22 September 2007
We're not supposed to miss them. Our backyard squirrels are, after all, wild animals - creatures with free will to come and go as they please, and to move about as their biological clocks and the seasons of nature dictate.
Still, we get attached. We begin to look for the nursing mother who starts to show up just after her babies are born, and we watch for her every day, hoping to see signs that the babies are doing well - and we slip her a few extra nuts, figuring she's eating not just for two but probably for four or five or six.
Or there's the full-bodied feisty male (everyone knows one of these). He comes by with a tough-guy attitude, he may even have a few battle scars or, on some days a slight limp from his war adventures, but he is a sucker for hazelnuts (or whatever the most expensive nuts happen to be that you've got on hand) and if you're not quick enough to get to the door to hand them out to him, he'll rap on the glass nice and loud - or climb up onto the sill and glare into the house from the window.
(I'm almost ashamed to say that when one object of my devotion showed up early one Sunday morning and rapped on the glass door, I got up so quickly from the kitchen table that I stumbled and fell, hitting my face squarely on the ceramic tile floor, requiring a trip to the emergency room to repair a shattered lip. But not before I had crawled through the Jackson Pollock-style spattering of blood on the floor to toss some hazelnuts his way.)
Sometimes there are the young siblings, raised in a nearby tree and now sufficiently agile to make their way up and down from the birth nest, seek out whatever food suburbia may offer, and even offer some entertainment in the form of wrestling matches, forward rolls and other exuberant gymnastics. These may even be the weaned offspring of the nursing mother who, not so mysteriously now, is no longer nursing.
It's hard not to miss them when they stop showing up: the guy with the limp or the misshapen paw. The female with the small hole perfectly centered in her ear. The squirrel with the flaming red bushy tail that stands in stark contrast to a silver gray body. You wonder: Did they die? Or did they simply move on? You hope for the latter and fear for the former, always scanning the landscape for evidence and finding relief when nothing turns up to confirm those suspicions.
OK, so we're doomed to sadness and longing because we've broken the rules. We do get attached, and new faces replace the old ones and we swear we won't care but of course we do. We name them. We set our clocks by their arrivals. We even wake extra early on some mornings (setting the alarm) if the weather's been harsh and we know they'll be by to make up for the previous night's early, storm-induced bedtime.
It seems almost illegal to have crossed the line here, as if breaking some law of nature.
Guilty, guilty as charged on all counts. I confess. Lock me away and throw away the key if you must but please, if you do, don't forget to leave me a bag of nuts so I can toss them through the bars and feed all my friends who are still on the outside.