivers.
The first thing I ever wrote or tried to write occurred early in grammar school, perhaps in fifth grade, circa 1948. I sat with a pencil and pad of paper in front of an RCA console radio listening to Sunday afternoon dramas. The main and only character in my unfinished “novel" was Yukoa, an Indian living in Alaska. Can’t recall how much I wrote but I enjoyed doing it.
There were no computers, of course, back in the Fifties when I started writing on my own apart from school requirements. I'd jot down phrases for poems that came into my mind on scraps of paper and I'd stuff the scraps in my pockets.
I had to wear a suit and tie to work as a young editor in the Sixties, even though I have a blue-collar mentality. I could do white-collar work but I really didn’t fit in with those with a similar education. I had no interest in business despite giving it a try. But I had to make money.
Five children were born between August 1962 and March 1968. Yes, I was Catholic, having spent 19 consecutive years in Catholic schools without ever being tempted to be a priest. I was always a Believin' but Misbehavin' Roman C, a phrase I have often thought would make a good Country and Western song.
I took a couple of degrees in English because I knew the intricacies of the language coming out of elementary school thanks to a nun in eighth grade. She made me diagram 30 sentences a night for rolling marbles down the aisle. I learned grammar that way. After I got a master’s degree I tried to find her and thank her but she was already in a home. Teaching the kids of immigrants was no easy task.
When I'd get enough scraps of paper with lines for potential poems in my pockets, I'd type them out, one to a sheet. I'd come back to those sheets and keep adding more words and lines until I had a first draft. Then, I'd revise each draft a zillion times and go through all kinds of Eaton’s Corrasable bond typing paper to do so.
Before Eaton’s became available, I was a big buyer of White Out to erase my typing mistakes. Now I just sit behind a Macintosh computer and hit the delete key.
When I was young, James Wright knocked me over with his "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota." The last line floored me and I was hooked. Here's the poem if the link still works: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177229
In the late '60s and early '70s, when I still lived in Chicago, I began submitting to "small magazines" in Ireland. There I had the company of another young writer named Seamus Heaney. Even then I knew he was light years better than the rest of us. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I wasn’t at all surprised. The man put down words like a bricklayer, nothing misaligned. And yet he had a music all his own.
I was asked once to list words that might capture my personality. I settled for excitable, competitive, intuitive, obsessive and empathic.
Nine years ago I returned to the Roman Catholic Church after a 40-year hiatus. Though I was never "holy," theology and philosophy have always fascinated me. Even during the years I was misbehaving, I always believed in God. Faith is a gift, of course, and for some reason God let me keep it till I wandered back home.
I have probably 1,000 or more poems, short stories and essays at various sites online. We moved recently and my wife found quite a few little magazines from the late Sixties and early Seventies containing what a scholar might call my juvenilia. I had only poems appear in print back then—perhaps a hundred or so sent out methodically with a self-addressed envelope. It would often take months to get a response and rejections far outnumbered acceptances.
I did not start writing fiction and essays until an editor in 2010 told me that a poem I had submitted would work better as a short story so I gave fiction a try. Writing fiction and non-fiction turned out to be a whole new experience.
For me trying to write poetry is far different from trying to write prose.
Poems of mine almost always begin with a word or phrase or line that simply comes into my mind, often while shaving or doing something else when my mind is empty.
Fiction usually begins with an attempt at a poem that doesn’t work as a poem, and nonfiction often begins with fiction based on fact that won’t work as a story so I have to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
I have found poems harder to finish than fiction or non-fiction. I “hear” the first draft of many poems, take dictation and then revise and revise.
Prose requires that I think and then write. I “feel” nothing in the process of writing prose.
Because of working on deadline as an editor of different publications, I quit all personal writing between 1972 and 2008. When I retired, my wife bought me a computer as a gift and showed me in the basement cardboard boxes of unfinished poems gathering dust since 1972. I have not stopped writing since. It’s a great prophylactic for the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, at least for me.
I write at least three shifts a day of at least three hours each. I write and revise and revise and revise, finally admit to myself that I can make it no better and send out the work. The reception by people who don’t know me has been gratifying but I don’t write for others. I write for myself.
I forget the name of the famous poet who said that a poem is never finished, simply abandoned. I agree completely with that idea and apply it as well to fiction and non-fiction.
My wife spent many years taking photographs, professionally and creatively. I have never lacked ideas for something to write but if that ever happens I might give poems to her and have her match them with photos and see if a publishable book might result. That combination appears online a lot but I don't know if books have begun to use it. Could be interesting but it sounds like work. Since I worked as an editor most of my life, I try now to avoid work. Writing my own stuff isn't work.
I don’t have any advice for young writers except to revise and revise, let the piece marinate over night, and revise it again in the morning.
Send it out when you can do nothing more and you think it has merit maybe only you will appreciate.
Writing is a wonderful obsession that doesn’t make one a drunkard or the parent of illegitimate children. If one has the skill it is worth pursuing.
Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Book Review: The Whole Town’s Talking
The Whole Town’s Talking is Fannie Flagg’s latest book about a small town in Missouri settled by a Swedish immigrant. Fannie Flagg for those that don’t know has been around since the days of the tv show Candid Camera, circa 1963, where she was a comedy writer there at the age of 19. She went on to have a successful career as an actress, comedienne, and a novelist. Fried Green Tomatoes is her best known book and movie. Anyway this book starts off by telling us how this young Swedish man came to America, settled in Missouri, advertised for a wife, got one, and went on with his life on his dairy farm there. It tells us about the lives of this couple and their descendants as well as the lives and descendants of the other town folk from the 1800’s to 2020, yes 2020. We learn about each succeeding generation and the problems that they faced during the times in which they lived. And even after these characters die off, we still hear from them as the dead talk to each other from the grave. What a hoot. Though this book is an assemblage of stories of the residents of small town America, it is also the story of the demise of that town.
Fannie Flagg of course is known for her humor and while this book is filled with numerous humorous stories, it does carry a serious overtone to it. Some parts even brought a tear to my eye. Nonetheless it’s a light fluffy fun read, about three hundred pages long, with no political agenda like a lot of books today. It’s just a heartwarming feel good story.
One thing about the book that left me hanging was that some of the dead in the cemetery suddenly disappear overnight from their graves for no apparent reason at all. One day the dead body next to you is here and talking to you and the next morning you wake up and your cemetery neighbor is gone. No one knows the how, why, or where of it. I kept hoping that at the end we would find all this out. But no we don’t.
The reason for this is obvious. So that you will buy the sequel. Ms Flagg unabashedly makes this clear on the last page. Stay tuned Fannie Flagg fans for more heartwarming nostalgia coming soon to a bookstore near you!
Obviously this book is not of a literary nature. No symbolism, no flowery words, no reflections of the mind, no soul searching, no painting of word pictures. Just daily down to earth language of the common folk. That is what makes the book work. Makes it enjoyable. Makes you want to keep reading to see what happens next.
So if you’re a Fannie Flagg fan, and even if you’re not, you have to read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Peter Dabbene’s poetry has been published in many literary journals, and collected in the photo book Optimism. He has published the graphic novels Ark and Robin Hood, the story collections Prime Movements and Glossolalia, and a novel, Mister Dreyfus' Demons. His latest books are Spamming the Spammers and More Spamming the Spammers. He writes a monthly column for the Hamilton Post newspaper. His website is www.peterdabbene.com.
Suburban Complaint # 1076: SQUIRRELS!
Part One: Footsteps
It began with footsteps--little scurrying footsteps at the crack of dawn, every morning, on the roof right above my bedroom. It was like renting an apartment under a hundred tiny, terrible tenants who run everywhere.
The windows of my house don’t allow a view of the roof proper, but they do offer a view of the small section of roof over the back porch. There, under the eave, near the gutter, was a small hole in the slowly rotting, half-century old wood. The roof had been redone several times over the years, and the porch supports themselves were replaced just a few years ago. But the eaves had been ignored, and I watched in dismay as a squirrel darted across the roof and disappeared into the opening.
I moved to the kitchen window for a better look, and saw the squirrel’s face peeking out, staring me in the eye. They say the eyes are windows of the soul… this squirrel’s eyes were black. Never have I wished so fervently for the repeal of local gun control ordinances regarding the discharge of firearms.
There was no telling how far into the eave the squirrel had penetrated; after 50 years, the interior might have been completely hollowed out from rot before the squirrel ever made his way inside. If not, some light burrowing would forge a path easily enough, while also providing the shavings for a comfy little nest. Over the next few days, the footsteps began to sound different. Not greatly different; not even enough to discount an overactive imagination on my part. But I began to suspect that maybe, just maybe, the squirrels were no longer on the roof. Maybe they had gotten into the attic.
I looked outside with a new intensity. It seemed there were squirrels everywhere: hopping across the lawn, mingling with their rabbit friends; on the branches of the many pine trees that line the yard; along the fence near the last vestiges of the vegetable garden (or as it has come to be known, the squirrel rest stop and diner). Every squirrel was a threat, a potential invader.
That was a year ago.
Part Two: Me, Technology, and the Collective Wisdom of Humankind vs. the Smarter than Suspected Squirrel
I started my counter-offensive not long after, with a call to the Animal Control Division of Hamilton Township, New Jersey. This is a town which, by the way, has declared itself “America’s Favorite Hometown,” which makes so little sense it’s really not worth getting worked up about. Except I feel compelled: I mean, do people really vote for hometowns other than their own? And if you don’t live there, isn’t it, by definition, no longer your hometown? Oh well… “America’s Favorite Hometown” may not make sense, but it’s a better motto than “Home of the 2001 Anthrax Post Office.”
The Animal Control Division answered my call on the second ring. No surprise, of course, since by extension, it is America’s Favorite Animal Control Division. The animal control guy listened to me blather on about the squirrels for a minute, then asked:
“Is the squirrel inside the house or outside the house?”
I had to wonder: do they get many calls from people saying, “Look… I don’t want to get you nervous, but… THERE’S A SQUIRREL OUTSIDE MY HOUSE!” Do crazy, rabid squirrels often lay siege to a household, preventing resupply and terrorizing the inhabitants until there’s no choice but to call on outside help?
The animal control guy awaited my answer. Was the squirrel inside or outside? First of all, it was doubtful that it was really just that one squirrel who tortured me, one single champion amid a crowd of less aggressive tree-dwelling rodentia. And I didn’t know whether they were currently in the attic or just continually searching for a way to infiltrate, like street people looking to gain access to a cushy hotel’s restroom, or like zombies in a horror movie, looking for that one bit of window that’s not completely boarded up. Being honest to a fault, I had to say: “I’m not sure.”
“Well, if they die inside the house, you’ve got a problem.”
I agreed. Dead squirrels in the house seemed problematic.
“And if they nest inside the house and have a litter, you’ve got a big problem. Or a lot of little problems,” he laughed. “Hey, did you know that squirrels are highly promiscuous? I mean, like, the female will have the fellas lined up and waiting…”
I pictured… Never mind what I pictured.
“Maybe you guys can help?” I asked, feeling as impertinent as Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.
“We can’t really do much about the squirrels’ lack of morals.” It was hard to tell if he was joking.
“No, I mean help with keeping the squirrels from damaging my house.”
“Oh. Well, before I can do anything, I need to know where they are now, inside or outside.”
“You mean at this very moment? It’s kind of tough to keep tabs on them.”
“I have to know, inside or outside.”
“I don’t know. Both. They travel a lot. Let’s say inside.”
“We can’t do anything if they’re inside. Liability issues. If something gets destroyed inside the house, we don’t want anyone suing us.”
Okay then. Well played. It’s my job to get the squirrels out of the house. If they’re there. How?
“Get a HavaHeart trap, and bait it with peanut butter. You can get it at Home Depot.”
Home Depot is selling groceries now? Wow, that’s convenient. They must really be expanding… Oh. The trap. Get the trap at Home Depot. Not the peanut butter.
“Wait a second. Once you catch the squirrel, then you have to drop the squirrel off somewhere at least 15 miles away. They’re smarter than people think, very territorial, and they’ll find their way back if you don’t take them that far.”
I first pictured the triumphant, heartwarming return of a lost animal, like Lassie in Lassie Come Home. Then I imagined angry, vicious squirrels returning for vengeance. Angry squirrels seeking revenge: truly, the stuff of nightmares.
“And if you have any trouble with bears or anything like that, give us a call.”
As long as the bear is outside the house, right? Hello, there’s a bear out--oh… wait… the bear just came inside. Never mind, I’ll handle this myself.
I arrived at the local Home Depot and flagged down one of the orange-vested employees, delaying his urgent mission to bring a box somewhere to the other side of the store. I told him about my situation.
“Got squirrels, huh? That’s a problem.”
The consensus view was that the squirrels were a problem. At least we all agreed.
My guide stopped in front of aisle nine and pointed toward the animal control section. He said nothing, which made me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge being pointed toward his gravestone by the tall, dark, and spooky Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. But of course, that comparison was ridiculous, since my guide was dressed not in a hooded death shroud, but in a bright orange vest that looked like a less cumbersome version of a personal flotation device, along with a nametag that read “Sam.” Indeed, watching him race away, eager to make up lost seconds, his box clutched tightly in hand, I felt distinctly like a drowning man watching his only hope for help floating away on the waves.
As with most things I’d never thought of until I needed them, Home Depot had a whole section of animal control devices. I still think if I had to bet, there would be a jar of peanut butter on one of those shelves.
The HavaHeart brand was well represented, with traps of various shapes and sizes. Did you want to rid your home of mice? Rats? Too many rabbits in the yard? Skunk problem? Raccoons? Armadillos? Annoying neighbors, on the shortish side?
The raw power was intoxicating. Here was the means to kill virtually anything that might be dubbed “critter.”
No. Not kill. My mistake.
A confession: I didn’t really care much about the squirrels’ well-being at this point. If there were an IHaveNoHeart squirrel trap that took care of the problem, as we evil types like to say, “permanently,” I gladly would have purchased it, provided it didn’t require any messy cleanup. But there was no such option, so Havahart it was.
The appropriate box featured pictures of happy little squirrels, the likes of which the late painter Bob Ross never imagined. This was non-lethal critter control. I tried to picture myself relocating squirrels, and failed. But that squirrel on the box was pretty cute.
All right, I decided. The squirrels would live. If they cooperated.
Later, as I read through the manual and set the trap near the back porch, I had to wonder: Could it really be this easy? Squirrels were smart, weren’t they? After all, they remembered where they buried all those acorns every year, didn’t they? Did they?
Maybe, intelligence aside, they just had a weakness for peanut butter. It happens to the best of us, particularly when combined with chocolate.
Other questions came to mind: How do the squirrels know peanut butter tastes good? They’ve never had peanut butter before, have they? Or is this an accepted means of travel in the squirrel world--hang out in one area till you see the magic peanut butter transportation device, and whoosh! Off you go? Maybe Mr. Squirrel’s had enough of being cooped up with Mrs. Squirrel all winter. And if she’s pregnant, hoo boy! I’d go for the peanut butter too.
Perhaps I was overthinking this.
Within an hour, I had caught my first squirrel.
Part Three: Johnny Squirrelseed
Not expecting success so quickly, I hadn’t yet planned my squirrel relocation strategy. Luckily, I happened to be headed someplace approximately 20 miles away, well beyond the minimum distance for avoiding the “boomerang squirrel” effect. I grabbed the trap by the convenient carrying handle, placed it inside the hatchback trunk of my wife’s car, and headed out.
I was in the driver’s seat, the squirrel in the storage area behind the rear bench. It’s a small car, but it seemed a vast distance between me in front and my prisoner of war in the back. Still, if the squirrel escaped the cage, perhaps shaken loose during a bumpy stretch or a sharp turn, there would be mayhem quickly enough.
Driving in a car with a squirrel is unnerving. Words simply can’t describe the dangerous, heady thrill of transporting a wild animal in one’s automobile. Don’t get caught up with descriptions of size or relative harmlessness--wild is wild. And the chittering… the chittering had suddenly stopped.
It was quiet--too quiet. My mind drifted in the silence, and I imagined myself as a mafia hit man, driving an unfortunate associate to his final resting place. Then it was me as a kidnapper, fleeing justice--and what punishment would the squirrel authorities administer, if they caught me? At least I wasn’t crossing state lines. To calm myself, I then pretended to be the trusted chauffeur of a wealthy, famous squirrel--say, Rocky from Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Scrat, from those Ice Age movies--driving, fetching coffee, handing over the morning newspaper…
Newspapers. I’d forgotten newspapers. The bottom of the trap was mostly open, metal lattice.
“You better not crap back there, squirrelly, if you know what’s good for you,” I threatened. Verbal warnings might seem pointless, but I was taking nothing for granted. Besides, I was desperate--despite my best efforts angling mirrors and craning my head around for a better look, I couldn’t see what he was doing. If it was a he. I wasn’t about to check.
I figured my chances of the squirrel not evacuating his bowels, as his took his first car ride, in his first cage, were slim. I arrived at my destination fully expecting squirrel poop in the car. I wasn’t sure what squirrel poop looked like, exactly, but I expected something. Instead there was nothing. Maybe the threats had worked. Maybe adrenaline, or the squirrel equivalent, had kept him from relaxing enough to relieve himself. Maybe this hadn’t been his first time in a cage or a car, and it was no big deal. Or maybe the little bugger had been literally scared shitless.
I prepared to release the squirrel from the cage, using the easy release lever. Why not do it the easy way? The situation had enough potential for difficulty, it didn’t need any help. I imagined the squirrel escaping the cage, then turning and making a beeline for my leg, ready to give a little payback for the kidnapping. I lifted the release lever, the squirrel darted out, and we both ran in opposite directions.
Over the next few days, I considered attempting a peaceful co-existence with the squirrels. There was much to respect about my adversaries, after all: they emerged every day without fail to go about their business, even in the dead of winter--squirrels don’t hibernate. If they went out once a day, around 8 in the morning, returning at dark, maybe I could live with that. But these were animals imbued with a strong Puritan work ethic, and every day, they woke with the sun to do whatever it is they do, after a noisy and frenetic round of squirrel calisthenics.
So, after the initial misgivings, I quickly settled into my role as a squirrel trapper. Let me tell you, those squirrels loved peanut butter. Any time I was going to be traveling alone more than 15 miles, I’d casually set the trap an hour or two beforehand, and bam! I’d have myself a traveling companion. I delivered squirrels in every direction, to parks and parking lots alike. My wife labeled me a destroyer of families; she so clearly sided with the squirrels in this matter, I wondered if the remaining squirrels had taken to standing vigil outside her car in the mornings, or if they’d played on her sympathies in some other, equally despicable manner.
An unsettling turn came when one squirrel’s capture and relocation in the morning seemed to elicit another squirrel’s suicide in the evening. I found the suicide squirrel face down, spread eagled, a few feet away from the back porch, near the spot where the morning squirrel was caught. The porch roof is only about ten feet off the ground, but maybe when you’re a two pound squirrel, that’s enough to do the job. Like a detective on the squirrel beat, I studiously sought some other explanation, looking at every possible cause of death; but there was no nearby threat of electrocution and no marks on the body as if it had been attacked. The squirrel seemed to have just decided to take a header off the gutter, nose-diving into frozen ground.
Unfortunately, this only strengthened my wife’s resistance to the squirrel war.
“It’s like something out of Shakespeare--maybe they were two star-crossed squirrels, and the nose-diver couldn’t live without the other one. Or, maybe the jumper was a mother whose child you trapped, and she couldn’t live without her baby.”
“Or maybe it was a mother who killed herself because she found out she had an incestuous relationship with her son, like in Oedipus Rex. After all, squirrels are known for being promiscuous. A mistake could be made… I mean, the female will have the guys lined up and waiting…”
“I’m serious! This is pure tragedy!”
“Listen, you’re getting upset for nothing, with all this Shakespearean tragedy stuff. First of all, squirrels can’t read. And second of all, they’re rodents--rodents with big floppy tails. Just pretend a big rat with a skinny, pink tail tossed itself off a cliff.”
She paused a moment, then brightened. “You’re right. I feel better.”
I didn’t, though--not completely. Yes, the squirrels were pests, but an inkling of guilt set in anyway. That guilt stuck in my craw, and I held off on setting the trap for a day or two. Until one morning at 3 a.m. when I heard them up above, fighting, or playing tag, or mating, or maybe all three, who knows? Horny squirrels in the attic--that’s something that’ll make you feel like you’re living the good life.
I will thank the squirrels for one thing--due to a failure to get back to sleep, well… let’s just say the squirrels weren’t the only mammals getting busy that night.
The guilt was gone, replaced by a renewed lust for squirrel incarceration. That morning, I resumed my war, setting the trap with extra peanut butter, ready to wreak havoc on the careful life plans of squirrels everywhere.
I notched a mark on the top of the peanut butter jar for each squirrel caught. When I reached ten squirrels trapped and relocated, I began to imagine the remaining squirrels talking about me, as I watched them chittering away to each other: “Hey, it’s that guy who carted up Uncle Louie and drove away with him.” That’s right, squirrels--you take a trip with me, you’re not coming back. Of course, they didn’t know that the place I’d selected for Uncle Louie was actually a quiet little parkland with lots of trees. But that didn’t matter, as long as they were scared.
There were a few hiccups along the way, like my encounter with Houdini Squirrel, who was securely locked in the trap but a few minutes later had escaped, having turned the trap over but with all the locks still in place. I shrugged it off, mystified, and caught more squirrels.
I imagined myself as Davy Crockett--but instead of a coonskin cap, I’d wear squirrelskin. I was the Johnny Appleseed of squirrels, planting whole colonies where I deemed fit. I was Johnny Squirrelseed.
I admit, my ego began to get the best of me. There’s something very God-like about being able to redistribute whole groups of animals, seemingly at will.
My respect for the squirrels waned. Later, I would read that squirrels have brains smaller than their nuts, which can be taken two ways, and maybe three, none of them flattering to the squirrels. How can squirrels find their nuts, with just a nut-sized brain, when they haven’t seen their nuts in over a year? Some animal researchers say it’s just random; they just sort of poke around in those areas where you’d most likely find nuts, and all of a sudden, bingo! You’ve found your nuts.
Male squirrels in particular spend much of their time preoccupied with their nuts.
Speaking of squirrel brains, by the way, there are people who eat squirrel brains.
In this country.
Kentucky, to be exact.
But I digress.
Just when a squirrel-free zone around the house seemed a real possibility, it happened. Or rather, it stopped happening. I set the trap as before, baited it the same way, but the squirrels didn’t come. The peanut butter sat untouched for days. At first I was joyful, thinking I’d cleared all the squirrels from the vicinity, but one look from the patio proved I was wrong. They were still there, watching from the trees, from the fence, from the birdbath at the far end of the yard. They were staring, all of them--at me.
To best convey the gut-drop feeling in my stomach, I would have to invoke the moment in so many science fiction films when, confronted by some nefarious but seemingly limited threat of apparently rudimentary intelligence, the hero slowly whispers in horror, “They’re learning.”
Part Four: The Horrors of War
This was war. In all wars, men are sometimes moved by extraordinary circumstances to do things which seem acceptable amid the fog of war, but which later evoke feelings of embarrassment, or shame. The squirrel war was no exception.
With the squirrel trap no longer effective, I was searching for another means of attack. Or, if not a means of offense, then at least a means of defense.
It was late one night, everyone else in the house was asleep, and I had to pee. Due to a bathroom renovation, the downstairs toilet was not usable. The only other toilet in the house was across from the kids’ rooms and could not be used without the risk of waking them up. If the kids woke up, I’d spend the next hour getting them back to sleep.
I let the dog out the back door to pee, and yes, like a freight train that’s been switched down the wrong track, the solution presented itself: If it’s good enough for the dog, why not me?
I spent the next few minutes debating internally whether or not to actually pee in my backyard.
Pros: Convenient, fun
Cons: Could harm generally congenial relationship with neighbors if seen; uncouth
I checked the area. It was dark--there were no lights on inside the house, and the moon was mostly concealed by clouds. I noticed the dim silhouette of one of the trees against the even blacker sky, and thought of the squirrels. Back in Home Depot, I had skipped the deer and squirrel combo repellent, thinking I didn’t want to start putting chemicals all around the house. Not just yet. Not unless absolutely necessary--and then I’d bomb them like “Chemical Ali” on a bad day.
I recalled hearing something about deer being afraid of people, so much so that if a fawn has the scent of man on it, it will be abandoned by its mother. This was strictly anecdotal (half-remembered, anonymous anecdotal, no less--certainly the best kind for deductive reasoning) and at that moment the other, contradictory anecdotal evidence, like friends who regularly fed deer from their back porches, did not come to mind.
The scent of a man? If that’s not code for “urine,” I don’t know what it is. Unless it’s the title of the all-male, culturally correct sequel to the unfortunate 1992 Al Pacino movie.
If there was a single repellent to combat both deer and squirrels, then the animals must react to it the same way. And if they reacted the same way to that repellent, wouldn’t they both be equally repelled by the “scent of a man”? At 2 a.m., my logic seemed faultless.
I laid down a line in the sand--in pee--daring the squirrels to cross it.
The dog looked at me, confused and possibly wondering if, at long last, the roles had been reversed and she would now get to sit in the big comfy chair, use the remote control and pee inside the house.
Later, on a non-squirrel related trip to Home Depot, I saw that the deer and squirrel repellent contained no urine, but instead consisted of “putrescent whole egg solids,” “capsaicin & related capsaicinoids” (the stuff in chili peppers), and garlic oil. In other words, if you throw a spiced-up stink bomb in your backyard, they’ll stay away. But human pee? Turns out it’s not terribly effective.
I assume the squirrels got a good laugh out of that one.
Part Five: Acornucopia (an acorn utopia)
I stand at the kitchen window and watch the squirrels eating their acorns or hiding them away. I wonder what they’re thinking about. Do they realize that I am their doom, or do they see me, in the aftermath of the yard urine incident, as just another would-be squirrel smiter? What is their long-term strategy for the continued occupation of my yard? What are their likes and dislikes, their turn-ons and turn-offs?
Maybe humans, being the most intelligent animals on the planet, are simply unable to understand the primitive mammal mind of the squirrel. Primitive mammal minds? That’s so 100,000 years ago. Done there, been that, as Darwin might have said.
Watching the squirrels chow down makes me wonder: can people eat acorns? We eat a lot of other tree nuts: walnuts, chestnuts, and pecans, among others. Still, I seem to remember--anecdotally--being told that acorns are poisonous to humans. Looking at all the fallen acorns on the lawn, though… hundreds, maybe even thousands--an acorn utopia--I begin to entertain delusions of living off the land cheaply, happily and self-sufficiently. I also consider Midwest militia-style delusions that if one day confronted by agents of a tyrannical government, I could hole up inside a tree for a few weeks, to plan a counterattack or just give the tyrants time to tire of the whole business. I even indulge in more modest delusions, like imagining that if I were dropped in the 3.5 acre woods of the nearest park, and was somehow unable to follow the color-coded trail markers or summon help via one of the still-working pay phones, I would not starve. These are delusions, soon recognized as such, so I turn my attention toward reality--the squirrels--and I have what seems an epiphany.
I recall accounts of aboriginal tribes which, before embarking on a hunting expedition, would eat as their prey did, to better understand the mind of their quarry. It might sound unlikely, but this method has the potential to yield valuable insights into the inner workings of the squirrel brain. Plus, I am curious to see what acorns taste like.
First, I must assure my safety concerns by doing some research. “Doing some research” used to sound impressive, conjuring images of stacks of books, and hours spent poring over them in a musty library. Now, people just assume you typed a search word, or maybe a phrase, into Google and picked the first result.
Their assumptions are correct.
I type “can people eat acorns” into Google and choose the first option. After reading the link, I decide that eating a food many people believe to be poisonous requires more diligent research. So I click on the second link, too.
Apparently, acorns contain tannic acid, a toxic substance which, among other things, is used in wood stains. The idea of drinking a container of wood stain doesn’t exactly whet the appetite, so I read on. The consensus seems to be that if you soak the acorns in water, then dump the water and repeat, at least twice a day, for 7-10 days, you can leach out the toxic tannic acid, making the acorns edible. I am about to risk my health on the word of a bunch of people I’ve never met. But they have nice websites, so I figure it’s okay.
During a family trip to the park, I gather a dozen acorns, and, making sure the squirrels can see me, pocket them--“squirreling them away,” as it were. Oh yes, squirrels. It’s coming.
At home, I find a nutcracker and shell the acorns. One of them has a small wormy grub-type thing nestled up inside it. That goes in the garbage, so we’re down to 11 acorns. There will be no mention of the squirmin’ vermin to my wife, lest the experiment be forcibly abandoned.
The rest of the acorns soak, and over the course of the day the water turns brown. I follow the instructions, draining the old water and filling the bowl with new.
Some excerpts from My Acorn Diary:
Day 1: Light brown color to the water. Drain and refill bowl twice.
Day 4: Still changing the water twice a day, the water still turns brown. I consider tasting a small piece of acorn now, but decide to wait instead for the feast that will occur somewhere around day 10.
Day 7: Still soaking, still changing water. The acorns are getting a little black and mushy in places, and I have to toss a couple in the garbage. The rest are going strong. Well, maybe not strong, exactly.
Day 9: By all accounts, the acorns should be nearly drained of tannins by now, but the water still turns light brown after a few hours, so apparently they’re not ready yet. Still, maybe a little toxic tannin would grant me the insight I seek, a mystical experience akin to those of Native Americans invoking the spirits of their “power animals,” or totems. Of course, from the accounts I’ve heard, the Native Americans typically smoked peyote during these ceremonies instead of eating waterlogged acorns. Sounds like a good excuse to smoke some peyote.
The idea of a “squirrel spirit” is intriguing. My original idea of seeking squirrel enlightenment was vague, at best. A giant squirrel (it’s a power squirrel, after all) appearing before me is a much more vivid realization of the enlightenment concept than the admittedly new-agey technique of eating the same food. Do I feel like a meek little rabbit when eating a tossed salad? Do I feel like a lion when I eat steak tartare? Well, maybe.
The giant squirrel is such a vivid image, in fact, that twice this evening I’ve had nightmares involving an oversized and quite unhappy squirrel.
Day 10: Some of the acorns have grown hair.
Day 11: I’ve found a book that goes into Native American totems and the customs surrounding them. However, it doesn’t just detail the customs; it also explains how to find your power animal. Apparently, one doesn’t choose one’s power animal, one discovers one’s power animal by asking a few simple questions. Among them:
Question: Does a certain kind of animal consistently appear in your life?
Answer: Squirrels (and my dog).
Q: Is there a particular animal that you see frequently when you’re out in nature?
Q: Have you had recurring dreams about a certain animal?
A: Squirrels. (Giant squirrels, to be precise.)
Q: Are there any animals that you find to be extremely frightening or intriguing?
A: Frightening? Not until the giant squirrel nightmares. Do I find squirrels intriguing? Yes. More than most mammals, anyway.
Q: Have you ever been attacked by an animal?
A: If by “attacked,” they mean “invaded,” then the answer is yes--squirrels.
It seems that my power animal is (as I suspected) the squirrel. According to the book, the squirrel spirit represents “planning and gathering”.
With the stunning self-realization that accompanies daily horoscope readings ‘round the world, I tell myself: This is true. I am a planner. I have planned a three-week, 12,000 mile cross-country R.V. trip down to the individual hour; I have planned the retirement income strategies of rich and poor alike; I have planned successful supermarket trips on a weekly basis for years, clipping coupons and noting sale items for maximum return per minute shopped.
A gatherer, though? The word is laden with overripe images of baskets and berry-picking. A moment of doubt creeps in, until I realize that yes, I am a gatherer. A gatherer of reading material; a gatherer of recorded music; a gatherer…
A gatherer of squirrels.
“The prophecy is fulfilled!” I exclaim. Strangely, this climactic moment is followed by a strange, empty silence. I decide that without peyote, it’s just not the same. Instead, I check my acorns again. More have grown hair; or more specifically, an unappealing black fuzz.
Day 12: With only a few acorns that haven’t grown hair, it’s now or never. All for the greater good, sacrifices must be made, et cetera, et cetera. Thinking I may be condemning humanity to number 2 or 3 on the intelligence list, I select the most hair-free acorn I can find, and eat it.
Correction: attempt to eat it. Think, if you will, of the foulest, bitterest thing you’ve ever tasted. If that food is the girl who was last to get asked to the prom, then this acorn is her ugly stepsister who stayed home. It’s really, really bitter.
Day 13: Having failed at understanding the squirrel mind through the acorn experiment, I open a can of Planter’s Mixed Nuts (with Sea Salt) and indulge. I almost feel bad for the squirrels, with their bitter acorns and unsalted nuts. By the end of the can, I feel sluggish and lethargic--not unlike a squirrel at the onset of winter, perhaps? My plan is back on track. Gotcha!
Part Six: “This is the End, My Friend…”
I try changing the bait in the trap. I try disguising the trap. I set the trap on a low-hanging branch of a tree. Nothing works. I examine the previously mentioned local ordnance ordinances, in detail, and briefly consider the purchase and subsequent use of a BB gun and/or airgun and/or bow and arrow. The two small children who live with me have a knack for darting outside quickly, however--the risk of collateral damage is too great, according to my wife, who threatens divorce more than once.
The local Army/Navy store offers another option: the Western Rivers Squirrel Call, a device which, with its black handle grip and translucent red plastic cone, looks like a refugee from a low-end rural sex shop. The package copy reads: “Offers exact replication of a squirrel’s chatters, barks, distress cries and squeals. Sure to add to your squirrel hunting pleasure.”
While there is something profoundly disturbing and latently serial killer-ish about the combination of “distress cries and squeals” and “hunting pleasure,” I choose to focus on the fact that this product could mean my deliverance. (Deliverance from the squirrels, that is--not to or from low-end rural sex shop patrons who might prefer the sounds of say, pig squeals to those of squirrels.)
Without some form of lethal culling at the ready, replicating a squirrel’s chatters and barks might do nothing but summon all of the neighborhood squirrels at once for a proper, all-out, teeth-bared invasion--no more of this skulking around in holes stuff. It is a prospect which, I do not mind admitting, causes me great fear. But distress cries? Squeals? Maybe I can frighten the squirrels into evacuating. Think about it in human terms, and it’s roughly equivalent to their living in a haunted house with bodiless howls and moans carrying through the halls, or maybe more like having a neighbor screaming for help at random intervals, but never actually seeing the neighbor. Mulling the purchase, I return home and check out the Western Rivers website for more detailed information. Luckily, Western Rivers provides free MP3 downloads of numerous animal calls, including classics like “Squirrel Barks,” “Squirrel Chattering,” “Squirrel Distress,” and my favorite, “Squirrel Distress 2.” Please attend www.western-rivers.com/downloads for the companion audio component of this section.
For those unable to partake, let me simply describe “Squirrel Distress” as the aural equivalent of being tapped on the skull, rapidly and consecutively, for three minutes. “Squirrel Distress 2,” by contrast, is more like listening to parakeets being strangled.
These sounds, played regularly, might drive the squirrels away, but they would probably drive my wife and children away first. And who knows? Maybe a hero squirrel or a small squad of squirrel commandos would hear in the cries a call to action, slipping into the house in search of some nonexistent captive. Then where would I be? With a houseful of angry commando squirrels, that’s where.
With no further success against the squirrels, and no further insights into the squirrel mind, I begin to feel like the South Vietnamese being overtaken by the North Vietnamese Army, circa 1975. This comes on the heels of other observed similarities between my squirrel war and the Vietnam conflict: the difficulty of defeating the enemy despite greater technical and technological advantages; a false sense of inevitability to the winning of the war; poor strategic decision-making; and finally, vocal and significant opposition to the war at home. I see visions of my house as the U.S. embassy, in flames (damned squirrels must’ve chewed the wiring), me and my family being airlifted out by helicopter.
I am left thinking that perhaps the squirrels are intelligent after all. Or, the more frightening prospect: maybe they’re just more intelligent than me.
Again conducting extensive research (the first four Google links), this time on animal intelligence, I am relieved to see that humans are still #1 on the list, though we have to question the objectivity of assessments made by humans--it’s conceivable that we might be a bit biased. Tree squirrels are listed as high as #10 or #11 in some rankings. Not to be confused with gophers, also known as ground squirrels, which are not considered quite as smart.
Ground squirrels. I think of Bill Murray in Caddyshack--humorous, yes, as he blows up the golf course to kill the gopher… but was it a failure of strategy, or of implementation? The latter, apparently, as the city of Spokane is now detonating ground squirrels (look it up if you don’t believe me). Blowing holes in the yard with a Rodenator (www.rodenator.com) is appealing, but my enemy lurks above, not below. What, then? How to destroy their habitat?
The trees! Destroy the trees! Cut them down!
No! Burn them! Burn them all!
I happen to have The Doors’ first album handy. I crank it up on the stereo and open the windows so the squirrels can hear. Track 11.
“This is the end, my friend…”
In hindsight, it’s fortunate that my wife discovered my plan before implementation.
“Just seal the house,” she said, with a note of impatience.
“I will not sell the house! Don’t you see, if we sell, then the squirrels win! They win!”
“I said seal the house. Like, cover any possible entries. Deny admission.”
How naïve. How hopelessly, embarrassingly naïve.
What’s that you ask? Why not seal the house?
Well, aside from the trouble of actually doing the work, there is and has always been the added disincentive of possibly trapping a squirrel inside the house, to die and rot in the attic or perhaps emerge suddenly from a wall or ceiling, having eaten its way out like the eponymous baby Alien in the 1979 movie. Except baby squirrels don’t eat flesh. That we know of.
Still, after conducting forced relocations the likes of which the Nuremberg Trials never imagined; after seeking and failing to understand the squirrel consciousness by eating poisonous nuts; after urinating in my back yard in a desperate and ill-advised attempt to repel them… I just wanted it to be over.
I decided to risk the squirrels-as-Alien-facehuggers/chest-bursters scenario.
The how of it was a consideration. Hire a carpenter? Attempt to nail some sheet rock in place to patch holes? Duct tape?
You may now guess, based on your understanding of my temperament, judgment, and abilities (or lack thereof) which option I chose.
Carpenter? Too easy. Too expensive. Too impersonal. Making a phone call to solve the problem, after all I’d suffered, would be unsatisfying. The hourly rates of carpenters borders on the extortionate. Finally, and most importantly, I needed to finish this. To paraphrase and overcomplicate the oft-used movie trailer line, this time it wasn’t impersonal.
Maybe something I could handle myself, then. Sheet rock? Or plywood? Too bothersome. There was the sizing, the cutting, the fastening. Too much opportunity for injury and/or frustration.
Duct tape. It required scissors, which I owned and had often used (if I may be immodest) expertly. In H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the inhuman invaders are foiled by means some might consider inferior: the simple, lowly bacterium. Similarly, my invaders were beaten by an invention that has been reduced to fodder for jokes. Duct tape: so humble, and so versatile. So many uses, and add one more to the list--evicting squirrels from an eave.
That was it--a quiet, uneventful end to the problem. There were no facehugger/chest-burster squirrels emerging from the walls. There was a cat who climbed the garbage cans on the side of the house, got stuck in an old air conditioner opening, and may have died there after much meowing, but that’s another story. The footsteps above the bedroom stopped, for a time. Which leads me to believe I might have avoided all of this if I’d just gone to duct tape in the first place.
Things were peaceful, for a few weeks’ time. There were no footsteps in the morning, at least none that I heard. And every morning, I looked out from my kitchen window upon the proof of man’s superiority, our justification for that #1 slot on the intelligence list: duct tape.
Then I noticed that the duct tape had come loose on one side. True, this followed a day of solid pelting by snow and rain, so it may have been strictly the weather’s doing. But there was a chance, however terrible to consider, that the squirrels, seizing the opportunity the weather had granted, or worse, gnawing and pulling the tape away themselves, had re-deposited themselves inside the eave.
The duct tape flaps in the wind, still attached securely at one end, while the other end flies freely, like a flag. Its color is significant--not white, of course, as surrender is no longer an option, even if scorched earth becomes my only recourse--but rather the dulled silver sheen of weathered duct tape. To the squirrels, I’m sure it means the invasion is still in progress.
I still feel like a character in a zombie movie, waiting for the next wave of ill-intentioned invaders to arrive. Meanwhile, the squirrels gather above my bedroom and dance. They scour my lawn for the buried, bitter acorns, chittering among themselves, occasionally collecting in groups of three or four and plotting their revenge. As for the hole in the eave, I sometimes think--but cannot be sure--that I detect within its confines two small, black, soulless eyes looking out upon the world.
Clemencio Montecillo Bascar was a former Professor and Vice President for Corporate Affairs of the Western Mindanao State University. He is a recepient of various local, regional, and national awards in songwriting, playwriting, poetry, and public service. Several of his poems had been published in international literary magazines and journals such as, Foliate Oak , BRICKrhetoric, About Place, Torrid Literature, Mused-theBellaOnline Lietrary Review, and The Voices Project. He had written and published by the Western Mindanao State University two books of poetry, namely; "Fragments of the Eucharist" and "Riots of Convictions." In the Philippines, some of his poems appeared in the such magazines as Women's, MOD, and Chick.
At present, he writes a column in the Zamboanga Today daily newspaper and resides at 659 Gemini Street, Tumaga, Zamboanga City, Philippines. He is married to the former Miss Melinda Climaco dela Cruz and blest with three children, Jane, Lynnette, and Timothy James.
DRAFT PETITION TO THE UNITED NATIONS C-24
AN OMNIBUS PETITION OF THE TRI-PEOPLE (LUMADS, MUSLIMS, CHRISTIANS) OF
MINDANAO AND SULU ADDRESSED TO THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION OR C-24, EARNESTLY AND FERVENTLY PRAYING FOR IT TO INCLUDE THEIR ANCESTRAL HOMELANDS IN THE LIST OF NON- SELF-GOVERNING TERRITORIES TO BE DECOLONIZED WITHIN THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL DECADE (2011-2020) FOR THE ERADICATION OF COLONIALISM IN ALL ITS FORMS AND MANIFESTATIONS PURSUANT TO THE U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION 1514 (XV) OF DECEMBER 14, 1960 OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE DECLARATION ON THE GRANTING OF INDEPENDENCE TO COLONIAL COUNTRIES AND PEOPLES.
WE, THE TRI-PEOPLE (LUMADS, MUSLIMS, CHRISTIANS) OF MINDANAO AND SULU, HEREBY COLLECTIVELY AND EARNESTLY PETITION THE HONORABLE AND DISTINGUISHED 24-MEMBER SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRAYING FOR IT TO INCLUDE OUR SUBJUGATED AND COLONIZED HOMELANDS IN THE LIST OF THE REMAINING NON-SELFGOVERNING TERRITORIES AND THEREAFTER, TAKE PROMPT AND SPEEDY ACTION OF DECOLONIZING THEM BASED ON THE FOLLOWING HISTORICAL JUSTIFICATIONS AND PREMISES:
WHEREAS, long before the Spaniards arrived in the Visayas on March 16, 1521, Mindanao and Sulu for hundreds of years, had already been internationally recognized as de facto and de jure Sultanates; Sulu Sultanate was established on November 17, 1405 with Sayyid Abu Bakr as first Sultan based on the latest historical documents discovered; the establishment of Sultanate of Maguindnao followed about 70 years after in 1475 by Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan in Buayan, Cotabato;
WHEREAS, the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, as internationally recognized sovereign and independent monarchial states even antedated the establishment of the Federal System of Government of the United States by more than Three Hundred Years based on its 1787 Constitution and ahead of the Republic of the Philippines by more than Four Hundred Years based on the date it was granted independence or self-government by the United States on July 4, 1946;
WHEREAS, the Sultanates of SuLu and Maguindanao as internationally recognized sovereign and independent states had commercial and diplomatic relations with the United States, China, Brunei, and other Asian and European countries as evidenced by the treaties it entered into; one in particular was the SULU-U.S. TREATY OF 1842 for the promotion of trade and commerce between these two contracting states;
WHEREAS, as early as 1369, the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao already sent diplomatic and trade missions to China. As specifically documented on page 591 of the widely circulated reference book, Filipino Heritage (The Making Of A Nation) in 1726 a significant diplomatic mission of Sulu is highlighted in the following account:
" According to the China annals, in 1726 during the reign of the Manchu Emperor Yong Ching, the Sulu Sultan Muhammad Badar Ud-Din, sent a memorial to the emperor with tribute. The same Sultan again sent tribute the next year. It consisted of pearls, turtoise shells, weapons, mats, cloth, monkeys, bird's nests, etc."
WHEREAS, as confirmed and attested by internationally renowned and highly respected authors and historians, such as Vic Hurley, Robert A. Fulton, Gregorio F. Zaide, Peter Gordon Gowing, and Florence Horn (to cite a few), Mindanao and Sulu were not conquered by Spain and therefore, not her colonial possessions. In support of this historical fact, Dr. Onfre D. Corpus, former Minister of Education and Culture and author of the book, "Saga and Triumph" (The Filipino Revolution Against Spain), copyright 2002, page 1, states:
"Hubris led the Spaniards to claim Muslim Mindanao and Sulu as part of Filipinas, although Spanish sovereignty was never effective there, except in Zamboanga where they maintained a forward outpost against the Muslims."
WHEREAS, even the United States as evidenced by two treaties it signed with the Sultanate of Sulu, namely; the Bates Treaty of August 20, 1899 and the Carpenter Memorandum of March 22, 1915, also confirmed that Sulu and Mindanao were not conquered, colonized, and Christianized by Spain; these two diplomatic documents in several provisions unequivocably admitted and confirmed that the Sultanate of Sulu was not a colonial possession of Spain by virtue of conquest and assured the reigning monarch that his domains will not be sold to any country without the consent of the Sultan, an irrefutable evidence that he was still recognized as head of state months and years after the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris was concluded between Spain and the United States;
WHEREAS, when the City of Manila was capitulated by Governor-General Fermin Jaudenes to the Americans a day after the conduct of that secretly-scripted Mock War on August 13, 1898 for such purpose despite the fact that a peace protocol was already signed ending all hostilities between these two warring countries, shortly after, a series of negotiations followed in Paris for the final turning over of the Philippine Islands to the United States as a spoil of the 1898 Spanish-American War;
WHEREAS, the Spanish peace commissioners vehemently refused to consider the Philippine Islands as a spoil of war because what took place for the capitulation of the City of Manila was only a widely-documented Mock War; they argued that relinquishment of their colonial possession would not take place without a price. So the United States had to offer TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS for the sale and cession of the Philippine Islands;
WHEREAS, while what was supposed to be sold and ceded to the United States by Spain under Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris, was only the Philippine Islands, the technical description of the territorial limits as drawn by way of coordinates, Sulu and Mindanao which were not colonies of Spain by conquest, were trickily included; worse, it was done without the knowledge and consent of their respective reigning Sultans, Councils of States, and adherents. The Encylopedia of Philippine Arts, Vol. II, described this anomalous commercial and diplomatic transaction between Spain and the United States in the following manner:
"The Muslims did not know that the Treaty of Paris which had ceded the Philippine Archipelago to the Americans, included their land as well."
WHEREAS, when it was discovered that some islands were missed out in the technical description defining the territorial limits of the Philippine Islands, the coordinates were altered and re-drawn leading Spain and the United States to sign another Treaty in Washington D.C. on January 7, 1900 for the inclusion and relinquishment of the groups of islands of Cagayan de Sulu and Sibutu which for centuries belonged to the Sultanate of Sulu. For this diplomatic and commercial transaction, Spain received an additional amount of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS;
WHEREAS, when the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris was signed between Spain and the United States, the warriors of Mindanao and Sulu were still in the thick of the fight against the colonial forces who eventually succeeded to recapture and beleaguer the areas which were once occupied by the Spaniards until the higher authorities in Madrid ordered the total withdrawal of all the colonial forces in January 1899 leaving only the besieged garrison in Jolo which was already scheduled to be turned over to the Sultan of Sulu like what was done earlier with the Spanish garrison in Siasi;
WHEREAS, if at all there was any vestige of conquest or sovereignty by Spain over Mindanao and Sulu, this was totally terminated when the last Spanish Governor-General, Diego de los Rios surrendered to Gen. Vicente Solis Alvarez, Commanding General of the Zamboanga Revolutionary Army composed of the Los Voluntarios, Los Deportados, and the native warriors following the capture of the biggest fortress in Mindanao, Fort Pilar, where De Los Rios together with all the remaining colonial forces desperately put up in vain their last defense of Spanish sovereignty over the Philippine Islands. Governor-General Diego de los Rios formally turned over the sovereignty of Spain over Mindanao and Sulu and all the others areas of the Philippine Islands not yet occupied by the American forces to Gen. Vicente Solis Alvarez on May 18, 1899 in strict adherence to and accordance with the ethics and law of war. The warriors of Mindanao and Sulu already recovered all the areas that were once occupied by the Spaniards and were completely free from all threats of Spanish conquest before the sneak arrival of the American forces in Sulu on May 19, 1899 who opportunistically accepted the turn over of the Spanish garrison in Jolo supposed to be turned over as planned to the Sultan of Sulu;
WHEREAS, under the Law of Conquest, the surrender of the last Spanish Governor-General Diego de los Rios on May 18, 1899 to General Alvarez, the First President of the Zamboanga Republic, re-conveyed all the areas that were once occupied by the Spaniards to us, inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu, thereby regaining our full partrimonial rights, statehood, independence, and sovereignty from the Crown of Spain, and made clear the fact that Mindanao and Sulu were not integral components of the First Philippine Republic under the Presidency of Gen. Emilio F. Aguinaldo which declared war against the United States on February 4, 1899. We, the tri-people inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu were not also involved in any manner, either overtly of covertly in the Spanish-American War of 1898. In other words, while we were fiercely engaged in a war of resistance against Spanish conquest for more than 300 hundred years and succeeded, we maintained a hands off policy and neutral military position with respect to the Spanish-American and Filipino American wars. Any allegation, suspicion or speculation about the possibility of our forces striking tactical alliance with the revolutionary forces of Gen. Emilio F. Aguinaldo against Spain or the United States, was absolutely without historicity and empirical basis;
WHEREAS, despite the fact that Mindanao and Sulu were not colonial posessions of Spain, not covered by the declaration of war authorized and issued by the American Congress against Spain and all its colonies, and not even by anyone's wildest imagination, an ally of the First Philippine Republic established by Gen. Emilio F. Aguinaldo which declared war against the United States on February 4, 1899, the American forces proceeded with the invasion of the Sultanate of Sulu on May 19, 1899 and in December of same year also the Sultanate of Maguidanao (Mindanao) without any formal declaration of war issued by the American Congress as required in Article I, Section 8 of 1787 U.S. Constitution, to wit:
"No state shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in times of peace, enter any agreement or compact with another state or with foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit delay."
WHEREAS, shortly after the unlawful invasion of Mindanao and Sulu by the American forces and realizing that Spain in fact and in truth did not acquire sovereignty over our two ancient monarchies by virtue of conquest, President William Mckinley who also personally entertained doubts about Spanish claim of sovereignty over these two Sultanates, promptly directed Gen. Elwell Otis, the comannding general of the American expeditionary forces in the Philippines to forge a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu that would explicitly acknowledge American sovereignty over Mindanao and Sulu. This diplomatic mission was assigned to Gen. John C. Bates who according to historian-researcher Peter-Gordon Gowing succeeded but not without extreme difficulty for the Sultan gave all sorts of excuses including feigning sickness just to avoid forging any treaty with the United States. However after a couple of months of persistent, relentless, and consummate diplomatic pursuit of General Bates which reportedly involved the employment of coercive and intimidating tactics, the Sultan eventually succumbed and signed conclusively under duress, a document which came to be known as the Bates Treaty of August 20, 1899 which only turned out to be an official document confirming that the Sultanate of Sulu was still a sovereign and independent state of equal political status as the United States and was not a colony of Spain by conquest. Pertinent to this matter, prior to the actual conduct of this diplomatic mission, Robert A Fulton, an eminent American historian and author wrote the following historical account in his book entitled, "American Military Occupation of Moroland, May 1899- August, 1903":
"Preparing for their mission, Bates and his staff scoured the Spanish archives in Manila and discovered that Spanish sovereignty had in fact been no more than a myth and a contrived fiction. Of greater significance, it was dubious Spain had ever the right under international law to cede the lands belonging to the Moros as part of their landholdings in the Philippine Islands. This discovery prompted Otis to revise Bates mission to one of gaining acceptance of U.S. sovereignty by the various Moro peoples, and pledge for them to stay neutral during the fighting to come, a daunting task."
WHEREAS, the Bates Treaty did not only officially acknowledge that the Sultanate of Sulu was still a sovereign and independent state at the time it was signed by the heads of states of both contracting parties, but also contained dispository provisions that its territorial domain was not sold and ceded to the United States by Spain as parts of the Philippines Islands in Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris, to wit:
"Article IV- While the United States may occupy and control such points in the archipelago of Jolo and public interests seem to demand, encroachment will not be made upon lands immediately about the residence of the Sultan, unless military necessity requires such occupation in case of war with a foreign power; and where the property of the individuals is taken, due compensation will be made in each case.
Any person can purchase land in the archipelago of Jolo and hold the same by obtaining the consent of the Sultan and coming to a satisfactory agreement with the owner of the land; and such purchase shall be immediately registered in the proper office of the United States Government.
Article XIV- The United States will not sell the island of Jolo or any other island of the Jolo archipelago to any foreign nation without the consent of the Sultan."
WHEREAS, the Americans using the Bates Treaty to assume territorial possession and sovereignty over Mindanao and Sulu, several unilateral and arbitrary political acts of subjugation and colonization followed which clearly violated certain provisions of the Bates Treaty and the 1787 U.S. Constitution, among which were the junction and organization of the Mindanao and Sulu as one military district, the creation of the Moro Province by virtue of the passage the Philippine Commission (PC) Act No. 787 and the establishment of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu pursuant to the Philippine Commission Organic Act # 2408. All these political entities created by the Americans were administered separately from the insular government of the Philippine Islands, attesting to the fact that Mindanao and Sulu were not really parts of the Spanish colonial territory called Filipinas or Philippine Islands. Finally, in 1920, the administration of Mindanao and Sulu was high-handidly transferred and integrated into the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Philippines which were in clear violation of Article IV, Section 3 of the United States 1787 Constitution which states that:
"New states maybe admitted by Congress into this Union; but no new states shall be formed or created within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states without the consent of the states concerned as well as the Congress."
Whereas, to attain the ultimate objective of placing the Sultanates of Maguindanao (Mindanao) and Sulu under the total and absolute political control of the Americans several years after the unilateral abrogation of the Bates Treaty by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on March 2, 1904 in gross violation of its preamble which stipulates that any future modifications of said treaty should only be done upon mutual concent by the parties in interest, the Sultan of Sulu, Mohammad Jamalul Kiram II, under circumstances of coercion, intimidation, and force was made to sign another diplomatic document known as the Carpenter Memorandum of March 22, 1915 which divested him of his temporal powers without respecting, much less taking into consideration, that under the Islamic Doctrine of Statehood, the ecclesiastical and temporal powers of the Sultan are one and indivisible, unlike the principle of separation of Church and State governing democracy-founded political systems in many Western countries such as the United States of America;
Whereas, in earnest pursuit of our collective preference for Mindanao and Sulu to be made a permanent American territory and to express our strong and vehement opposition to our integration or incorporation into the Philippine Islands, in 1924 Sultan Jamalul Kiram signed a document entitled, " DECLARATION OF RIGHTS AND PURPOSES" which was placed on official record of the United States Congress in 1926 and gained widespread support but eventually was totally ignored constituting another violation of our rights to due process and self-determination as essentially stated, to wit:
" ... that in the event that the United States grants independence to the Philippine Islands without provision for our retention under the American flag, it is our firm intention and resolve to declare ourselves an independent constitutional sultanate to be known to the world as the Moro Nation."- Congressional Record, 1926, 8836.;
Whereas, in a parallel move to prevent our eventual annexation or incorporation into the body politic of the Philippines under the its 1935 Constitution as mandated by the Tydings-McDuffie Law otherwise known as the Philippine Independence Act of 1934 providing for a 10-year transition period from Commonwealth Government to the grant of full independence on July 4, 1946, a historic assembly of more than 100 Maranao leaders passed a strongly- worded manifesto on March 18, 1935 known as the Danasalan Declaration addressed to the United States President vehemently opposing the annexation of the Moro homeland to the Republic of the Philippines. Disappointingly, however, like the Declaration of Rights and Purposes signed by Fifty Seven (57) Sulu Muslim leaders in 1926, the Dansalan Declaration suffered the same fate of not being given due attention, merit, and process by the United States who is reputed globally as the mother and paragon of democracy;
Whereas, even before the 1935 Constitution was finally approved which totally depended on Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris in defining the National Territory of the Republic of the Philippines as self-governing state, the National Assembly of the Philippine Commonwealth under the Presidency of Manuel L. Quezon passed the Quirino- Recto Colonization Act otherwise known as Legislative Act #4197 which was irrefutably a blatant and overt act of transforming Mindanao and Sulu into colonies. This, and many more legislative acts that followed declaring our ancestral lands in Mindanao and Sulu as public lands of the Philippine Commonwealth are factual vestiges, manifestations, and forms of colonization as defined and contemplated under the United Nations General Assembly's Resolution on Decolonization I5I4 (XV) of December 14, 1960 and currently under the judicial jurisdiction and implementation of the Special Committee on decolonization or C-24;
NOW THEREFORE; knowing the fact that the United Nations General Assembly Special Committee on Decolonization or C-24, has not included Mindanao and Sulu among the 17 remaining non-self-governing territories to be decolonized during its implementation of the Third International Decade (2011-2020) for the Eradication of Colonialism in all its vestiges, forms and manifestations, we the Tri-people (Lumads, Muslims, and Christians), presently inhabiting these two ancient monarchial territories for reasons, circumstances, and premises enumerated above, hereby earnestly, solidly, and jointly petition the United Nations General Assembly's Special Committee on Decolonization or C-24 to include Mindanao and Sulu among the non-self-governing territories and thereafter, for it to take due diligence and prompt action to decolonize our dispossessed and still presently colonized, highly-marginalized, economically impoverished, and gravely war-damaged ancestral homelands.
To be singed by the petitioners once adopted.