27 February 2008

A break to liven things up

After sadness, a bit of lightness for which I have to thank my good neighbor to the north, Poetikat. She has tagged me ever so gently with this friendly 4x4 meme, and I dutifully respond, with the same enthusiasm in which a squirrel retrieves a precious tossed pecan:


1. In an era well before MS Word and such software toys as "mail merge" I typed names and addresses on envelopes. And then on more envelopes and more envelopes and then....on address labels. And then on more envelopes. And more envelopes. (Well, you get the idea. I typed 95 words a minute, most of it accurately, so the envelopes and labels just kept piling up awaiting my handiwork.) Oh and did I mention, more envelopes?

2. I was also a radio advertising copywriter and producer, at a small market radio station that was situated, strangely enough, only a mile or two from where I am now living. Clients requiring original (and hopefully humorous) copy included a small independent grocer, a place that sold sewing machines and, yes, even a neighborhood farm stand. (For that commercial, I had the announcer read my highly descriptive copy while attempting to eat a juicy ear of freshly steamed corn on the cob. It left the studio a mess of cobs and kernels.)

3. Shoveling horse poop. The less said about this the better. Use your imagination. I did not do this for remuneration (or re-MANURE-ation, as the case may be) but in exchange for riding lessons.

4. Newspaper copy editor. (See previous item with reference to shoveling huge quantities).


Sorry but I must pass on this part of the meme. I don't watch TV, either recorded or unrecorded.


1. I was in Dallas, Texas, in 1979 to attend a national newspaper conference and while there visited the site where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I also now know why I am a devoted northeasterner. I could never stand the heat down there, even without the humidity.

2. I have been to Chicago, Illinois a couple of times - the last time, it was to attend the wedding of a friend who lives and works there. I like the fact that, unlike Manhattan, it is cosmopolitan in a midwestern way and infinitely more navigable by car.

3. I went to Montreal during the 1980s and had a great time staying in a hotel that was run by students who were training in the hospitality industry. I felt like I could be the lousiest guest and I would be doing them a great service because they would work hard to earn an "A" - pleasing the most curmudgeonly of guests. In the end, however, I turned out to be a most agreeable guest. My plans to make trouble were shattered by an unbearable sense of guilt over my intentions.

4. I have also been to Hell and back. At least this week. Our employer is in the midst of having buyouts and layoffs. (OK, maybe this location doesn't count, particularly for readers who don't believe in Hell. So let me also say I have been to Lewes, Delaware for the annual migration of the shorebirds along the Atlantic Coast. They stop in the area known as the "DelMarVa" peninsula to feed on the horseshoe crabs and it is a wonder to behold, even if you are not a birder.)


1. Scottish or steel-cut oatmeal. Yum. I'll eat this for breakfast in the morning, even in the heat of July. Serve it to me with sliced bananas and a cup of coffee and I will follow you home.

2. Any vegetarian Indian food. Samosas. Dosas. Anything with paneer. And oh my God, anything with dal.

3. Natural chunky peanut butter on a toasted pumpernickel bagel. I will run you over using a bulldozer, without a second thought, if you stand between me and this favorite lunch.

4. Foods with pumpkin. Pumpkin filled ravioli. Chunks of pumpkin over Afghani rice. The pumpkin-sweet potato soup I make in my own kitchen. I think I want to turn into a pumpkin.

OK, I am done!

22 February 2008

Goodbye, little one

I never got to see the squirrel but, by two accounts, she was about a week old.

A rescuer phoned today reporting that he'd found a baby squirrel a couple of days ago and was seeking placement and proper care. He was hopeful I'd be the one to take the baby: He'd been given my name by a wildlife group which, unfortunately, didn't tell him that because of my full-time job and the newborns' high maintenance, I can't take any in.

Or perhaps that was fortunate: Because I at least had the name of a rehabber he could call - someone who not only rehabs newborn squirrels well but has an incubator and a full service nursery for them. He immediately called her and took the squirrel there.

The squirrel, which turned out to be a little female, died within an hour of his handing her over. Perhaps she had grown too chilled at one point earlier and never recovered fully from that dangerous loss of body heat. Perhaps it was the delayed aftereffects of prolonged exposure after she was orphaned but before she was brought indoors.

We will never know. I do know the instant I heard he had found someone to take her - and drove the baby there - I felt hope. An hour and a half later, I crashed when I heard the news. I thought that maybe, just maybe, today I could help save the life of one of the first newborn squirrels of the 2008 "spring baby" season.

I've been down this road before on the rare occasion I have had any newborns in my care for any period of time. They are fragile beings. They are born with everything they need to grow into perfect squirrels within a matter of weeks, but an interruption in their life - a fall from a tree, or being orphaned - challenges their realization of that destiny.

The photo on this page is not a photo of her - but it might as well be. I took this photo about 8 or 9 years ago after another rehabber stopped off at my house to show me the newborn she had just picked up. We did a very quick photo shoot (I had never seen a newborn squirrel before) and then she headed home.

This photo stands as one of many reminders that life is precious and fragile. In this photo he is pink and still breathing, the image of a viable newborn etched forever. But the baby in this photo didn't make it either. He died only hours later.

21 February 2008

Happy endings and humility

There's nothing like being bested by a rodent or two to instill, or reinforce, one's humility.

Alaskan journalist, Richard Chiappone, tells of the philosophical war he had with his wife recently about the presence of the non-rent-paying tenants living the life of Martha Stewart under the roof of their cabin. She was pro-squirrel; he was anti.

Suspicious of their propensity toward chewing wires and wreaking other kinds of havoc, he set about displacing him. (Disclaimer: No squirrels were harmed in any of these acts.) The surprise ending is somewhat of a happy one (at least for the squirrels and his wife).

Here's the link. The narrative is a little like a squirrel tail itself - somewhat long and of course luxuriously bushy. But trust me, you will be glad you read whole thing.


20 February 2008

Social climbers

Inspired by having seen far too many cars on the road bearing the boastful bumper sticker, "This car climbed Mount Washington," I would like to suggest a certain bumper sticker for a certain squirrel in our yard.

"This squirrel climbed our storm door."

How he does it (and yes, it is a male) I do not know. That outside door, leading to the deck on the eastern side of our house, is pure smooth metal and glass. And unless this is the world's first rodent to have suction cups instead of claws affixed to the ends of his digits, I am baffled at where he comes by this talent.

He does this regularly and hangs there, looking in. Often he does this just as I'm settling down for my beloved breakfast of Scottish oatmeal with sliced banana. Or my lunch of chunky peanut butter on a toasted pumpernickel bagel. Or sometimes if I'm just having my coffee and reading whatever book I happen to be immersed in.

He disrupts me with his steely-eyed glare, delivered from a gravity-defying 6 feet on high, a climb miraculously achieved solely to fulfill his aim to manipulate through guilt: feed me. Feed me. Feed me again.

His appetite holds me hostage. So too does his athleticism and cuteness.

Today he was in position again, toward the very top of the door, staring in at me just as I started rinsing the dishes after lunch. Only this time, he had company - another squirrel was now hanging on the opposite side of the door.

Looks like I'll have to buy twice as many bags of nuts next time I go shopping.

And a second bumper sticker.

17 February 2008

As American as apple pie

To some folks, there's nothing like apple pie, backyard barbecue, hot dogs and hamburgers to symbolize good old American cuisine. My vegetarian sensibilities have trouble with some of this, of course, but I am willing to accept them as part of our national culture. Some of my best friends do, after all, suffer from burger breath.

Much has been made lately of presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee's predilection toward collegiate squirrel-eating. Debates, jokes - and even a few recipes- have been added to the public verbal fray. One of the more recent entries into the dialectic is posted below, and was written to the Boston Globe, which posted it on their web site, boston.com

MIKE HUCKABEE, in my opinion an honorable man, has been ridiculed for eating fried squirrel while in college. This is better than smoking dope, swallowing goldfish, or stuffing people in phone booths. There was a time when squirrel was a mainstay in the diets of the Founders, who, at great risk of life and fortune, defended the principles upon which our nation was established.

I come from a part of the country where squirrel was common fare to the family of a hard-working coal miner. I now live in a part of the country where many people still eat squirrel. Some of us also eat rabbit, venison, frog legs, gator tail, catfish, and even a bite or two of rattlesnake every once in a while. We also are willing to defend the principles upon which our beloved nation was founded

I find it interesting that this fellow equates squirrel-consumption with patriotism. I thought our nation's colors were red, white and blue - not gray and red. I am getting a whole new take on civics from this New Englander's letter to the newspaper.

So I will keep this in mind as our nation celebrates Presidents' Day on Monday, a federal holiday on which Americans give thought not just to the men who kept our country strong in years past, but those who, like Huckabee, aspire to lead our nation toward a brighter future.

In Huckabee's case, not so much brighter - but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I shudder at the very thought.

11 February 2008

Let's talk politics

The presidential election just got way too squirrelly for me.

A Wall Street Journal article about GOP candidate Mike Huckabee - already not the favorite on my list - recaps a recent TV interview Huckabee had with journalist Tim Russert. The interview concluded with a query about the now-famous "squirrel-eating episode" that capped Huckabee's collegiate days.

Here's an excerpt from the WSJ article:

Was it true, he asked the Republican contender, that he had fried squirrel in a popcorn popper in college? Mr. Huckabee confirmed his prior squirrel consumption but appeared to back away from defending the flavor. “It’s not the best thing in the world,” and doesn’t really taste like chicken, he conceded.

I realize there are regional and cultural differences in this world, even in this nation, when it comes to our choices for ingestion, and I also realize I'm at a disadvantage here as a vegetarian - but I also believe it's a big world and people have free choice.

But why in the 20th century with supermarkets, farm stands and the like would a presumably civilized person do this - with a popcorn popper no less?

I suppose we should be grateful he is in a political career and didn't pursue a culinary one. If he had morphed into the male Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray a lot of us would have had to head for the hills.

Still, I don't know what is in worse taste - the way he felt about squirrel or the way I feel about his candidacy.

10 February 2008

The color of spring's squirrels

At about this time of year, when we are halfway through winter, people start thinking that soon they'll be trading snow's white for spring's green. At least that's how it is here in the Northeast.

In Brevard, N.C., however, folks stick with white, right up through May. And it's not because of unseasonally late snow storms.

This is the fifth year of that community's White Squirrel Festival. I've never been to it - in fact I have never even been to a Gray Squirrel Festival or a Black Squirrel Festival - but you can be sure the whole town goes (appropriately) nuts.

What's extra nice is that this year's festival is occurring within the Chinese New Year of the Rodent (or the Rat, to be more precise).

For some squirrels, it doesn't get much better than this!

05 February 2008

Groundhog envy??

As the great entertainer, Jimmy Durante, used to say "everybody wants to get into the act."

An excerpt from the web site, news.scotsman.com, below - and this sweet photograph above, which appeared there - has me convinced that Groundhog envy is all the rage. The web site reports that this squirrel, a souslik, is a prognosticating Eurasian ground squirrel valued by the local zoo.

And you can easily see why this little creature is prized. Apparently too, like so many of the souslik's American cousins, it is also threatened with a shrinking population.

Here is the excerpt from the article that accompanied the photo:

Edinburgh Zoo's resident weather experts are a family of European sousliks, a type of ground squirrel and close relatives of the groundhog.And on Saturday the animals decided it was too cold to even emerge from their burrow – which is being taken as a sign the recent cold snap is set to continue.The US is also in for a long winter after Punxsutawney Phil, which featured in the hit movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, emerged on Saturday and saw his shadow.

Edinburgh's version might not attract crowds as large as those that gather in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every year. But Graham Catlow, animal department manager at Edinburgh Zoo, said the sousliks' predictions would become a regular attraction."We've had them for 18 months, but I don't think anyone was really aware of this last year," he said. "This year the weather was just too cold so they decided to stay in bed, which is probably a pretty good sign that we are in for some more bad weather."

02 February 2008

Six more weeks of winter!

Punxsutawney Phil has spoken.

OK, he's a cousin, not a conventional "squirrel," and his meteorological message was interpreted by humans, rather than transmitted by from word-of-rodent-mouth delivery. But he has told us six more weeks of winter and we obedient humans had best bundle up for the duration.

Groundhog Day finds its roots in old German tradition but its draw has somehow survived, and flourished, in the New World. Out west, we now have Prairie Dog
Day, honoring yet another squirrel cousin - this one, an endangered variety.

Does anyone suspect that the manufacturers of winter outerwear perhaps sponsor these Groundhog Day events, a true celebration of winter, with each outerwear company bribing their own local prognosticators (we have them in New York too), hoping to make a killing in late-season parka and snow boot sales?

Nah. Me neither. I'm cynical but I'm not quite that jaded. Not yet anyway.

I think it's great that this tradition endures, and has even evolved into something new in the western states - a plea for prairie dog preservation. This turns an old European superstition about a big burrowing squirrel into a plea for environmental awareness out West and protection of an imperiled animal.

Meanwhile, it's still winter. And it will be for a while. But we can look forward to a bright new season nonetheless, one of Increased Squirrel Awareness coming out of the shadows.