30 December 2007

The "paws" that refreshes

When I read that the University of North Texas' library cafe had devised an exciting new squirrel recipe that became a campus sensation, I thought "here we go again, another fricasee or stew to make my blood boil."

Being a vegetarian doesn't necessarily make me short-tempered, but being a squirrel-lover does, especially when I hear stories about squirrels on a commissary's buffet.

Then I learned that the recipe is actually a cafe drink: a unique blend of coffee with white chocolate mocha flavoring, and it's called The Albino Squirrel, in memory of Baby, the campus' beloved resident white squirrel who, only last spring, was killed by a hawk. The drink honors Baby and, at the same time, calls attention to albino squirrels and indeed, all campus squirrels deserving of attention and protection.

The tribute is not only a creative one but in the best of taste.

Heck, it was all I could do to keep myself from phoning the local Starbucks to ask that they call Texas to get the proper mix, then start serving this immediately.

29 December 2007

He didn't have to die

One of my favorite web sites, over the years, has been Grey Squirrel's Page of Silliness. It's a place where we squirrel-lovers can indulge our sometimes bizarre senses of humor, and openly share the admiration and affection we have for these engaging creatures.

I didn't expect my last visit there to bring me to tears. But it did: The welcoming page showed an eye-catching photograph of a bright-eyed male fox squirrel, and the narrative below was written in his own voice. He introduced himself as B.B. McCool - but referred to himself in the past tense.

B.B. McCool was a beloved backyard squirrel - and don't we all have a few of them ourselves? - and his painful, slow death was caused because someone in the neighborhood didn't care enough to keep their pet cat indoors.

I'm going to restrain myself from saying how I feel about this kind of killing that comes from irresponsible pet stewardship. There are stronger words I want to use, and harsher things I want to say, but they would be inappropriate for this forum.

However, if you read McCool's story yourself you will realize there was absolutely no reason he had to die like this. He suffered terribly, and the loving efforts to save him were not enough. His story does not share the graphic details of his anguish but it is painful to read - all the more reason to read it.

Please do. Visit the Web site, read his story, and remember him. And then please try to encourage people to love and respect their own pets, as well as their beautiful wild neighbors, and do the right thing by keeping their cats indoors - or not keeping any at all.

26 December 2007

In U.S., red squirrel's the comeback kid

The news from Arizona is encouraging, at least where the local red squirrel is concerned.

Like the native red squirrels in Britain, this tiny American southwestern creature has also been besieged, and threatened with disappearance. This variety of squirrel (a subspecies of the American red squirrels) is found only in the southeastern part of Arizona, on Mount Graham, and its shrinking numbers were considered a result, in part, of habitat destruction from fires, other natural occurrences and - perhaps - construction of a large research facility there.

And now there is word of a turnaround, or at least the start of one. According to a recent Associated Press report, the fall count showed that the numbers had grown to 299 from a slightly smaller 276 the previous year. Seven years ago however, there were 550 red squirrels in that region.

Bravo for little Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis.

To many residents of Arizona, or at least that part of the state, seeing red may indeed be a very good thing.

I can't say I disagree, not one bit.

25 December 2007

The squirrel as Christmas hero!

Move over, Santa.

In the 1950 movie, "A Christmas Wish," a squirrel named Rupert steals the show - if not the entire holiday for one struggling family. In fact, the original title of this old black and white film was "The Great Rupert," and features a trained, performing squirrel (magic achieved through Hollywood puppetry, in this case).

Jimmy Durante (remember him?) is the head of a family down on its luck until the discovery of this little squirrel changes that luck - and their lives.

Rupert the squirrel isn't likely to unseat Santa from his throne (or his sleigh) as a holiday icon, and no carols have been written about him in the more than 40 years since the film was released, but since receiving a copy of this movie two years ago as a gift, Rupert the squirrel is now part of my Christmas treasure chest.

21 December 2007

Some Revolutionary ideas

Not since the American Colonies cast off the reins of the British king has there been such a troubling struggle between those who dwell on both sides of the Pond.

This time, however, it is being fought on the British side of the Atlantic. And like the revolutionary entanglement written into the history of humans, the battle between America's eastern gray (grey) squirrel and the beloved red squirrels of the United Kingdom has led to much sadness and death.

Simply put, the greys are driving the reds out of their natural dwellings - and the greys, an introduced species hostile to the native reds, are taking over. Sadder still, these American grey colonists in the UK did not ask to be an introduced species but, like so many other flora and fauna that show up on foreign shores with problematic results, they were transported here, have taken root and spread. At the same time, the reds' food is being eaten by the greys, and the now-weakened population of reds in some areas are being destroyed by an outbreak of a particularly strong squirrel pox.

In Scotland, a census is taken to keep count of the beloved reds. Elsewhere in the UK preservationist efforts have sprung up to keep the red viable. Being sympathetic to the plights on both our shores, I have made contributions toward red squirrel preservation through the symbolic adoption of a red squirrel in the UK (I received a photograph of "Hazel," my adoptee, and I encourage others to contribute to this worthy cause, the Wildlife Trust, which looks after the squirrels on Brownsea Island).

The greys, meanwhile, are poisoned, shot and declared a menace. Here in the States there is only a government-proclaimed short season of "squirrel hunting" (although in my mind anything longer than a millisecond is too long a season). But in the UK, it is open season on greys all the time for reasons of preserving the native reds. Indeed, wildlife rehabilitators who choose to care for orphaned and injured greys do so in defiance of the law and at their own peril. (And they do, bless their hearts, seeing the greys as twice victimized).

Recently there was even a culinary solution proposed - put grey squirrels on Britain's menus. I cannot imagine an Eastern Grey Takeaway restaurant, squirrels 'n chips or even bangers, mash and bushytail - but the food gurus of the United Kingdom were obviously trying a creative solution.

Like the American Revolution, this is a struggle for independence too - one nation's attempt to become independent of the eastern grey. But please remember, this American colonist never asked to be there and is truly a victim in this scenario too. These are beings as charming, sentient and full of life and personality as their British cousins.

There has to be a better way to solve this though. America, Britain - please keep trying, and let the means this time be nonviolent.

20 December 2007

Watching, from a distance

Many of us fall in love with squirrels, watching them from a moderate distance. We toss nuts, or other treats, stand back - sometimes with camera in hand - and observe their antics.

Here is a link to a little squirrel I've been watching from a bit of a longer distance.

Tiny Scoiattolo

This is a little squirrel in Pennsylvania who first captured the lens, then the heart, of a photographer friend there. He has dedicated this page to her - and the small community of squirrels she hangs around with. "Scoiattolo" is the Italian word for squirrel, and her name is something of a tribute to the original Scoiattolo, a female squirrel who quite unexpectedly befriended me in 1995, long before I knew anything more about squirrels, other than the fact that they were rodents.

I watch Tiny Scoiattolo now from a distance too far to toss nuts.

But I send her my prayers and best wishes - for safety, and for a good long life.

17 December 2007

For squirrels, an election year!

One of the latest polls in Great Britain, conducted by a popular wildlife artist, shows that the red squirrel unquestionably weighs in as a national favorite. This report in the British press is one of many that bears the happy findings.

Imagine that! All of this done without a caustic national televised debate between prominent squirrels drawn from the Red and Grey factions, without anyone breaking the bank to hire an expensive Rodent Spin Doctor, without a smear campaign alleging that one squirrel stole nuts and betrayed the public trust, and without the bother and trouble of grassroots squirrel groups attempting to buy broadcast commercials advocating for their particular species.

American (and perhaps British) politics could learn something from this. There is honor (and honour) in just dealing in basic truths.

Hmmm, perhaps a Red Squirrel should be running for Prime Minister - or drop a hat (or a set of fluffy ear tufts) into the ring for the U.S. Presidency?

15 December 2007

Just say "NO" to Squirrel Sex!

Libidinous eastern grays are ruining my holiday season.

We all know what these kinds of dalliances can lead to and in the case of these tarted-up local bushytails, that could mean a whole new generation, following conception, in no fewer than 48 days. Just as the winter solstice wraps us in its icy arms on Dec. 21, and the Christmas lights are twinkling their brightest, the squirrels are thinking spring - and spring babies.

Few things are cuter than a baby squirrel, of course, but the last thing I want to think about in December is unwrapping any presents that need to be hydrated, nursed, kept warm and monitored over time to see if they're developing correctly. And it's certain that there will be orphans this year, needing rehab care, as there have been in previous years. While my schedule doesn't permit me to take in newborns (and they're so fragile I'm not sure my temperament could handle the pressure either), squirrels are orphaned at all stages of their development, with the early February births in this part of the country being only the tip of the icicle.

I think I'll tempt the squirrels on our property with something else to satisfy their lusty appetites. FOOD. It goes along with sex, I suppose, but it's the activity that adds calories, rather than burns them. Still, if I can keep these guys eating from sun-up to sundown, distracting them with a stray pecan or a juicy looking walnut when they're eyeing a ripe potential hot momma squirrel sitting on a tree branch, I might just be ahead of the game this spring.

10 December 2007

Thriving: Miss Daisy

Things are not perfect with Miss Daisy (f/k/a "the Driveway Squirrel" of October) but she is ambulatory, feisty, eating well and acting like a squirrel.

She also has ringworm - or so thinks the vet, who she went to see on Friday for a closer evaluation of the small (but ever-growing) lesion visible here on her left front leg. There's also a smaller one above the left eye. Daisy also has some ectoparasites that are complicating her life, so we're dusting her with a powder twice a week and giving Sporanox once daily.

Yes, she is cooperating. She protests vocally of course but definitely submits to the care which is hopefully also the cure.

I'm impressed with her spirit.

09 December 2007

Bah, Humbug Squirrels?

From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, comes this report of squirrels taking the glimmer and sparkle off that city's municipal Christmas tree by gnawing on the wires for the LED bulbs. The city's holiday lamps were strung throughout the very tree that these squirrels just happen to call home. The Milwaukee officials even call the tree a "squirrel condo."

This is no case of the Gnawing Grinches, however. This is not even an instance of rodentian holiday humbug. This is simply what squirrels do. They don't hate Santa. They'd just rather that the city fathers hang their decor in someone else's house. I have to confess, if I came home to my house one day and found that someone had decorated it with lights and tinsel and wire and bulbs, I might start chomping away too.

Bravo, by the way, to the city for realizing they should only use humane methods to handle this non-crisis. They want to get the squirrels moved out of the tree. Personally, I think it would be a whole lot easier (and smarter, and even more humane) to just move the bulbs instead.

Squirrels have their way with Milwaukee Christmas tree

05 December 2007

Seasonal tree, seasonless squirrels

Our Christmas tree at home is a modest 4 and a half foot tabletop variety, and last year we went with a pre-lit model, having decided it's not worth wrestling with twisted green linguini strings of mini-light bulbs before getting to the fun part.

Ah yes, the fun part - that would be the countless squirrel ornaments on this tree. How natural it is to pair squirrels and trees - and at this time of year, it's an excuse to trot out an obsessively overblown collection that, with each year, increasingly tests the vacant space on a tree of such modest height.

I love each and every one of these ornaments. And so it takes me at least 3 days to fully trim this tree, despite its manageable dimensions. I pause and consider each ornament - some were gifts from friends, some were gifts from people who'd brought me a squirrel rescue earlier in the year. Some I bought on eBay in a buying frenzy. And some I just happened upon and suddenly I had to have them.

There is a small hinged acorn that, when opened, reveals a tiny squirrel curled up in winter night's sleep, a stash of even smaller acorns on the other side of his bed. There is the perfect white squirrel, sitting atop a crystal (and very delicate) cone. There are squirrels hanging haphazardly through the words "JOY" and "NOEL" like seasonal acrobats. I have a husband and wife team of squirrels, dressed in 18th century garb, hurrying home with presents bundled behind them. There is also a small wooden head of Santa Claus, with a squirrel perched on one side of his hat (talk about having Santa's ear at this time of year!) I have a squirrel decked out with reindeer antlers, and another squirrel whose belly expands into a wide bell, with his dangling legs serving as the clangers!!

Putting squirrels back into trees is what I do all year long during the spring and fall baby seasons. I worry and fuss over them, and not all of them make it - but I rejoice in the ones that do.

Putting these holiday squirrels into this Christmas tree is purely pleasure. With every ornament, I like to think there's a life saved, still out there.

04 December 2007

Disappointed in my alma mater

This story, accessed through the link pasted below, comes from my alma mater, the University of Maryland, and its online version of the campus newspaper, The Diamondback. It offers gruesome details, and a rather unpleasant photo, of a campus hawk devouring a squirrel.

Swooping in for the squirrels - News

What's the point of such blow-by-blow detail? And there's a photo, made even more reprehensible by this ignorant quote from an onlooker:

"We were watching the hawk and all the stress kind of flows away," Volack said. "Everyone's attention was taken off of their problems to watch an act of nature."

Sure, watching "squirrel guts" (as one observer put it) splattered all over the place is a big stress reliever. We should all do it more often when we get strung out. In fact, let's offer up a few squirrels on a regular basis to the campus hawks because, God knows, campus life is so damn stressful.

I'm not often ashamed to be a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. But right now I feel like turning my diploma so it faces the wall.