A newsletter on progress-space research and audience development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

Christie has taken to feeding the birds this winter. The trees around the house are festooned with feeders; Most mornings, she gnaws coffee cups to pieces watching the squirrels pillage the birds’ pantries.

This week, her war with the tree rats escalated.


“Of course not,” she said, mixing browns in a dusty bucket. “This is just a peppery seed that squirrels don’t like, but birds can’t taste.”

“I was asking if you needed any. I have quite a bit stored in the office. When you’re ready call in an expert, I’ll be happy to—“

“Stop. This will just train them to not raid the feeders.”

The gambit in play, she settled at the kitchen table to glare at the backyard feeder, white-knuckling a triple shot of espresso.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for the camouflage I ordered to arrive? I mean, isn’t it best to take a stealth approach to this mission? Considering what’s at stake, you might want to—“


Her prey approached, pecked at some peppery bits, and looked up at the window.

And then the squirrel spoke.

“You can’t do that.”

Christie, enraged, didn’t hesitate. “That’s our feeder, and it’s not for you, it’s for the birds!”

“But you can’t do that.”

Christie’s voice rose ever higher. “What are you talking about?”

“Bird seed must be produced by a credible manufacturer and distributed by licensed carriers. You think you can just walk around tampering willy-nilly with tried-and-true formulas sanctioned by professionals who have devoted their lives to ensuring birds have a proper diet?”

The espresso trembled.

“Don’t listen to him, Chris. That’s exactly what Big Bird Feed wants you to believe. This guy’s a shill for the industry.”

The squirrel spat and continued.

“Are you even aware of the Bird Seed Association? The American Association of Songbirds? The Bird Feed Studies Network? They’re the ones who need to be coming up with new formulas. I mean, it takes a lot of resources to come up with a feed formula. Frankly, I think you need to spend less time trying to create something ‘new’ and register your dissatisfaction with AAS. If they’re not coming up with the formulas you need, what are people even paying their dues for anyway?”

The squirrel bounced up a tree.

Christie was already in my office, rummaging through my poison pantry.

Today’s letter has been a break from our usual programming. I’m writing to you about talking squirrels on a Saturday in the hopes that you might take some time this weekend to identify your own talking squirrels.

Is there some idea you’ve been sitting on that feels so preposterous you push it out of your mind? Have you shared it with others only to be told, “You can’t do that”? Is does your idea “belong” to someone else? Is it someone else’s job to pursue that idea?

This is an invitation to set aside those objections for just a day or two and become the sort of person who would poison a squirrel.

As always, reply to this email to let me know your thoughts or leave a comment.


P.S. I’m looking forward to sharing an interview with Dr. Kate Myers Emery with you all next week. Kate and I discussed the question of paid vs free (requested donations) programs. We’re both hoping to hear from you all to learn what readers’ experiences have been around this topic.


Sign in or sign up to join the conversation.

Enter your email below to get a log in link.

You’ve successfully subscribed to SuperHelpful Letters
Welcome back. You’re now signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign in.