30 December 2008

A backhanded compliment to squirrels?

From today's Bradenton, Florida newspaper - a publication known as the Bradenton Herald - comes this kernel of attempted wisdom, reflecting back on the old year and (pun intended) Heralding the arrival of the new year, 2009.

The author writes:

To be sure, much is unknown about what the coming year will bring.
As myriad economic disasters, yet unseen, unfurl from Wall Street to Washington, to the checkout lane at the local grocery store, caution is in order. So gather ye nuts while ye may: Count your blessings, take good care of those around you, and remember the wisdom of the lowly squirrel as you bid farewell to 2008.

Accompanying this short essay is a rather charming photograph of an aforementioned "lowly" squirrel. Funny but he doesn't look "lowly" to me. He looks downright cute and appealing as he stands on his hind legs, obviously interrupted in the rather sensible act of seasonal nut-gathering.

He's doing the right thing: He's not putting his nuts into a tumbling real-estate market, nor is he investing his acorn in hedge funds (or any other kind of financial shrubbery, hedges or otherwise.) He is not trading them for losing lottery tickets nor placing bets in the trifecta at the Squirrel Derby. He is not engaging other squirrels in pyramid schemes, nor is he buying other nuts on margin, or doing seriously heavy day-trading that might, in this climate, bankrupt the whole forest.

For this he is complimented of course, but the essayist has nonetheless deemed him "lowly." Odd how an animal who can dance in the treetops when the rest of us need ladders to make our wobbly, precarious way there is deemed lowly. Odd how his investments (the acorns) will obviously grow when many of our own human investments are being cut down by the economic axe day by day.

If this is what lowly means, find me an empty branch in the nearest oak tree and pass the acorns, please.

28 December 2008

Squirrel philosophy

I've begun wishing people a Happy New Year already, even with the turn of the calender still a few days away. This has never been my favorite holiday and, for the most part, that humbug attitude has been a well-kept secret. I love December, with all its well-lit glory and pageantry and I dread January because it ends the festive season and begins the long haul of another year, all over again.

Today someone returned my well-intentioned wishes with that very sentiment - as clear as if I'd spoken it myself. "I don't know how I feel about the new year, since it means so much time has already passed," she said, "but what is the alternative?"

True. And I confessed to her I was feeling the very same thing. Suddenly the prospect of a new year didn't seem even remotely happy. Then I came home to watch the squirrels frantically burying nuts on our property - and then digging them up and reburying them elsewhere - and I started to reconsider my position.

Squirrels don't know it is December. And they don't know January is coming. They only know they have today and, even during the course of this day, they plan for tomorrow. They bury nuts because of deep instinct that tells them to hope and to plan. Worry, fear and anxiety has no place on their agenda, it is counterproductive and, frankly, foreign to the squirrels' gameplan. And so December's nuts are the same as January's nuts and the burying goes forward with each waking hour, and it goes forward with the same industrious ethic in the morning as it does at dusk.

And so this is how squirrels make for their own happy new year without even knowing that this is what they are in fact doing. It is what all squirrels have been doing since the beginning of time, since new years first came into being (and perhaps since before we humans came on the scene).

I think I will bury my old bad attitude with the intention of NOT digging it up again in 2009, and concentrate instead on cacheing away the very best of attitude and hope that I can for the challenges in the year ahead.

Happy New Year, squirrels!

22 December 2008

Miracle or mishap?

Years from now, no doubt, students at the Meoncross School in the UK will still be talking about the purple squirrel.

So will their teachers.

What appears, in every other way, to be an eastern grey squirrel, has become a semi-regular at the school, and may likely even have a better attendance record than many of the pupils enrolled there. "Pete," as he has been named, showed up during one of the lessons, outside a window, and immediately stole the show from teachers with his bright purple fur.

Purple squirrels, in human-resources parlance, simply do not exist. HR professionals refer to the ideal job candidate as being a "purple squirrel" because they perfectly fit every description of the job being advertised. And as most job-seekers will tell you, that just doesn't happen in the real world. Talents abound everywhere, but no one has it all!

And now, here is Pete, perfectly fitting the description of a squirrel who has miraculously become a Rodent of a Different Color, charming faculty and students alike and, of course, distracting everyone from their lessons.

It's possible he got into some toner, chewed on a bottle of ink or.....fell into some paint. It's possible there is a reasonable explanation for this, and hopefully, for Pete's Sake, not a toxic one.

Or he could be a miracle. Do people still believe in those?

The answer will come during the spring moulting season. Stay tuned, as the fur begins to fly.

21 December 2008

A different holiday for squirrels

We're just a few short days away from Christmas but in squirreldom, traditional yuletide greetings take a back seat to mating calls.

Happy Valentine's Day, rodents!

Squirrels are exchanging holiday gifts of a sort right now in the treetops (and on the ground.....and on our deck and anywhere else they can do it), and this passionate mutual generosity doesn't yield any real results for another 45 to 48 days. That's the gestation period, roughly, for the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Beginning sometime in late January or early February and lasting into early spring, the gift wrap will be off and the gift - litters of newborn squirrels - will be revealed.

So forget about leaving out milk and cookies for Santa this year.
Toss out a few choice walnuts for the squirrels instead. They're going to be very busy in the weeks ahead and they'll need the extra energy.

11 December 2008

On campus, a study of erratic squirrel behavior

The Hawk, a publication serving students on the campus of St. Josephs' University in Philadelphia, has published this story about squirrels behaving oddly (at least to human eyes) on their campus.

Campus squirrels gone nuts? - Features

The authors of the article quote experts who posit various reasons for the acorn-dropping dude and the trash-can athlete - and some of these reasons are academic - entirely appropriate, I might add, to the campus environment. Who better than a biologist, for instance, could assess squirrels' seemingly misanthropic activities? (And also to point out that squirrels are not an attack species, and will NOT go on the offensive without sufficient real provocation.)

What better environment than a university, an oasis of learning, in which to spin such theories, right?

But has everyone here forgotten that, on many campuses, it is also Finals Week and squirrels, too, must cram for the ultimate exams that will determine their G.P.A. for the semester? (Gray Point Average). Squirrels are cramming mightily at this time of year: Cramming acorns, cramming nuts, cramming leaves, cramming corncobs, cramming whatever they can. Winter is the ultimate final exam and during Finals Week, even squirrels get a wee bit nervous.

So forgive them their transgressions. They're still learning too.

06 December 2008

Underwear...under WHERE?

First comes the bad news that pretty much shook up the Squirrel Economy.

There is, apparently, an acorn shortage here in the U.S., stretching from the state of Virginia to points south. Trees just didn't seem to have produced sufficiently this year for the squirrel population and news accounts are reporting how wildlife advocates have been encouraging people to supplement nuts and other food where they can. This is important. Because without nuts or acorns, of course, squirrel unemployment rises rapidly - with nothing to bury, our country is besieged by increasing numbers of out-of-work squirrels.

So while we humans have it bad on Wall Street, squirrels are taking a dive on Acorn Lane.

Then, suddenly, comes a burst of good news: Squirrels, even those that are acorn-challenged, needn't suffer nakedness any longer. Squirrel underwear - known in the United Kingdom as Y-fronts - is now available!

Let the good news be shouted from the acorn-less treetops! Perhaps the availability of a comfortable cotton garment, just as winter starts to clench its icy grip, will be of some comfort during these trying times.

Indeed, perhaps we humans, struggling with a tragically faltering global economy, might also seek comfort in nice, new comfy cotton underwear. Wouldn't it be nice if that's all it took in this world?

It would certainly provide some warmth where it counts most.

30 November 2008

Home for the holidays

He is a fat squirrel, but that's nothing new for our yard.

He is also "the tilted squirrel," which is what we call him when we see him - which is quite often - because he is the only one who walks in a kind of sideways fashion, with his head pressing up against an imaginary wall.

His balance is fine, however, and he can scrap with the best and the rest of them when it comes to claiming our tossed pecans and almonds as his own. He runs, he buries, he chatters and he is as able-bodied as he can be under the circumstances. I admire his grace and his spirit.

So it was particularly gratifying to discover, on Thanksgiving Day, where he is living: He has made his home nest in the tallest tree in our yard, the sycamore tree, which hosts one of several wooden nestboxes we have installed on our property. I have seen him sitting atop it, sunning himself, at times, and once or twice have spied his face peering out in inclement weather, as if he were waiting for the green light from some unseen squirrel meteorologist.

I love that he is there, that he has a home, and that he does not have to go far (except to the base of the tree and, of course, our deck) to get what he needs in life. We will happily provide for him during this tough season when "plenty" is hard to come by.

The Tilted Squirrel is home for the holidays - and the home in this case happens to be our home.

What a privilege that is.

23 November 2008

It's criminal that this is criminal!

Caught grey-handed!

A Canadian friend of wildlife, visiting an upscale city park in Montreal, has been fined for feeding squirrels. Bruce Kert is now a marked man, according to this story in the Westmount Examiner. He is branded a criminal for having consorted in a culinary fashion with rodents.

The city, you see, has Zero Tolerance for such nefarious activity. He brazenly brandished peanuts - or so the charges claim - and willfully fed the aforementioned urban vermin. Cuteness factor notwithstanding, he is charged with doing a bad, bad thing.

Presumably the city could probably make good use of the $455 worth of fines levied against in the insouciant Kert. (It's not likely they'll spend it on food for wildlife or even to cover the municipal vet bill, should one exist at all).

Presumably Kert may become sufficiently traumatized by this to subsequently develop a peanut allergy. He fed only two peanuts, according to the city, but at roughly $227 per nut, that isn't exactly.....uh, peanuts.

"It's not like I make a habit of it," the story quotes Kert as saying in his defense.

It's not likely he'll ever do it again, either. Squirrels, you see, are considered a nuisance.

Public Security Officers who stop and issue tickets to people enjoying the municipal park, however, are not.

What's wrong with this picture?

It's nuts.

16 November 2008

Leaving their mark

There is a small scar on the left side of my upper lip that I've had for the past year and a half. It's not something to laugh at but I suppose the way I got it is somewhat comical, mainly because it's the worst injury I sustained in an incident that could have ended more seriously.

I was rushing to the back door to hand a nut to a squirrel who was standing there, staring in.

Let me repeat that: I was rushing to the back door to feed a squirrel.

And I do mean rushing. Rushing so fast and so carelessly that I hooked my leg on the leg of our dining room table and went crashing down, face first, on our ceramic tile floor. I did not even have time to try to break my fall with either of my arms - and perhaps that is a good thing. I at least must have turned my head to the right, somehow doing the right thing, before I hit the floor which soon became splattered with blood, as if a crime scene had occurred.

Yes, even with a Jackson Pollock style outpouring of vital fluids on our beautiful tile, I continued to crawl to the door, nut in hand, and yes, I fed the squirrel (who, by the way, was still waiting there, quite unsympathetically.)

Crazy? Perhaps. But nothing more horrible had happened - and after a trip to the ER to get my seriously split lip stitched back together by a plastic surgeon, I was on my way.

That squirrel, by the way, had been a personal favorite of mine for two years at least. He was a sassy male, a very in-your-face kind of guy, and when he migrated to another territory three months later, I missed him terribly.

I still do.

These animals come and go in all our lives, don't they? When I see the scar on my lip, I think of him. But most of the marks they have left on my life are less visible (I'm grateful for that).

But they are there. Most definitely, they do remain.

08 November 2008

A classless act

Shame on the BBC. And shame on their wildlife show, "Autumnwatch," for broadcasting images of the corpse of a squirrel that had been electrocuted outside the garden shed of Bill Oddie, the show's presenter. The squirrel died after gnawing on electrical wire outside Oddie's North London home.

Yes, this stuff happens. Squirrels gnaw, they get electrocuted, they die horrible deaths. The newspapers are filled with stories about how towns, parts of cities, and other jurisdictions lose power because of squirrels gnawing electrical lines. A squirrel once shut down part of the New York Stock Exchange this way. A squirrel once shut down part of the massive Metro North train system, between Manhattan and Westchester County, in just this way.

And yes, in each case, the squirrel died.

The image would have been disturbing enough but Oddie could not leave well enough alone. He then is quoted as saying to viewers: ‘Better red than dead . . . or grey.’ He subsequently added: ‘Let all squirrels watching be warned, because you can get too cocky.’

I suppose he fancies himself a wit, having said all that. I suppose he thinks he is terribly clever.

I hope the BBC takes a good hard look at him and his show - which is immensely popular among TV viewers in the UK. Any host of a show who can take delight in, or see something amusing, in this kind of death - in ANY kind of unnecessary death of an animal - might need to have his appropriateness (or lack thereof) re-evaluated.

I hope the BBC pulls the plug on Oddie. No doubt he would still feel some kind of shock - but fear not, Oddie fans, it will only stun him a wee bit.

05 November 2008

3 squirrels, 3 wishes

It turned dark around 5 p.m. today and a light rain had already begun to fall, growing more steady with the minutes.

They're out there now, and survival is up to them.

Three little sisters, young orphaned squirrels, who were brought to us in September, have grown so increasingly wild over time I knew it would be unwise to try and overwinter them. We weren't just racing the clock now but the seasons: today was the day they had to be set free.

Ideally you want a day with moderate temperatures, which we had, but a forecast of dry weather is usually best. We released early - got them into the woods by 9 a.m. - because anything less than 7 or 8 hours of daylight for nest-building and checking out the surroundings is simply not sufficient.

Last night they were warm in a nestbox and they could have been kept safe forever, if only I had the time and the space, and if only they were not the wild creatures that nature intended them to be.

So we went forward into the woods this morning together, and their departure was swift and joyful. My wishes for them, then, are for a swift acclimation to their new and natural home, a joyful existence there, and all the safety that nature and their own wits can grant them.

28 October 2008

Double the luck

The good news out of Texas, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, is that the University of North Texas is doubly blessed this week. Since 2002 the campus has been graced by at least one albino squirrel, a fact of life the students take as seriously as their final exams.

But this week they discovered a second one - perhaps an offspring of the first? And campus denizens couldn't be any happier as if the football team had scored a shutout in the homecoming game.

No, for sure, this kind of event is an even more joyous one because, in the paws of a rare squirrel such as these two, every single acorn is guaranteed to score a touchdown!

Here's the story:

For the first time in the history of the University of North Texas, two albino squirrels have taken residence near the intersection of Avenue A and Eagle Drive.
UNT faculty and students alike have honored the albino squirrel since the first was discovered on campus in 2002. Some students believe they will receive a passing grade if they see one of the white creatures on their way to a midterm or final exam.
It’s unusual for UNT to have two albino squirrels together, said Melody Kelly, associate dean of the UNT Libraries and an albino squirrel enthusiast.
The discovery of Baby’s Baby and his unnamed white-haired juvenile friend was confirmed earlier this month when the two were photographed by K.T. Shiue, a computer support specialist and webmaster at the university.
The university is taking suggestions for the new squirrel’s name

20 October 2008

What's the big idea, Squirrel?

I confess. I love the Dilbert comic strip. Everything about it, from Dilbert himself to Ratbert and all the other little creatures that show the sad but funny truth behind modern corporate existence.

Today's strip, however, gets a bit squirrelly. The Idea Squirrel shows his furry head, and Scott Adams, the strip's creator, demonizes the Idea Squirrel as a villain:

The Idea Squirrel, he notes, steals your ideas and makes you feel like a nut for claiming the idea as your own.

Ah but Mr. Adams, squirrels have enough ingenious ideas. They don't need to be stealing a thing from us humans except, of course, the nuts we spend our hard-earned money on so we can then toss them at the squirrels in our yard and smugly think this is all OUR idea.

Of course it's not - not by a long-shot. The squirrels have simply manipulated us into thinking the idea was ours.

Differences of opinion aside, Mr. Adams, let me commend you on a gently funny strip anyway. It was, I must say, one of the best ideas I've seen lately.

Only one question: What squirrel did you steal it from?

12 October 2008

What animals don't ask of us

1. They don't ask us to name them.
2. They don't ask us to worry about them.
3. They don't ask us to feed them.
4. They don't ask us to miss them.
5. They don't ask us to grieve when they die.
6. They don't ask us to bury them.
7. They don't ask for memorial markers to be installed at the burial spot.

A lot of us do this anyway, for our wild friends as well as our domestic ones.

I don't believe in fairy tales, I don't believe in the so-called "Rainbow Bridge," nor do I believe that we comprise - at least for wild animals - anything but entirely optional encounters in their lives. And I do believe that we the humans are the fortunate ones when our paths cross with theirs, however, if only for brief moments.

One of my favorite poems is "The Heaven of Animals" by James Dickey. It is realistic and it is true for me, except for the part about animals having no souls. I believe, far from being soulless, they are the essence of soul on this planet. When I read that poem, as I often do, I drop the words "no souls" and add "fine souls."

It works for me.

11 October 2008

Sometimes they just die

There isn't much to say, or much to write just yet, except to report that one of my most favorite and cared for outdoor squirrels, a wild female who has been coming since the spring, is dead. I will miss her more than I can even convey here.

The arrival of "Snaggletooth," as we had come to call her, was chronicled in this blog because of our concern for the incisor growing directly out of the front of her face. We worried that this would cause her to starve at some point, or develop into an infection that might compromise her health. We thought we would have to trap her and get the incisor clipped - temporary remedy at best, since incisors are ever-growing.

Fortunately that never had to be an option. She came regularly, at least since April, raised a spring litter and an autumn litter (as evidenced by her teats), and was able to crack and eat nuts. She went about her business, scrapped with the toughest and the biggest of the squirrels for her rightful place at the front of the nut line - both at our front door and back door - as recently as two days ago. I watched for her every day, often making myself late for work until she showed up past her customary time. I sometimes rearranged my day so I could be here at her customary visiting times, just because she was such a delight - and always met my gaze directly with hers.

Less than an hour ago, our landscaper found her dead in the yard of the neighbor across the street. There was no mistaking who this was. There is not a mark on her body. No animal attack evident, no trauma, no fatal injury by car. It is as if she just closed her eyes, and that was that. She was, to all appearances, a healthy, full grown adult with what was obviously a minor inconvenience: her incisor which, as it turns out, was more of a problem for us than for her.

With animals, as with people, sometimes they just die. Sometimes they just die.

09 October 2008

The 700 billion acorn bailout

Imagine if the economy got so bad that even squirrels needed government assistance.

Imagine if the projected value of their acorn portfolios far exceeded the market value of their tree harvests and they began planning and borrowing against this inflated value. And imagine that it spiraled upward and threatened to undo the basis of their woodland economy.

Then suddenly the acorn market - like a huge limb in a major storm - came crashing down! Who would bail out the squirrels and provide them with stability against a Rodent Recession?

In this Election Year, I sincerely doubt that any of our nation's candidates for office, or for that matter any incumbent lawmakers, have considered the possibility of such a scenario.

And fortunately, they needn't. There is really no need to worry because squirrels only save what they can gather, and only spend what they have. It's simple economics, really.

I'd like to give the squirrels credit for setting this wonderful example for us financially floundering humans, particularly those here in the U.S. who are finding the economic situation a particularly tough nut to crack.

I'd like to give the squirrels credit for moving forward through this economic crisis and continuing to gather their acorn harvest, assembling a balanced portfolio of oak, walnut, chestnut and the like, for the long winter ahead.

I'd like to give the squirrels credit - but these squirrels don't need credit, or credit cards, and would likely refuse the offer of credit because their acorns are like money in the bank. A hard stash of hard cash, not federally insured but Universally insured by Mother Nature herself.

That's something to think about, as the National Debt climbs ever skyward - up through the trees and beyond - higher than any smart squirrel would ever think of going.

02 October 2008

Flying squirrel's slow progress

The injured flying squirrel in India is back in the news today. I am not sure whether it is progress that the veterinarians are reporting, or just the certainty of a diagnosis.

But they have arrived at the conclusion that there is definitely spinal fracture in this little fellow. Here in the States, a squirrel with a spinal fracture is usually euthanized, a tragic but often necessary outcome if the animal cannot use its own limbs or eliminate on its own. In the case of this rare Indian squirrel, there is some movement of the tail, which is a very good sign indeed. Even if he cannot go back into the wild, perhaps he can nonetheless be saved.

The vets, meanwhile, are monitoring his case closely.

So are we. We will continue to check in on him and think good thoughts.

A "get well" card for a special squirrel

A very special patient is getting intense medical attention this week at the Mannuthy Veterinary College Hospital in Kerala, India: A 4-year-old giant male flying squirrel. An Express News Service article, dated Sept. 30, described how the squirrel, part of an endangered species, had been found injured near a power line in Silent Valley National Park, and was suspected of having suffered spinal trauma.

There is a photo of him with the article. He is wide-eyed, beautiful - and very likely frightened at the prospect of being surrounded by would-be predators who are, in reality, kind humans trying to help him. There is also a story in The Hindu, another news outlet, and it indicates the squirrel is rare - and thus, much-treasured.

Knowing that this kind of gentle spirit and caring exists for this Indian national treasure is an affirmation at a time when much of what we hear includes news that squirrel hunting season is in full swing or we read stories of animal abuse and torture. It tells me the world is in balance, that there is some good that helps wipe out the horror.

Let us wish this squirrel a speedy recovery. There is an awful lot riding on it - for the injured male squirrel and for the rest of us, too.

29 September 2008

Trying to save them all

I am upset by a New York Times article about the struggle Texas rehabbers are having, trying to salvage what's left of the baby squirrels down there since Hurricane Ike swept through. It is daunting and it is heart-breaking, and the photo accompanying the article makes me wish they could all be kept safe forever.

To add to that grief, tonight I visited an animal hospital to assess two seemingly healthy baby squirrels being kept there. True, they are safe from harm, but they are warehoused for the most part and on a substandard, inappropriate diet, largely because there is no one available in the local rehab community, during this peak baby season, to take them. So the animal hospital staff is doing the best it can for these non-paying clients. Right now, everyone, including me, is swamped. And so when I had to leave the hospital empty-handed, it bothered me. It troubles me now. It will haunt me further tomorrow.

I am doing some networking to see if we can't somehow get them placed, even temporarily, until something a little more long-term opens up for them. They need to be with someone who can care for squirrels appropriately.

I wish we could save them all. From hurricanes. And from the blizzard known as baby season. I know we can't. But that doesn't stop me from wishing.

16 September 2008

Speaking of (and speaking to) squirrels

From North Carolina, the state that seems to have cornered the market on Eastern Gray Squirrels, comes this report, "Squirrel speak: it's more than just noise."

The state, which takes credit for the species' origin or at least the earliest records of its existence, is proud to have the eastern gray as its official animal. Better still, this North Carolina student newspaper, the Technician, in which the article appears, is going a long way toward fostering interspecies communication. It may yet give rise to a whole new career field: squirrel linguistic interpreter.

Squirrel speak: it's more than just noise - Features

15 September 2008

Paying it forward

Wildlife rehabilitators often wonder about the impact their efforts make. In a world full of so-called "anonymous" wildlife, one squirrel is the same as the next to the uninitiated. You lose one, you save one, and the cycle goes forward, season after season.

Unless you are a part of it and hold these squirming little lives in your hands, you may not think anyone stops to grieve when one doesn't make it. But there are plenty of us who do.

And we struggle with them all. I have so far gotten 8 youngsters into care since the start of "fall baby season." In a litter of three who were nearly 5 weeks old, there was one little fellow, the victim of some kind of head trauma and only able to breathe with difficulty. He succumbed after only a few days. His eyes had just opened a day or so earlier. I am glad he got to see the world first before he left it, but I wish I had been able to do more to keep him in this world. I felt that, despite my efforts, I had not made a difference.

And then a friend in Pennsylvania wrote about a baby chipmunk he had just come across, quite by accident. The little one had no use of its back legs. He knew it was important to rescue the baby safely and get it into the care of a rehabilitator he knew.

I will never meet this chipmunk. But of course this little soul is now on my mind as if I had held him with my own hands - like that baby squirrel. As my friend wrote in his e-mail to me today, if it had not been for all those sagas, the happy and sad ones, that I shared with him, he might never have even noticed the little baby, or even made the effort to save him.

I hope he does not mind my borrowing from his e-mail, but here is what he wrote:
The next time you're weighing the amount of good that you're doing please consider your inspirational effect on other people. It was as if I had you looking over my shoulder and telling me what should be done, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

These words bring sustenance. I have to believe that the little boy squirrel, whose life passed too soon just a few days ago, has been part of that inspirational force. He - and all the others - the saved squirrels and the ones who could not be helped - are now part of paying it forward for all the little lives ahead.

And yes, there will be more. Many more.

14 September 2008

From the treetops to the toilet?

This very odd story, which I have cut and pasted below, appeared in a recent article in the St. Catharines Standard, an Ontario newspaper. It is the story of a flying squirrel who went flying in a most unconventional manner - out of someone's toilet and into his face.

I must say, a toilet is not the most comfortable nesting spot for a squirrel, let alone any creature (even a sewer rat) and how he actually got into the toilet is a subject for conjecture. But at least there was a happy ending that was (thankfully) not initiated by the sound of a flush. The squirrel got his freedom back and hopefully is living a life devoid of indoor plumbing.

Boy gets surprise when squirrel jumps out of toilet
Posted 18 hours ago
A young boy received quite a surprise this week when a flying squirrel jumped out of the toilet at him.
Keith Schuk went into the family bathroom earlier this week and lifted the toilet seat; a furry critter leaped out of the bowl at him and landed on the floor.
"It turned out to be a flying squirrel," said his 16-year-old sister, Marlaina. "It was wet from the water and at first we thought it was a rat. Our parents, who were both working, could not believe our story."
The 12-year-old boy arranged for a friend to come and capture it, but the brownish-black squirrel with webbing connecting its front and rear legs didn't exactly run away.
"It's a nocturnal creature, so it just curled up in a can in the bathroom and went to sleep," said Keith's mother, Audrey.
"We were able to capture and remove it while it was sleeping," she said, adding the family released the squirrel into a bush area.
The consensus is that the squirrel came down the sewer breather pipe from the roof, and found an escape through the toilet.
The nocturnal, arboreal rodents have a furry membrane extending between the front and rear legs that allows the animal to glide through the air.
Northern flying squirrels' gliding distances tend to be between five and 25 metres, with average glides being about five metres less for females.

22 August 2008

Detours for two squirrels

We went into the woods this week to release a group of three young squirrels back to the wild: Massa, Angel and Little Fellow.
Only two, ultimately, went to freedom: Angel and Little Fellow
Our intention was to release Massa too, and my anxiety over her suitability for release since last spring has been chronicled here in this blog - the misshapen rear leg, the seven toes and the slight neurologic movement. Still, it is my job as a rehabilitator - and my intention - to see that every animal gets a chance when appropriate.
As soon as Little Fellow and Angel sailed out of the release hatch, Massa followed as if shot from a cannon. It was joyful for her, at least for the moment.
Suddenly the gift of freedom betrayed her, caused undue stress and she began to spin. Unlike her cagemates, she did not ascend to the trees. She remained grounded. I knew then she had to be caught and brought back home.
We got lucky. I placed the holding cage over her during a spinning episode and recaptured her.
My intention was to release her but Massa must be given more time now.

A day or so later, a colleague at work informed me she had rushed a squirrel to the vet on her way to the office. The animal was off the side of the road, writhing from an apparent run-in with a car. My coworker bravely scooped the adult up, found a vet she knew accepted wildlife, and left the squirrel there. She asked me to please call the vet, check on the squirrel's status and, of course, offer to provide continued care in rehabilitation after the squirrel's triage.
Yes, of course I called. But I learned less than an hour later, the squirrel had to be euthanized; the damage from the car was too great for any chance of survival.
My friend had hoped to save this squirrel and, of course, that never happened. She did spare the squirrel further suffering and I told her that what she did was a brave and caring thing.

Still, her intentions with that squirrel, like mine with Massa, had no influence whatsoever over the outcome.

So do our intentions still matter? I believe so. Without intentions we don't act at all. And without taking action, we do no good on this planet for humans or for animals.

Yes, we must keep trying.

18 August 2008

The 2008 Squirrelympic Games

Competitive nut-cacheing.
Forward roll and other gymnastics.
Bird-feeder dismantling.
Wrestling. (Lots of wrestling).
The 100-yard vertical dash.
The 10-meter branch leap.
Marathon chattering.

Welcome to the Squirrelympic Games, playing not just in 2008 but every week of every year in just about every yard where you'll find trees, nests and a hospitable environment for these natural athletes.

Ok, so they're not Michael Phelps (it would be hard to fit that bushy tail into a Speedo anyhow, and I'm not sure I'd want to see the, uh, end result) - but let's be brutally honest. No one can swim a 200-meter butterfly and 200-meter freestyle like him but, can this guy crack nuts between his teeth?

Aha, I thought not.

Why do we humans have to wait every few years for an Olympic extravaganza when the guys in our yards and parks and woodlands get to do this every day of every year? They've got game, all right. (In fact the fellow pictured here with the fabulous upper body strength is from the Daily Mail, in the UK. My Connecticut friend, upon seeing his photos, decided to nickname him Squir-hurcules!!!!!)

So let's take our cue from them, for a change. Forget the gold, the silver and the bronze. Let's go for the Gray!

10 August 2008

Because they all count

I want to write this before I forget. Because tomorrow morning, I am taking a trip to the pet crematory only a few miles south of here, with the body of a young female squirrel who came into my life late Friday and was gone from it by early Saturday.

I got the call on Friday afternoon from a woman in an apartment complex about 7 miles away. No one, not even the SPCA, had responded to her pleas to help what she thought was a wounded squirrel in the apartment courtyard. Could I help?

Catching her was easy enough. She was twitching and rolling on the ground. I held the small cage over her and she rolled in. Her twitching was tough to watch. I'm not sure if she was having seizures, or had been poisoned, or what, but I got her home, gave her some warm bedding, and after a bit, got some fluid into her slowly. She drank from the syringe, even tried to hold it - unusually submissive for an adult, even a young one - and I got the sense she wasn't completely cognizant of her surroundings.

She calmed. She slept. She ate. She even tried to nibble on a small bit of soft corncob I put in for her. When I got back from work after midnight, she took a second feeding later - some more fluids, mainly - and was voracious.

In the morning I found her stiff and lifeless. There was not a mark on her, though I know she could have fallen, or been struck by something that did not leave a readily visible mark.

I will probably never know. I do know she died warm and she was not on the cold ground that night dying her slow death under the watchful eyes of raccoons or other predators.

I did what I could for her, which was not much, in the long run.

But because they all count - at least to me -I am writing about her here because her life mattered and it was worth trying to save. Even though saving her was, in the end, beyond me.

07 August 2008

Good "neighbours" to the North

My friends Rich and Luis have left the States for a new life in Canada - specificially Vancouver in British Columbia. I have been reading their blog and, with each new post, have been falling in love with many things Canadian, from the verdant wilderness they camped in, to the elegant newly built luxury highrise in which they've rented an apartment with glorious views of mountains, parks and the coast.

But nothing can top the squirrels. The squirrels of Canada, the ones they met and photographed, have prompted me to consider dual citizenship. This post in particular won my heart. Who can resist the little red squirrel, and the golden mantled ground squirrel?

Perhaps we need to consider a Squirrel Exchange program between our two nations. Something called NASTA - North American Squirrel Trade Agreement.

It's something to think about, anyway.

01 August 2008

One statuesque squirrel

Members of the Richland County Rotary Club in Olney, Illinois - a city blessed with an infamously abundant white squirrel population - have come up with an idea of monumental proportions: The idea is, itself, a monument of big proportions and even bigger ambition.

Rotarians hope to commission a white squirrel statue as a tourist attraction in that southeastern Illinois community. The Olney Daily Mail, that community's newspaper, broke the story on July 31, quoting one Rotarian, a member of the local convention and visitors bureau, as drawing his inspiration from another statue - this one in Minnesota - of two figures from American folklore: the mythical giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe.

Now, a blue ox is no white squirrel, to be sure. And while Bunyan remains the stuff of folklore, white squirrels are an everyday reality in Olney. But like the towering Bunyan and Babe, they are indeed oversized attractions, if only by virtue of their reputation.

I had the pleasure, years ago, of posing beside an oversized wooden statue carved of Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating woodchuck/groundhog, while visiting that town in rural Pennsylvania. And I learned from that experience that, when it comes to tourism, Humongous Statues of Rodents are Humongous Tourist Magnets.

I encourage the people of Olney to embrace a white squirrel statue as they embrace their squirrels. They should throw it some nuts - and then throw it their support.

31 July 2008

One Corn-Founded Squirrel!

We all have a right to be mad, but this irate chipmunk takes the cake (or at least the cornbread). He doesn't seem self-possessed - rather he seems completely possessed. Could he have just finished reading Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" perhaps (or seeing the movie)?

Thanks to my friend Chet in Pennsylvania, who captured this image of the cutest and grumpiest chipmunk on Planet Earth, we now know that squirrels have their bad days too.

Even in his apparent anger, he seems somewhat regal though, as if seated upon the cob as his throne. I can just hear him declaring, throughout the kingdom, "Off with their ears!" (This is corn, remember, not lettuce, so there's no need for any beheadings.)

Anytime I am having a bad day (and I've had a few this week that came close) I will think of this fellow. Even when the chips are down, this chip is definitely up.

Long live the King of Corn!

25 July 2008

High fives for squirrels!

A friend just forwarded me this photograph. I'm not sure where it was taken or where it is from, but once I laid my eyes on it, I knew exactly where it was going - RIGHT ONTO THIS BLOG.

Admit it: You want to High-Five him right back, don't you? (Actually it looks more like a HIGH-FOUR with a vestigal thumb but let's not nit-pick here, ok?)

Now what could he be high-fiving about? My guess is, THE ECONOMY.
While the rest of us struggle and worry about taxes, property values, our pensions and the future of our respective industries in which we have built careers, this fellow has spent his life dutifully squirreling away his assets for the future. I think I want to hire him as my financial planner. Don't you?

High-five, little fellow!!

20 July 2008

Sunday Squirrels, in a big way!

Readers of The Sunday Herald in India, got an eyeful today in the paper's Travel section:


My friend Arul, who is on fellowship in India, sent me this link, and it gently escorted me to a story about tourism at the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in India, a reasonable train ride's distance from Bangalore. Follow it and see what greets you on the screen.

It is a Giant Malabar Squirrel! Handsome, no? Here is an artist's rendering of this 4-pound creature, courtesy of the Bombay Natural History society:

When this guy asks you for nuts, you better have your shirt pockets and pants pockets - and jacket pockets - full of a stash!

I think it is particularly encouraging that the newspaper chose a photo of a squirrel, out of all the animal images it surely could have used, to draw attention to Dandeli's wonders. Newspapers (and I know this to be true because I work for one!) are always in the business of trying to put eye-catching headlines and images out there, things that will draw the readers in.

Those of us who know squirrels, however, know that they are wonders of the world in their own right. It's about time they get their "share of ink," as we say in the publishing business.

That's a Giant Step for the Giant Malabar Squirrel - and a giant leap for all squirrels, in fact!

16 July 2008

What's in a name, squirrel?

Let's face it, squirrels seem to sell themselves. Anyone who's seen their acrobatics under (or atop) a tree, or been cornered by their hard-sell nut-begging behavior that cries out, "we don't take 'no' for an answer," knows this. You buy into their gambit even without realizing it.

So it's only natural that human marketers would harness a little squirrel power behind some more everyday people-pleasing commodities, everything from beer and wine to candies and even a music group.

Take Mad Squirrel Chardonel, for instance. This is a wine produced by Mary Michelle wines in Illinois and presumably, a few glasses do NOT leave you bright-eyed anymore but your tongue may feel a bit bushy-tailed. For those who prefer something more grainy than grape, there is Fat Squirrel Ale, which comes to us from a Wisconsin-based brewer. (Grain being a carbohydrate, presumably we know how and why the squirrel got fat.)

The sweeter side of life is celebrated by the Buddy Squirrel line of nut candies, also in Wisconsin, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, an old-time American caramel favorite whose name was adopted by a stylish, popular and now-defunct music group.

And let's not forget technology. There is even a Squirrel Programming Language.

Squirrels, of course, get no royalties from all this use of their wit, charm and cuteness because, as squirrelly as some folks think lawyers may be, there are no squirrel lawyers - at least not yet. Perhaps, however, that is the next industry to capitalize on harnessing squirrel power.

I can just see the shingle hanging outside the office door now: Chatterer, Rodentay & Bushytail, Acornies-at-Law

14 July 2008

A squirrel for all seasons

This photograph of a beautiful hand-crafted weathervane comes my way courtesy of a fellow blogger, Hugh Hubble, across the Pond. He photographed this stately metal fellow atop a country building and it led us both to believe that perhaps it was designed by a farrier, or some other old-world type artisan, a person gifted at what seems a dying art in modern times.
This functional creature inspires me as being truly a Squirrel for All Seasons. Perched higher on his equally beautiful rooftop than any of his flesh-and-fur colleagues might ever be in their respective trees, the squirrel gracefully surveys not just the landscape but the weather prospects ahead. In this respect, he "out-roosters" the rooster who is most typically seen in this position. (Ah, could "Weathervane Sentinel" possibly be the next career post to be outsourced, in this modern economy, to wild rodents? Probably not. The crowing bird still does the lion's share of the work, if you'll pardon the intermingling of metaphors.)

It's not so odd really, when you think about it. We watch squirrels moult in spring and wonder if the weather will turn warmer a bit earlier. We watch them cache their nuts in late summer into autumn and speculate if the winter will be without mercy. We squirrel-watchers observe them nest-building, migrating, mating and conducting all other manner of daily business. And from this, we conclude what our own lives will be like.

Perhaps in that respect every squirrel - whether on our rooftops or merely in our treetops - is, in its own way, a weathervane for us, helping us to chart the course of our own days and seasons.

11 July 2008

A hair-raising squirrel story

Listed among those famous folks, who are most famous for being bald: Telly Savalas, Daddy Warbucks, Persis Khambatta, Alfred Hitchcock, Sinead O'Connor (briefly, Britney Spears), Mister PotatoHead and yes, even Humpty Dumpty (ever seen a soft-boiled egg with an updo or hightop fade?)

And now: Smoothie the squirrel.

This beautiful male's appearance at St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Britain has been hair-raising because he showed up as the apparent victim of hair-razing -- as in, bald with only a few wisps on his tail. And though the customary conclusion in such cases is that the squirrel was shorn by mites that accompany mange, this apparently doesn't seem to be the case for Smoothie.
He is handsome anyway, with a good appetite and presumably, a pretty good attitude.

But getting to the root (or at least the follicle) behind his condition may take some digging, if not some splitting hairs altogether.

We will be watching his case and hoping things turn around for him soon. There is no "Hair Club for Squirrels" and rodent toupees are not the fashion either. At least the weather is warm enough so he's not at risk for frostbite. But let's all wish the good folks in the UK some good fortune to help our friend Smoothie get his coat back in time for fall fashion and nut burying season.

07 July 2008

Squirrel swarm!

Should anyone ever wonder "where have all the squirrels gone?" I swear that on some mornings they have found their way onto our property. This is the view on most mornings, early, when the commuters stop by to fortify themselves for a busy day of digging, planting, scurrying and raiding bird-feeders.
Some of these are the regulars we see every day; others are newcomers I may not recognize. There are a few, such as Tipsy, a slightly neurologic squirrel, who brightens my day when he shows up - and I make sure he gets extra so he stays strong and able-bodied.

In case I ever feel like my life is not complete I only need to look at these photos to realize that nature has given us "ACORN-U-COPIA."

29 June 2008

Some Enterprising squirrels

These photos, by Poetikat, my friend and fellow blogger, are by far the best adaptive reuse I have ever seen of old, outmoded satellite TV dishes. See the great reception these dishes are getting from their new audience??

Perhaps these denizens of outdoor dining, supping in space-age luxury, look like visitors from the Planet Rodentia. "TAKE ME TO YOUR FEEDER!!" they might implore.

But no, look again - they are of our own Planet Earth. In fact, this is the voyage of the StarShip RODENTerprise - to boldly go where lots of squirrels have gone before. And every single one is a cling-on!

Congratulations, Poetikat, for giving this space-age crew their own marvelous new vehicle. Wishing them all many, many miles out there beneath that famous constellation, The Nut Cracker!

27 June 2008

Where the wild things are

I'm borrowing this post's title from a book by children's author Maurice Sendak simply because I love the very sound of those words - it is like music to me. Also, I love the image those words evoke together.

And, as it turns out, I love the news I have to report about where two of the wild things are that I care about: the first is the sweet female squirrel with the errant incisor growing out of her face - a squirrel who has been visiting us almost daily. Her photo can be seen in this blog's post of May 8, where I also report about a juvenile female squirrel in my care, one who came in with balance issues and extra toes.

I worried that the adult female would need trapping and her incisor clipped at some point because it would overgrow to the point of distress, infection - or both. I wrestled with ethical and emotional issues over this and, as it turns out, none of this is necessary. She is thriving! The tooth has not only failed to over, it does not seem to get in her way at all. The rest of her teeth seem perfectly functional and she is as healthy and bright-eyed as the first day I saw her.

My decision to leave her, where the wild things are, turned out to be a good call.

The slightly neurologic female juvenile squirrel, the one I named Massa, is meanwhile fully and happily accepted by her adoptive brother and sister in their temporary caging, where she climbs with the agility any squirrel would envy, where she eats and plays and yes, even engages in lively wrestling matches.

My decision that she may indeed be releasable after all is one I am feeling more comfortable with day by day.

They will both be living where the wild things are and living what I hope will be long, full lives.
The sound you hear in the background is me, sighing a deep sigh of relief.

23 June 2008

Music I've squirreled away

Rumors aside, that tap I just felt on my shoulder a moment ago was not a squirrel politely asking for me to crack open another bag of pecans: It was Poetikat, fellow blogger and fellow animal lover, tagging me all the way from Canada, for a meme.

Her request: List seven songs that are making your summer bright, she urges me. No matter if they have words (or not), if they're not particularly good, and no matter if they are of a relatively strange genre. Post these instructions along with the names of the seven songs and then tag seven other bloggers to participate in this musical ritual. Argh, that is the tough nut to crack, as my rodent pals would say.

Anyway, here goes:

"Put Your Records On" - Corinne Bailey Rae
"The Riddle" - Five for Fighting
"Dance with my Father" - Luther Van Dross
"World" - Five for Fighting
"Take Good Care of My Baby" - Carole King/Bobby Vee (either version)
"Busy Being Fabulous" - The Eagles
"Living Free" - Enda Keegan (http://www.prairiedogday.org/)
Better Days - Dianne Reeves

OK I cheated and named 8 instead of 7. I promise to dig a hole and bury one and pray for a tree to grow out of it.
And hmmmm, now who to tag?

19 June 2008

Queen of the acorns

This beautiful photo of a mother squirrel raiding a California bird feeder caught my eye. It was in the online edition of the Thousand Oaks Acorn, a weekly newspaper in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which by virtue of its name alone, must be a community second only to squirrel paradise itself.
The sweet creature pictured here was deemed Squirrel of the Month by the publication's editors - and indeed, each month a successor is crowned from among the digital entries submitted.
The Thousand Oaks newspaper deserves a thousand (or more) thanks. Their clever, creative way of encouraging readers to share their photographic talents, and respect for wildlife, is so simple. And apparently so very popular.
There are of course, enough squirrels on this planet to have a Squirrel of the Week, of the Day and even of the Hour. But we'll take our monthly honors for now and be ever so grateful.
Like this little mother squirrel, someone at that little community newspaper has chosen to stand up and go for something wonderful!

16 June 2008

Squellephants and other genetic challenges

In a recent audition for NBC's "Last Comic Standing," a would-be funnyman named Dan Cummins, who lives in Minneapolis, told the audience that the pet of his dreams would be half Labrador retriever, half squirrel and would be called a "squirrelador." The 90-pound rodent, he said, would be capable of swimming but also adept at scaling to overhead power lines.

I can't say I argue at all with the concept but, with all due respect to Mr. Cummins, I do think there are far better combinations utilizing squirrellian talents to their fuller potential.

How about a squellephant? Pachyderms are already the appropriate color and they also already share a propensity for peanuts. Granted, you may not want one climbing your leg or sitting on your windowsill looking into your bathroom but at least you know they'd be visible when they were crossing the street, especially in packs.

Or a squawk? No, not the sound a bird makes, but the even more unlikely pairing with one of the raptors known to pursue squirrels as prey. A squawk, of course, would not prey on itself but would definitely be able to ascend to the skies, at fantastic heights, as a useful escape to land predation by, say, a fox. And as sharp as squirrels' claws already are, just think of the climbing power those talons might give them!

My personal favorite might be the squorse. Pairing up with an equine could produce the black, grey, red and even white varieties - all genetically possible - and just think of the heights these creatures might achieve over cross-rail obstacles on the Grand Prix jump course as they carry their extra bushy tails high above their saddles!

Don't forget the possibility of a liorrell. With a big mane and a mighty roar, it will set upon your bird feeder, steal your seed, topple your trees with its mighty weight and then try to force its way into your attic.

To those folks who read this and bemoan the fact that "those rodents" are "ruining" their yards, think twice before you regret the presence of squirrels of any kind. Things could be worse, you know. This is something everyone must try to remember - because a squellephant never forgets!

11 June 2008

Into the woods

I think of them now. I think of them now, most especially, because the sun has set on their first day back into the wild. They have not lived in the trees like this since late last summer, as babies. Then suddenly, somehow their lives were interrupted and they landed in human care.

Now they are back in the wild, older, stronger, healthier and with muscles to carry them capably from branch to branch, trunk to trunk.

Two girls - both orphaned and having suffered the loss of siblings - and a boy - found by himself and cared for alone at first. All were brought to me as older juveniles and out of this ragtag trio, we fashioned a new family, an ad hoc litter of squirrels. They spent the ensuing cold season - what we rehabbers call "overwintering" - with us.

Today I carried them in a small holding cage into the woods and the door was opened on the rest of their lives. I have seen this dozens of times before but it never fails to stir me.

I think of them now, looking out past my office windows into the darkness, and I wish them a good first sleep, the first of many to come.

I wish I had brought a camera but perhaps it does not matter. When I close my eyes tonight, I will think of them again. And I will see them.

10 June 2008

Speaking of squirrels

Q: When is a noun not a noun?

A: When it is a verb.

I don't mean to be coy or even cryptic here, but the word "squirrel" is almost always a noun, and it customarily connotes the eastern grey variety, the northern or southern flying type, or one of two varieties of red - and perhaps even a whole population of terrestrial squirrels, including the golden mantled squirrel and the 13-lined ground squirrel.

That is a lot of squirrel! A lot of fast-moving, chittering, tail-flicking, nut-burying squirrel. Perhaps it is that very frenzy of activity that first made "squirrel" a particularly good candidate for doing double duty as a verb.

Look in the dictionary and you'll see that "squirrel" is very much a well-used verb in the English language. Its etymology of course rests in the animal from which the verb takes its name. We "squirrel" things away (usually money or small trinkets). And we can conjugate this verb: I squirrel, you squirrel, he squirrels, she squirrels, WE ALL SQUIRREL TOGETHER!!

While I love the noun - why else would this blog exist? - I am starting to revere the verb as well. Squirreling, let's face it, is the ultimate protector of our solvency when the economy goes sour. Squirreling ensures we will have plenty in times of great need. It is synonymous with hoarding.

Answer these questions honestly: How many squirrels have you seen at the bank applying for loans? Or being harassed by collection agencies for nonpayment of bills? How many squirrels stand on the streetcorner with a tin cup, begging for you to spare a dime for a cup of coffee (hazelnut flavor, of course)?

The squirrel is a model saver because the squirrel practices the art of squirreling. Indeed has perfected that art.

It's an image you might just wish to, uh, squirrel away. You never know when you're going to need some good financial advice.

08 June 2008

Off topic but still fun

I have been tagged by Tobi at http://tobietal.blogspot.com/ and in appreciation of this gentle tap on the shoulder from a fellow blogger, I'll attempt to answer a few of the requisite questions posed:

We had just taken in a little rescue dog from off the street, believed to be a Lhasa-poodle mix, and after cleaning her up and trying to adopt her out, discovered she had already decided the home she'd found would be the one she'd keep. She's still with us, too.
I didn't believe it was worthwhile to buy vitamins, too many pairs of shoes or Lottery tickets.
I believed anything worth doing was worth doing well. I still believe it.
I had more hope for the future....but back then I also had 10 more years in my future than I do today.

Just five? Hah!
1. Feed the squirrels outside, feed the rehab squirrels inside, distribute meds as needed, clean cages, and change the charcoal pre-filters in the air cleaners.
2. Take an early morning ride on Beau and hope he doesn't lift his tail and grace me with his usual post-ride delivery of horse poo whenever I loosen his girth.
3. Cook. It is my joy to cook on the weekend because the pace of my weekday life is so horrific. Cook stuffed peppers with polenta. Cook a pasta-cheese torte. Cook corn-on-the-cob.
4. Sit, relax and enjoy a good strong cup of freshly brewed coffee.
5. Practice my Tai Chi forms, which really stink right now.

I'll have to opt out of this one since I don't eat except at mealtime.

I give thought to this every day of my life. I wouldn't change a thing, not really, except to bail out of my current job and devote myself to more volunteer work - beyond the wildlife rehabbing I presently do. I'd set up trust funds for a few selected charities (medical research, animal rescue), and also ensure that members of my family were cared for, for the rest of their lives, without worry.
What an easy, and happy, question.

Westbury, New York
Hyattsville, Maryland
Middletown, New York
Queens, New York

Now who shall I tag?

06 June 2008

Not by nuts alone

We all crave variety in our diets. For squirrels, sometimes hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and other tree nuts just don't do the trick. The sameness of the day to day diet is enough to drive a squirrel, well, NUTS.

The squirrel in this lovely musical video has discovered a mighty fine alternative. He's putting on the Ritz. Literally.



02 June 2008

Freedom day is coming

For me, the real test of a wildlife rehabilitator comes as the answer to several questions:

1. Do you love these squirrels enough to lose a night's sleep (or several nights' sleep) in order to see them through the night if they are critical?

2. Do you love these squirrels enough to pay full price for veterinary services if the best vet who can care for them, providing surgery, X-ray or medicine, is not one of those professionals who has made the decision to donate his services to wildlife?

3. Do you love these squirrels enough to ensure a clean and healthy environment throughout their stay with you, keeping their food and water plentiful?

and finally....

4. Do you love these squirrels enough to open the door to freedom, saying goodbye to them forever, when the time comes?

When that time comes, they leave your life as suddenly as they once entered it. It is their right to reclaim their place in nature's plan, and it is our privilege as their caretakers to see that they get to that point.

The three squirrels in my care since late last year are ready to go. Freedom is coming for the two girls and one boy who are in my outdoor "pre-release" pen.

Soon the woods will have new dwellers.

The answer is "yes," "yes," "yes" and of course "yes." I love them that much.
And more.

23 May 2008

Squirrels, squirrels everywhere

I think we must really love squirrels. Deep down, I am sure most of us, as a population, really truly must: Cartographers, local government officials, sign-makers, citizens, students, poets, farmers and scholars.

Why else would we name so many of our homes and venues after these animals? Why else would we want constant reminders that squirrels grace this planet of ours? Wherever we go....there they are!

Just for starters:

Squirrel Cove, on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada
Squirrel Falls in New Brunswick, Canada
Squirrel Point Lighthouse in Maine, here in the U.S.
Squirrel Island, also in Maine
Squirrel River in Alaska
Squirrel River Pines in Oneida County, Wisconsin
Squirrel Lake in Minocqua, Wisconsin
Squirrel Valley near Silt Mesa, Colorado
Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania
Squirrel Corners near Monticello, N.Y.

and thoroughfares such as:

Squirrel Road in Belmar, N.J. (where a friend of mine owns a house!)
Squirrel Lane in Levittown, N.Y. (not far from where I grew up!)
Gray Squirrel Lane in New Port Richey, Florida
Squirrelwood Road in West Paterson, N.J.
Squirrel Hollow Road in Douglass, Pennsylvania

I could, of course, keep digging and find more.
So could you.
And - so could they.

20 May 2008

No appetite for this solution

It says an awful lot about our species, when you consider the way we humans sometimes approach problem-solving: If all else fails, we make the problem go away by eating it.

I used to think this was a uniquely American trait - seeing how many people in the U.S. could easily swap out their stomachs for trash-mashers with little discernible difference - but now I am not so sure our nation has exclusive rights to this kind of bad taste.Here in the States we are in the midst of horse-racing season, and the nation is still reeling from a tragedy on the racetrack immediately following the Kentucky Derby, when the lone filly to run (she finished second!!) sustained a fatal injury and was euthanized on site.

So I was horrified to learn of an even worse fate visited upon a first-place Derby winner back in 1986, a big brown horse named Ferdinand, who was ridden to victory by the legendary American jockey Willie Shoemaker. Ferdinand did not experience similar glory as a stud, and he was something of a failure in Japan too, where his American owners shipped him eventually, for a second try at procreation.
Ferdinand posed a problem - he was now too old to race and he did not produce a new bloodline of future champions. So he was taken to the slaughterhouse in Japan and converted into something edible. And that is how a Derby winner, and the 1987 Horse of the Year, met his end.

I think of Ferdinand now as I read of one solution to Britain's unfortunate influx of aggressive eastern grey squirrels - a non-native species that never asked for such immigration status. They are, for the most part, reviled, hunted and killed because they displace the beloved native reds - and the latest solution is to serve them up on the dinner plate, energizing the local economy, bringing a boon to butcher shops and posing a fun challenge to creative home cooks as well.
I'll have none of that, thank you. It turns my stomach to think we humans, for all our cleverness, have chosen to think with our appetites instead of our minds. We are a sentient species and yet, for all of that, the best we can come up to solve various problems is to slaughter a champion horse (one of many to have met such a fate, I've been assured) and a challenge to creative cooks everywhere to fry up some squirrel.

The worse tragedy here, I fear, is that people really believe this is the best we can do. I'd like to think we as a species can do better. At least I hope and pray we can.

18 May 2008

An effective door-to-door sales campaign

Was there ever a better sales job than this? Knocking on doors, making a big pitch to the homeowners responding, and clinching the deal every time. We're not talking about selling Avon or Amway or even those old old Encyclopedia Brittanicas (for those who remember them).

What is this ambitious little saleswoman selling? HERSELF and her need for some of the best nuts on the market.

We're talking 100 percent success here - sitting on the doorknob until the humans inside realize you can run but you cannot hide, not from the very revealing full glass panel of a back door. There is no escaping the steely gaze of the determined saleswoman who also makes it known she is a single mom supporting a family (when she sits up, you can see she is also still a nursing mother). And notice, if you will, the members of her sales team very visible and present in the background.

Would you buy a used car from this squirrel?
Sorry, there is a sucker born every minute (as W.C. Fields would say) - and sucker would be me, reaching for my wallet (or for another 5-lb. bag of nuts to open)

16 May 2008

Outfoxing their rivals

Today at work a colleague approached me asking, "Do you know where I can get some fox urine?" (Yes, I do get lots of questions like that from coworkers).

I resisted the temptation to say, "Take the little guy to the neighborhood pub, buy him a few rounds of Heineken.....then hand him a paper cup and stand back!"
Nor did I say, "Put on a white coat, and hang out a shingle that says 'Fox Urology Office, Our Fees Won't Leave You Pissed' "
And there was even one more smartypants phrase of mine that didn't leak out: "Go out, kidnap a fox and stuff him into a pair of diapers and make him drink a few liters of spring water."

Of course I didn't say any of that. I knew this was really about squirrels. Squirrels in someone's attic. Squirrels in someone's garden. Squirrels someplace - anyplace - they weren't wanted. And because I have long been a proponent of convincing those who would seek to repel unwanted squirrels to do so gently, and using natural methods, when this subject of urine came up, I was happy to go with the flow.

Foxes are natural predators of squirrels and so, if your nose can handle the less-than-golden scent that comes with this byproduct of the fox excretory system, you have what is truly one of the world's most golden liquid assets. A squirrel smelling this stuff will usually move on, having been outfoxed.

We who love squirrels but don't want them getting into trouble - or getting hurt by people who'd rather not have them around (like my coworker) - are all for singing the praises of incontinent foxes.

Fox urine, anyone? Oui, Oui!

14 May 2008

Squirrels are political animals too

According to a recent story in the Sunbury, Pa., Daily Item, the Pennsylvania Department of State has received a filing from the Squirrel Reform Party to be a player, among the Republicans and Democrats, in this year's elections.

Now everybody knows there's no George W. Bushytail in the running, and Theodore Rodentsevelt's term is long since past. Likewise, there's no candidate on the ballot named Filbert Jackson (nor a hopeful First Lady, Hazel Nutt, or a vice presidential Walnut Mondale on the ticket). And let's not even dredge up the sorry tenure, in the 1970s, of President Richard Milhous Nutkin.

So what's up with Squirrel Reform, anyway? In a nation where states are officially considered "blue" (for Democratic) or "red" (for Republican), just where do the Greys fit in?

I believe the party is trying to push a simple agenda that includes these reforms:

1. Campaign contribution overhaul: Donations of nuts shall be restricted only during the autumn months, and limited to a maximum of one bushel per voting household.
2. No political stumping whatsoever. In fact, no stumps at all. Trees are to remain intact in order to house the maximum number of squirrel families.
3. No vicious chattering about the opposition.
4. Digging up - and then reburying - all those nasty political rumors

Just think about it: If they succeed (which may not be such a bad outcome, if you think about it), our nation may end up in even more of a race for the Nut House.

13 May 2008

Don't be so scaredy, squirrel

He's afraid of everything - strangers, the great outdoors, crossing streets, and especially germs. But there's one thing Scaredy Squirrel (from the book series of the same name) is not afraid of -- public speaking.
In fact, through his stories and adventures, the frightened little rodent speaks eloquently to a generation of children who have become enamored of the books that feature him as their petrified protagonist. (He even asks readers of his first book to please wash their hands before handling the pages - yes, he is THAT afraid of catching something!)
Somehow, in the end, things always work out for Scaredy Squirrel: He realizes the world is not so horrible as it seems, and the threats that are out there, imperiling his very life and breath, are not nearly as formidable as he originally thought.
These gentle, good-humored books are flying off the shelves (perhaps a tribute to Scaredy's status as a flying squirrel) and have been given honors from the publishing world.
Scaredy Squirrel clearly has no fear of success. Quite the contrary: He's enjoying it (as is his human creator) - and he deserves it.

12 May 2008

Life imitates squirrels

Researchers have done a fine job in discerning the clever and resourceful survival tactics of certain ground squirrels out West: These small creatures fool their predators by adopting the predators' own scent (in this case, the predators are snakes) by chewing on their discarded skins and then licking their own fur.
They thus saturate themselves with Eau de Slithering Viper, or some other life-sustaining cologne. And snake smell is, to them, the very breath of life.
Corporate America, I guess, is no different. The company where I work (no stranger to snakes of its own, by the way) has been sold twice in six months - not a very happy prospect for a person such as myself, concerned about job security and the future.
But I am not the only one, it seems, feeling preyed upon. Our most senior executives apparently have been taking their cues from the invaders. Not long after we were acquired by an eccentric tycoon with a penchant for dressing in worn bluejeans, our ultra-conservative top executive started trading his Brooks Brothers finery for open, tie-less shirts and a lot more of the "slouchy" look.
I couldn't help but think of the snakes and the squirrels. (Of course, our top exec didn't chew on the billionaire tycoon's skin, so far as I know, and then lick himself all over. But he did adopt his sartorial "skin," nonetheless.)
All in all, I would rather work for a company owned by squirrels than by snakes. At the very least, you know that benevolent rodent ownership will permit, if not encourage you to store more than a few nuts in your pension plans for the lean years ahead.
And thus, save your own skin against the toughest predator of all - the economy.

11 May 2008

A tree expresses its "inner squirrel"

Squirrels and chainsaws are not usually a happy pairing. Oftentimes someone takes a chainsaw to a tree, and a squirrel is left homeless or worse - a nesting family is dislodged, a mother squirrel displaced or injured and likewise, the babies injured or killed.

So this happy story, about a carver in the UK, a chainsaw-wielding maestro, if you will, is a heartening bit of reality from the Hereford Times:


I like the fact that Harry Thomas can whip out his chainsaw and have squirrels appear, instead of disappear. And I like the fact that he creates his squirrel sculptures out of wood (hopefully not displacing any squirrels who lived in the redwood trees from which he gets his raw material.)

Red squirrels carved out of redwood? It seems a natural pairing. Squirrels are arboreal, after all.

Now here in the States, maybe someone can follow Thomas' example and carve pine squirrels out of trees from the pine forest and black squirrels perhaps from the wood of the black maple.

Ah, but the real challenge is this: What do you create a chipmunk from? WOOD CHIPS??