21 August 2007

A different kind of calendar

If you care at all about squirrels here in the States, and follow their life cycles, you'll notice that autumn comes early. The so-called "fall baby season," the second season of eastern gray squirrel births, begins with the free-for-all of breeding that begins in earnest in mid-summer, culminating in births as early as late July.

By the squirrels' calendar, the end of July heralds autumn in New York, if not most of the northeast.

Leaves have not yet begun to drop from the trees but baby squirrels seem to make their way, precariously, to the ground in late summer, tossed out by weather, tree-cutters and, sadly, a mother squirrel who might ultimately know better than us well-meaning humans that not all of their offspring will be constitutionally strong enough to make it in this world.

It's a sad business for the finder, a wide-eyed rescuer full of excitement and hope, and sadder too for wildlife rehabilitators such as myself who receive these little bundles with an exhortation to please save them. But there are times we can do little more than bear witness to another small life form whose eyes will never open to see the world and who'll never do much more than feel the warmth and comfort of the artificial environment we give them for a few short weeks - or hours. For many, the script has already been written.

The world of squirrels is a world of contrasts for us humans. It's a time of urgency but it's also its own time warp. Autumn arrives in mid-summer and death seems to walk closely on the heels of every new birth.

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