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.