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.