Iago the squirrel was evil. That is the name I gave him, for just as the villain character Iago from Shakespeare’s play “Othello” out-maneuvered everyone using sinister methods, so did Iago the squirrel display skills as a master manipulator.

Iago would sit perched in trees over my backyard fence, mocking me with every chirp and glaring into my soul plotting his next move. I loathe Iago. Here is the reason why.

Cantaloupe is mother’s milk to me. Not the mass-produced ones sold to uneducated shoppers who think a few thumps of the puke-green skin will assure a perfect melon. I mean cantaloupe — planted from almost heirloom seeds handed down as if loose diamonds, nurtured and grown like little golden giants of the earth soaking up the steamy rays of summer.

That is what I planted last summer. Dirt and sweat melted together until they flowed as one fluid throughout my body. I toiled for months caressing and watering so each cantaloupe was free to reach its potential, its own Declaration of Luscious Independence.

Then — he came. I saw him the first time when he ran across the power line. But I paid no attention. Fool.

Slowly, small areas of flesh began to disappear from the melons. Soon the patches spread like a virus to all melons. As I bent closer to examine the marks, I saw a tiny overbite. “Ah,” I said and looked up to see his shadow disappear among the branches.

I discovered Iago was a late riser. I thought all squirrels arose at dawn, because I rose at dawn and immediately walked my rounds, Walmart machete in hand. But Iago made me wait and wait and then attack sometime between “The View” and “The Chew.”

In spite of calls from friends offering rifles, I refused to go ballistic on Iago. I had to out-think him, After all, he was only a squirrel and I was a human.

I should have used the gun.

First, I put rows of mouse traps around the cantaloupes thinking he would step on one and limp away never to return. Wrong!

Next, I taped mouse traps ON the melons certain he would get caught. Wrong!

He must have performed acrobatic feats worthy of the Flying Wallendas in order to safely navigate his way through the maze of mouse traps. Not even one hair of his shaggy tail fell upon the taunt springs holding the metal bars in place ready to strike.

I declared war.

My backyard resembled a cell block from “The Green Mile” lined with brick solitary confinement cages surrounding each cantaloupe. A metal grill covered the top of each cage allowing for sun and water to still reach the fruit.

Rocks held the grills in place in case Iago tried to heave them off like a rodent Hercules. The only opening was at the bottom just big enough for the vine from the cantaloupe’s stem to go back to the mother plant for necessary nourishment.

It worked. The cantaloupes were saved. I outsmarted a squirrel.

But on the dried tree trunk slowly solidifying, I saw tiny teeth marks.

I instantly recognized that overbite, but as I leaned closer a message started to appear. The scrawny words stopped my breath. It read: “I’ll be back.”

When air finally crept back into my lungs, I realized I had defeated a noble creature of God, an animal, but with capacities beyond my expectations. Iago survived in a world far more cruel than any I had encountered and he battled me to the limits of my human abilities and almost won.

Evil — no. I was in awe of Iago.

I took the tip of my machete and carved my reply beneath his: “I’ll be here.”

Valerie L. Valdez is a Herald correspondent and drama instructor at Central Texas College.

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