Misadventure in Bellevue

A harrowing tale of squirrels, urban survival, and breaking & entering.

Sometimes your wilderness survival skills get put to the test in an urban setting. Damn squirrel!

A bit of background here.

I recently started seeing someone (affectionately referred to as my +1 – that’s a story for later). She has a great little basement apartment in Bellevue nestled into a small wooded space. 

I’ve been up at her place a couple of nights a week – a benefit of working remotely. While her schedule is flexible, this past Friday she needed to be out for most of the afternoon, well 12:30 – 5:30 as the time matters a bit here.

Since I was going to be there, she opted to leave her dog with me. It wasn’t the first time, but I still got the warning – Tia means the world to her. If anything happens to her….it would be the end of me. Seems fair.

I wasn’t going anywhere, so it wasn’t like I had to worry about anything. 

Heck. I was still in pajama bottoms (a long sleeve shirt and socks to complete my ‘sit in the comfy chair and write’ ensemble). 

Then that damn squirrel!

More background. 

We moved her bird feeder from high in the middle of the long picture window to the lower left corner. Less obstructed view and easier to see the birds. Turns out, on squirrel appreciation day of all days, my +1 found that the feeder was a little too accessible. That corner of the window is just off the ground. 

Friday morning, we chase the squirrel off again and decided to move the feeder. It was still at the base of the window but well enough out of his reach…or so we thought.

The little bastard managed to get himself from the ground to the feeder. It was impressive. He somehow grabbed the lip of the window and pulled himself onto the feeder. I scared him off only to have the scene play out again. The time – 1:10.

I wasn’t going to deal with him all day!

It wasn’t raining at the moment so I tossed on my shoes, unlocked the dead bolt (I locked it behind her when she left) and opened the door making sure Tia stayed put. I walked out shutting the door behind me. The squirrel took off and I figured moving the feeder could wait. I turned and went to open the door. 

There is a sinking feeling when you go to turn the handle and realize it doesn’t turn. To be sure, I tried it again…Click To Tweet

Who the hell has a self locking door knob? One guess and it doesn’t count!!

Yes, I did look for a spare key – under the mat, the crab figurine, over the door …I learned later she didn’t have one to prevent anyone from finding it and getting in. Thanks for being so safe (said as I rolled my eyes).

I could have knocked on her landlord’s door. They live above her. Only they left that morning for the east coast! I could go to a neighbors. Though it would have been fun explaining everything….especially with me dressed the way I was. I’d still need to get online to locate my +1’s phone number, call her, and hope she was reachable and able to get to me. Not likely as she was with family working with her horse. Then there was the risk of getting soaked and still not getting in if no one was home. I figured it wasn’t the best option. 

At least she’d be home in 4 hours.

My ‘urban’ survival skills kicked in 

Rather than panic, I took a quick BAM assessment

  • Food – just ate and she’d be home in about 4 hours. All good. 
  • Water – same but it is now raining so I have that option. 
  • Shelter – there is a small covered area so I can stay dry and a plastic cover over the fire pit if needed. 
  • Fire – not going to be needed. 

Now my biggest concern was not being able to respond if my +1 messaged – worried she’d think something happened to Tia (clearly I was/am expendable) and that I was going to be bored off my ass for 4 hours. 

Tia was safe, at least – albeit confused and mocking me. In pondering my options, I walked around to the picture window and could see her alternating between looking at me outside and the door. Not funny. I thought about trying to open the slider adjacent to the picture window …but remembered right before my +1 left she closed and locked it. 

I walked back to the front door and of course had to try it again. Still locked. Clearly Tia wasn’t going to unlock it.

Then I saw the bedroom window

It was a vinyl casement window. It was open just enough to get my hands partially inside. That was all I needed. 

Back in high school I used to install these. Over the years, I have replaced a number of handles on them when the gear mechanisms fail. A pair of screws hold the handle to the base of the window frame. The hinged arm is attached to the bottom of the window pane itself. (Turn the hand and the hinged arm opens or closes the window.) When replacing the unit, you need to remove the hinge from the pane as it’s part of the handle assembly. 

Once the hinge is removed, the window pane will swing free of the frame. 

I located the locking pins on the hinge. Being newer windows, they weren’t going to unlock easily. Wilderness skills time. Anything can be a tool. I found a small rock and managed to release the pins and separate the hinge from the pane. Now to get the screen off.

Avoiding damage to the screen

It was bad enough I was going to have to tell her I broke into her apartment. I didn’t want to say I broke your screen in the process. Fortunately, I knew I wasn’t under a time constraint. Plenty of daylight, not too cold, protected from the rain now coming down, and dressed appropriately enough. 

I decided to look for a better tool to lift the screen out. Ha! I found a nail in the wall and I was able to pull it out. Back to the window I went and popped the screen free, gently lowering it inside. A bit high to climb through, I grabbed the old wooden chair by the door. 

Still a bit too high. I considered going in head first…but saw myself landing on the floor breaking my neck (and Tia would have an open window from which to escape….and I would go from broken neck to dead…not a good option). Being a bit limber I pulled myself up, got one leg over the sill. Now tangled in the metal horizontal blinds, I reached back, opened them, and swung my other leg over. I was in!!

Everything the way I found it

The screen went back in place. I unlocked the door (I did have visions of re-locking myself out), moved the chair back, and reconnected the hinge to the window pane.

Back in the comfy chair, Tia now curled up next to me (likely still laughing at me on the inside), I realized at that moment I could have said nothing. She’d never know. Telling her was less about my ordeal and became more about her security.

That window, left open wide enough to slip my hand part way between the window pane and the frame allowed me to break in. After getting in, I could then put everything back the way it was, and walk out the front door locking it behind me….she would never know someone was inside. She’d never have looked for anything potentially missing. By the time she realized it, she’d more likely think she misplaced it. The (almost) perfect crime. It’s exactly how Christopher Knight spent 27 years in the Maine woods undetected.

From survival to security briefing

Staying calm is always the best course of action regardless of the scenario you find yourself in – whether it be lost in the wilderness or in the middle of Bellevue in your pajama bottoms. 

  • Take an assessment of your situation and surrounds.
  • Look for all possible solutions and don’t discount anything as not possible until you’ve tried.
  • Don’t rush to try one solution. Assess the risk first.
  • Use what you find in your surroundings to your advantage. Anything can be useful in an emergency situation.

For the homeowner/renter

  • Don’t use self locking door knobs. Replace or ask to have them replaced (or do what my +1 did) 

Side note here, she never locked the deadbolt when she left. Most locking door knobs, even with a good doorjamb, are easy to pop open. A deadbolt is your best bet from a security standpoint. She’ll only use the deadbolt now.

  • Do NOT leave casement windows open if they are accessible. If you insist on leaving a window open, sliders or traditional single/double hung windows are best. A simple aluminum sliding window sash lock with thumbscrew allows you to leave the window open for ventilation yet prevents it from being opened further.

If you have a similar misadventure or tale of urban survival, I’d love to hear it.

Update, February 15, 2020

It seems the little bastard was a bit more clever – and determined – than expected. We spotted him earlier in the day on the tree clearly eyeing the feeder. Sure it was safely out of his reach, we joked about it but left it alone….until he woke us up from a nap.

We thought it was Tia or the landlord’s dogs we heard. Then we saw the squirrel. Apparently he had been calculating how to get to the feeder the whole time. He figured out how to grab the bottom of the window frame, pull himself up, and use the screen as a foot hold to get into the feeder!!

I was NOT amused.

The feeder has since been moved back to it’s original location.

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A black-capped chickadee with a peanut in its beak on the railing off our bird sanctuary.Copyright: Robert Nissenbaum, 2020; rnissenbaum.com