It's interesting how perspectives can shift with the addition of one small piece of information. I just finished reading Jim Butcher's Princeps' Fury, and one of the series' principal villains just turned out to be not such a nasty character after all--or rather his motivations are abruptly more understandable, even if the reader doesn't approve of his actions. Mr. Butcher has been doing this intermittedly throughout the series.
As in fiction, so in life! Yesterday, the cutest little cuddle-bunny you ever saw abruptly turned into Our Furry Arch-Nemesis. The one tiny thing that changed my perception of aforementioned beastie? Lilac.
Let me explain. We're city dwellers right in the heart of downtown Concreteum-Urbania, and when you live in a weensy 12th floor apartment like we do, if a squirrel runs up the side of the building and hops onto your balcony, that's freakin' adorable, right?
And she was; she had a teddy bear body and bright shiny eyes. Her mouth had that grave, groundhog-earnestness to it. She was black and agile and her tail fluffed endearingly.
I'm a bit lazy about pruning my plants, and so there's a popcorn bucket full of dead clippings sitting on the deck. It's been there, in various degrees of brimmingness, for several years.
The cuddle bunny starts grabbing handfuls of this material, tucking it into her mouth, and dashing out of sight behind our juniper tree, presumably to scamper back down the building. Still adorable, right?
But wait--we discover she's not running down the building; she's building a nest behind the juniper tree.
El Husbando starts being a bit concerned at this point, but I start cheering. "Baby squirrels! We're going to have baby squirrels running around on our deck this summer!"
"They're going to poop all over it. It'll be worse than the pigeons."
"Baby squirrels! Yay!"
"Hey--there's a lot of green material in that nest..."
El Husbando steps outside. Squirrel runs away down the building. E. H. inspects the nest, then returns with his lips pressed thin. "She's completely chewed up the back of the juniper."
So what? thinks I. That's the back; we don't see that part anyway. And baby squirrels! How cute would that be?
"I'm going to poke her with a stick so she doesn't come up anymore," says El Husbando.
Now this comment shocks me. El Husbando is a vegetarian because he doesn't believe a living creature should have to die just so he can eat. However, he's also a bit of a fuss-pot regarding his plants, and apparently those two instincts were at war. I, of course, decided to help out the side I agreed with more.
"Don't do that! If she falls off the building, she'll die. Besides, she's just looking for a place to have her babies."
I would have said more, but at that point, El Husbando casually dropped the bomb."She's bitten a huge chunk off your tree, too."
My tree? Wait--you mean my lilac tree?
The squirrel might as well have grown horns and mandibles. I've loved the scent of lilacs since I was a child, and before Sepiru Chris, his wife Regina, and their feline overlord Pommes went galivanting off to Switzerland, they dug a lilac bush up from their backyard and gave it to me in a pot. Last year, it had recovered from the transplant enough to put out a single spray of flowers. I have high hopes for it this year.
And there was indeed a big chunk of it chewed off. Well, then. Time to show Our Furry Nemesis just who's got the opposable thumbs.
We broke up and threw away her nesting material. We propped some metal slats behind the juniper. We drizzled Pine Sol in the same area, just to make sure it didn't seem hospitable (although I'm not sure the scent of pine would bother a squirrel...) We lashed planks of wood to our balcony to make it difficult for her to get off the wall and onto our deck.
I think the commotion itself scared her away, more than our physical deterrents, since we didn't see her after that.
One small revelation, and everything changes. This is part of why backstory in a book can be a bad thing, and it's also why we give our characters secrets--every secret can become a turning point for your story.
Or every lilac branch.