19 December 2009

The other blizzard

The discovery of a rare white squirrel in Massachusetts has made news, just as another white blizzard - of a meteorological nature - is grabbing headlines up and down the East Coast.

As easterners brace for the first major snowstorm of the season - a pre-Christmas one, at that - the Whitman, Mass., area is celebrating the winter white squirrel who has been gracing their trees and their yards.

Unlike the weather, this white marvel's arrival could not have been predicted. And unlike the weather, this squirrel will not require use of shovels or snow blowers. There'll be no icing of sidewalks. No cancellation of schools, meetings, shows or appointments.

All that's needed to do right by this sudden appearance of winter white is to sit back, enjoy and throw nuts.

That's nature's holiday gift to Whitman, Mass. Who'd want to exchange a gift like that?

10 December 2009

And a little squirrel shall lead them

Our planet was not quite poised for World War II at the time Hollywood sent these squirrels out onto the nation's movie screens to carry the message of peace. The apocalyptic vision they share in this video is no less potent because of its animated format.

And forgive the twist on a biblical reference I have given the title of this post: The concept of peace on earth makes as much sense in the secular realm as the spiritual.

Please devote 8 minutes to watching this video. Yes, it's a cartoon and yes, the main characters are squirrels, but this vintage MGM video is so much more.

Even now, so many decades later, animals - real and animated - still have much to teach us.


MGM Cartoon 1939 Peace On Earth
Uploaded by shawshawshaw. - Sitcom, sketch, and standup comedy videos.

06 December 2009

Of walnuts, acorns and mandolins

The magic of the holiday season has turned a tiny squirrel into something bigger than a rock star:

There he is, at the end of this 30-second commercial for Garmin GPS devices, standing solidly center screen, moving and grooving as he strums the strings of a tiny mandolin.

He shares his brief moment of fame in this commercial spot with other fantasy creations: leprechauns running a marathon and a knight in shining armor behind the wheel of a very suburban-looking station wagon. It's not likely you'll see the likes of these on your neighborhood streets.

This squirrel has captured the imagination of almost anyone who's seen him. Who knows? He might even get fan letters along with a few Christmas cards.

And so a Garmin GPS device has helped guide us into a formerly unmapped territory this season: A landscape in which squirrels can be music makers, working their tiny instruments as if they'd become enchanted walnuts given voice with strings.

25 November 2009

Gratitude - or attitude?

On the eve of Thanksgiving, this is for the reddish-tinted mother squirrel who comes to our back door, sits on the door handle, and peers in with those beautiful, high-powered eyes of hers until our door opens and the pecan feast is dispensed, much to her liking.
This is for the little gray female squirrel nearly torn apart last autumn by a predator, who came into my care, healed slowly with the help of a determined veterinarian, and was released into the wild this past spring.
This is for "Stevie Wonder," a squirrel born with no eyes nearly 8 years ago, who can never go back to the trees, but still thrives unaware that he is somehow different.
This is for "Snaggletooth," the adult female squirrel in our yard who was a regular visitor and lived a good life despite the huge incisor growing oddly through the front of her face.

This is for "Mister Tilty," who is rotund and off balance but can scrap run like the wind - and holds his own at back-door begging with the rest of them.
And this is for the three young squirrels in the pre-release pen outdoors who are here today only because three strangers bothered to halt their lives long enough to notice at the suffering on the ground by their feet - and decided to do something about it.

This is for all of them, and all the others. Rest assured, not a single one is grateful.
And rest assured - rest very assured - that does not matter to me in the least.
video

16 November 2009

The unseen


The squirrels are out there. Like their other compatriots in the wild community, they are born, they grow out of infancy and many die – perhaps instantly, or perhaps after a painful lingering – without humans ever taking note.

It is no doubt a reality that most wild creatures similarly cycle through their lives without any human to bear witness. The laws of nature that govern their precious, precarious time on earth, after all, require no human consent, nor do they even require human participation.

This is legislation immutable by any vote.

And what of situations outside the laws of nature? Hit by car. Mauled by cat. Trapped in chimney or attic. Unconscious after a plummet from a tree. Death as a result of an unrelentingly virulent pox.

Here, nature steps aside as humans transform the scene – either as cause of the distress, or as rescuer from its clutches. Suffering, no longer invisible, gains a face, possessing eyes that radiate with pain. And so rehabbers and vets do their best. So do well-meaning passers-by, who intervene at curbside with the shelter of a cardboard box, the comfort of an old T-shirt, the power of their compassion and prayers.

We cannot see them all. We cannot save them all. But for all of them, and especially for all of those we shall never know, we wish them mercy.

12 November 2009

Almost

In an animal's world of life and death, there is a fine line between almost and certain. I nearly crossed that line this morning.

My eyes caught a flash of gray too near to my tires on a rainy sidestreet and the good graces of German-made brakes, and my own still-responsive reflexes, kept me on the merciful side of that fine line. There was no impact. A life spared.

Still, I pulled over. I had to be sure by seeing the squirrel's face. I had to look into the eyes that, seconds ago, had been as terrified as mine still were.

I would see reassurance there. And I did. Briefly. All I saw after that was a scampering, spark-like, the flame of life still lit.

All I saw was the quickening of small feet followed by a tail, up the side of a stockade fence. I had not crossed that fine line, at least not in the rainy world of life and death this morning.

I exhaled and wiped my palms on my jeans, shifting back into drive. I went forward, following the squirrel's example.

09 November 2009

Wiser than the owls

The acceptable, almost universal symbol of wisdom, drawn from wildlife, has almost always been the owl. Sage and wide-eyed, this bird seems to know it all, except perhaps for its only unanswered life question, which it asks perpetually: "WHO?"



It is time, however, to retire the owl with a new symbol of sagacity.
I hereby nominate the squirrel. Squirrels are known to owls simply as their lunch.
Some of the rest of us know better:

In Miami, Fla., a former school counselor writes in an online column of The Herald, that Stubby, a mother squirrel she has been observing for some time, is a model mother. With respect to the four babies Stubby has been raising, she knows when to nurture and when to let go.

A photo of Mama Stubby shows her to be wiry and wide-eyed, a tiny creature whose physically small brain is obviously crammed full of common sense, survival strategy and yes, wisdom. She is a generous, loving spirit who wants the best for her litter, even if it comes down to tough love. And Mama Stubby, in the urban jungle that is Miami, is making a go of it.

This counselor writes eloquently of the lessons this squirrel has for humans raising youngsters under similar circumstances, lessons of freedom and of faith, of love and of vigilance. And also for getting on with her own life as a squirrel - gathering nuts for winter, preparing for the season ahead and yes, the inevitable winter breeding cycle that begins sometime after Christmas. Stubby will, you see, become a mother again in the spring if the fates are kind.

Perhaps the owl's sole unanswered question is not so perplexing after all, not on issue of wisdom. The still-wise old bird may ask: "WHO?"

Who indeed? No question: Mama Stubby, and all the squirrels.

08 November 2009

Big brother squirrel is watching

The Employee of the Month, Student of the Month, Book of the Month and even the Fruit of the Month all have some pretty formidable competition these days:

It's the Squirrel of the Month, a popular and longstanding feature in a West Coast community newspaper called (what else?) The Acorn.



This month's honoree, whose portrait is displayed proudly, is a sweet-faced fellow who, according to the caption, is frequently seen gazing into the window of a local dentist's office. (Making his living by gnawing, of course, the squirrel would have a natural curiosity about someone who makes a living tending to the hard-working teeth of others. Perhaps he was looking for a rodentist?)

The delightful squirrel, looking in, is no doubt aware that a camera lens was looking back out at him. So the dentist was watching the squirrel watching him, and the squirrel was watching the dentist watching him.

Surveillance was never so much fun. Rodent paparazzi rejoice! What could be better?

Squirrel of the Week? Hmmmm.....

06 November 2009

Grief casts its spell

It's funny what grief can do to people, particularly when it's grief over an animal. Grief softens the hard edges of human society. Grief blurs the distance between the animal and human worlds.


Grief leaves a wanting that won't go away.

This is how a small town in Surrey, England is in mourning. A week ago the people of the town lost something rare and much-loved - a white squirrel the townsfolk had adopted and named Snowy - when, in a tragic act of fate that befalls so much wildlife, he died after being struck by a car.

So deep and sorrowful was this town's communal cry that the BBC noted it in its daily news report.

"A little light has gone out," said the local woman who arranged for the squirrel to be buried in the yard outside the local church. She said Snowy deserved a final rest with dignity. The squirrel's death, she added, "has taken some magic away from our lives."

She may be wrong about that, however: For a town to grieve as this one does for a squirrel, and for a sacred space to be reserved in a church yard for an animal who lived with such grace and beauty - and who inspired such love and loyalty - is magic too.

A spritely little light may have indeed been snuffed out by a careless driver in a small British town, but Snowy's existence, however brief, burns brightly still for all who remember and will share his story from this moment forward. And for all who may visit his grave.

The magic lives on.

29 October 2009

Flick or treat?

Halloween? What's that?


Trick or treaters are hardly a big deal to people who have little gray customers coming to their back (or front) doors 365 days a year. These are the folks accustomed to keeping a stash of squirrel goodies at the ready at the sound of hard nails on the windows, or someone body-slamming the door. (They haven't yet learned to use the doorbells, but give them time!)

So along comes this story from the Whitman College Pioneer , a student newspaper in Washington State. Goofy costumes are the campus standard for the holiday this year and apparently one fellow even dressed up as a squirrel for the annual festivities.

But goofy? Are squirrels really goofy?

I would think that the Sciurus Anti-Defamation League might take exception to that. A bushy tail is hardly an amusing physical feature! Squirrels are the architects of forests, after all, and can scale trees faster than Tarzan can. However, a steady diet of nuts and acorns might be considered odd, I suppose, to the meat-and-potatoes set. (Fillet of filberts, anyone?)

On the other hand, if you think of those who "flick or treat" with their tails and furry faces at your front door you have to have a modicum of respect. That's no costume - it's for real.

And - horror of horrors! - these guys are spookily serious. Just be glad squirrels (unlike vampires and werewolves) are not Creatures of the Night! So keep your treats handy and ... don't go outside your house alone on Oct. 31. Not unless you've got something in your pockets to keep the gobblin' goblins at bay.

03 October 2009

Attack of the killer acorns

If it is to be believed - and there is no reason to doubt it - acorns are obeying the law of gravity with amazing compliance and swiftness this year.


The result - abundant food for the squirrels, and an a-corn-u-copia of death, destruction and minor injuries for the hapless humans, auto windshields and other vulnerable entities that happen to be within vertical striking distance.

A report by earthweek.com indicates that this is the year for Acorns Gone Wild and that this is indicative of a Killer Winter to come.

By all accounts on this web site, it has already been a Killer Autumn - giving new meaning to the word "FALL" as it applies to the detritus from the branches above.

It could be worse, folks. Instead of acorns, these could be nuclear warheads. Or baby elephants. Or HumVees.

Let's be glad for nature's bounty, and for the fact that there are still enough trees to do what needs to be done to keep the planet in balance. Not to mention the squirrels.

For the next couple of weeks, carry an umbrella. Or, better still, wear a helmet.

20 September 2009

The World According to Squirrels

A new book by Alexandra Horowitz, "Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know," gives humans a dog's eye view of the environment as seen - or rather, sniffed - by this most olfactory of creatures. She writes that dogs are "creatures of the nose" and that their gaze is actually a gesture accomplished via the nostril, and that the input is what shapes their world.


For squirrels, it is likely no different: A squirrel's world is populated by pinecones, nuts, predator urine and, of course, other squirrels, all striking a pose via the nose. A squirrel can sniff out a nut buried beneath a foot or so of snow, which probably would be the nasal equivalent of 70/20 vision. (Fitting the nose with eyeglasses, or noseglasses, would be a challenge however to any squirrels who are olfactorially challenged.)

See this for yourself: Throw a nut or some other goodie at a squirrel and the creature will probably continue to stare at you, even with the treat barely a half-foot away. But once the squirrel catches a whiff of what you've lobbed, all bets are off.

Clearly, this is why there is no U.S.Open tennis championship for squirrels: Tennis balls don't have any distinguishing odors to make them worth pursuing.

The same for competitive diving: Swimming pools smell only of chlorine, a scent unknown to squirrels, and so squirrels also eschew competitions such as Olympic diving (although flying squirrels would likely do quite well).

Likewise, squirrels also don't play soccer or football because, unless the object of the team's pursuit is a giant hazelnut, what's the point?

And squirrels would make awful commercial pilots. Clouds don't smell, and neither do runways. Air-traffic controllers would have a hard time guiding them in to the runway without incident.

But squirrels have better insight than they do foresight or even hindsight and for them, the environment looks so much better when it's viewed nasally. It's no surprise, then that from their own treetop worlds, they're looking down their noses at us!

03 September 2009

You can't see the squirrel for the trees

Barely 24 hours ago she had a name, a routine and a safe haven in our yard.
All that changed this morning when Miss Daisy was released into the wild - and into a life of anonymity.
She is, by all counts, just another eastern gray squirrel snuffling around in the soil, nibbling at leaves and fallen acorns, and testing the tree trunks for scalability. She is, by all counts, indistinguishable from any of the other squirrels out there in that vast mass of acreage. She is, by all counts, anonymous now as night falls around her.

She is not just any squirrel, however. She had been a victim of some kind of trauma in October of 2007 when her nearly immobilized form was found at the edge of our driveway. Whether she had fallen, was hit by a car, or had some other act befall her, we will never know. She was not completely conscious and she was terribly spastic. Her prognosis, according to the vet we consulted, was not a hope-filled one.

Indeed, her two year recovery was slow but encouraging. And everything about it led to this day, this morning, when her months of impatient snarls, her long, aggressive leaps and her obviously growing frustration at captivity led us to grant her wish.

Her leaps today took her to freedom. We had to be sure: She had to be steady enough for the treetops, balanced enough to navigate her world and strong enough to fight for her life.

When I walked out of the woods, I looked over my shoulder. I stopped a few times. And yes, an hour later, I went back to that same spot in the forest but she was no longer there. She had moved into the larger universe, invisible, anonymous and just another squirrel.

Just?
Don't bet on it.

24 August 2009

He loves them, yeah, yeah, yeah!

The Beatles may have sung, "I am the Walrus," in 1967 but now Sir Paul McCartney's got a solo act with a different mammal: a squirrel.

"High in the Clouds," the ex-Beatle's book for kids about a squirrel's search for a safe haven for critters, is taking a high leap onto movie screens. Wirral the squirrel, driven out of the only home he has known in the woods, goes in search of the fabled sanctuary, Animalia.

The songwriter who rocked the music scene through the 1960s and beyond is supposedly set to pen some of the soundtrack as well, as his popular book gets transformed into an animated action story.

Even without the McCartney songs, the book and forthcoming movie have already proven to be an anthem for animal-lovers around the globe: It's a simple little story about friendship and the right to feel safe in one's own home. That's no magical mystery tour. It's the right of wildlife everywhere.

Come to think of it, people too.

17 August 2009

This squirrel's da Bomb!

Goodwill ambassadors come in all shapes, sizes and yes, even species. And right now, a Canadian ground squirrel is proving to be the world's most effective diplomat, simply because he inserted himself into a now-notorious-on-the-Net photograph of a couple vacationing in Banff.

He upstages the happy, smiling husband and wife, and serves as a cheeky, toothy face of cheer and good will as he hogs the most in-focus portion of what is obviously a self-timed, carefully framed shot. Click here and you can see it.

Who can resist a squirrel with such an ego? He is a paparazzo's dream come true.

Now, of course, the PhotoShop jockeys of the world are going crazy with his image - taking the rambunctious rodent who crashed the vacation portrait and deliberately, digitally inserting him into photos. Through the magic of software, he is keeping company with everyone from politicians to scantily clad folks of dubious repute. It's called PhotoBombing! (Which brings us to Lesson #1: Never judge a squirrel by the company he keeps, particularly if he has been PhotoShopped!)

As the world embraces - and then replicates - his image, this little squirrel imparts humor and creativity, and has become a symbol of graceful adaptability, whether he is with royalty or roustabouts.

A small squirrel from Banff is taking over the world, one photo at a time. Put the squirrels in charge, I say, and let's keep the focus on them - with or without a digital camera.

09 August 2009

Power (outage) to the squirrels

The recent news reports read as if they might be part of some beastly crime wave:

In Walla Walla, Wash., a gnawing squirrel causes a power outage to 29 homes.

In Carbon County, Pa., a squirrel is blamed for a similar deprivation of electricity to that community.

And in Dayton, Ohio, a squirrel knocks out a transformer, wiping out utility service to a nearby Kmart and causing the store's evacuation.

When the stories come in clusters like this, as they often do, newscasters often feel obligated to nervously make jokes about "suicidal squirrels" or bushytail gang warfare.

But there's nothing funny about the loss of animal life - which is serious enough to those of us who care about the critters and their unnecessary deaths.
In this case, there is also a loss of power to people who might have a vital need for it, folks who may be disabled, elderly or just not able to function well at home with an interruption of service.

Even if utility companies don't seem to care whether gnawing animals electrocute themselves unwittingly on their power lines, they need to take another look at why all these squirrels, and perhaps other creatures, are dying. Whether they care for animals or not, they need to safeguard transformers and power lines better because electricity is the lifeblood of their customers too.

Now that's what you call real squirrel power!

23 July 2009

Love conquers all (if you're an acorn)

The way I see it (and I happened to see it twice so far), the movie, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," is not an animated feature designed to enchant children and get adults to chuckle.

It is not even a slick 3-D cartoon populated by an appealing array of prehistoric personalities.

"Ice Age" is a romance. Plain and simple, it is an ode to the undying affection a squirrel (even a prehistoric one, such as the protagonist Scrat) has for his acorn.


Love is lovelier, or so it seems, when this third installment of the film series introduces the conquettish Scratte. Scrappy and sultry, this long-lashed female flying squirrel quickly steals Scrat's heart - and then, quite opportunistically, his acorn too.

It is then that the passionate embrace turns into what is known in the world of professional wrestling as the Full Nelson.

Had Romeo and Juliet been squirrels, the battle between the Capulet and Montague families would have had nothing on the fur that would fly when these young lovers squared off over an acorn.

Had Greek mythology's Orpheus and Eurydice possessed bushy tails instead of flowing robes, Eurydice - daughter of Apollo and herself an oak nymph - would have been no match for the mighty kernel that springs from, and gives rise to, the mighty oak. Her grieving, newly widowed husband, Orpheus, would sooner see his late wife descend into Hades itself than to endure any sort of living hell on earth without his acorn.

And so the heart of the next generation of trees holds a special place in the heart of each and every squirrel.

Love is what you make it. And like the acorn itself it, too, can be a tough nut to crack.

13 July 2009

The price of compassion


An electronic dispatch from the China News carries a story about the tragic death of a Sri Lankan man. He died of head injuries suffered after a fall inside his well.

What makes this especially tragic is that his death was the direct result of a selfless act, an act of compassion.

The man had been cleaning his 60-foot-deep well when he saw a squirrel fall into the water from above. The squirrel had been on an overhanging branch and apparently lost either balance or footing. In what was to become an ill-fated act of concern, good-will and compassion, the man climbed back down into the well and scooped up the little squirrel, saving the animal's life.

His next act is perhaps what sealed his fate: He put the small creature, for safekeeping, into his pocket to make it easier to carry him back up. But the squirrel bit him - frightened, no doubt, by his sudden captivity. And that is when the man lost his grip and plummeted to his death.

There are no words to express how truly tragic this is. The loss of good people always diminishes life on this planet for every one of us, and this is surely the case here.

Sadder still is how the news service chose to characterize this story: It is carried under the publication's banner of "ODD NEWS."

I did not know that compassion and selflessness were considered odd nowadays, and I am sorrier still that it reduces this man's sacrifice - the ultimate sacrifice, it turns out - to nothing more than that.

08 July 2009

Wilderness

Knoelle is in the trees now. At least I hope that's where she is.

She came into our care last September, a sickly, scarred, cat-attacked juvenile squirrel, found by some caring people at the barn where I ride. And with steady veterinary care and a remarkable spirit of her own, she eventually healed.

She grew. She thrived. She began to look out the windows of the little rehab clinic where we kept her and, no doubt, a longing for the wild, the place where she was born, stirred.

Springtime came. She cracked nuts, gnawed on a variety of things in her pen, buried edible treasures where she could, and her coat - her whole body - filled out. Her identity as a wild squirrel grew more certain as her gaze grew from docile to untamed.

When I set her free in the woods early yesterday morning, a piece of my heart went with her into the anonymous mass of trees. I confess: I did not want to let her go. Not this poor sickly baby, as I still remembered her. Not this delicate, brave young animal.

But she had come such a long distance from last September's chance at cheating death. She'd grown healthy and hardy and was owed this rightful completion of her journey.

And so I carried her small cage back out of the woods - this time, empty. And Knoelle carried forward with her life - and may it always be full.

I don't suppose even in the arcane language of squirrels, the lexicon contains an equivalent of "goodbye."

Perhaps that is best.

02 July 2009

Putting a baby squirrel upfront

One of the latest videos making the rounds on the Internet is that of an ample-bosomed woman wearing a low-cut tank top - and this time, it's not in connection with the latest porn offering on the Net. The woman's face is deliberately obscured to protect her privacy: She is being questioned by police in Ohio as a potential witness to a crime.

The law enforcement angle is not, however, what is making Internet news and causing all those visitors' hits to the site. The drawing card is the appearance of a baby squirrel, popping in and out of her monumental mountain range of cleavage.

This squirrel-in-a-bra has become mother nature's answer to the jack-in-the-box.

To rehabbers, the reason behind the squirrel's mammary mansion is no secret. Women who care for wildlife and are blessed with hospitably sized bustlines often make use of these physiological nooks and crannies to keep infant wildlife warm, particularly if the baby is at an age when thermoregulation - the ability to maintain one's own body temperature - is still a challenge.

However, many rehabbers also practice a form of modesty and prudence - they may house the baby squirrel (or some other species there) but they don't let it all (and the squirrel) hang out. For one thing, it attracts attention. For another, the animal can fall out. It just isn't safe.

I cannot imagine what possessed this particular display except perhaps that the woman had no other place to leave the squirrel while she went in for interrogation.

Her heart was obviously in the right place. Unfortunately, in this instance, her squirrel was not.

24 June 2009

When fear spreads, like a pox

Red squirrels in Scotland are dying.

So says this report in the Scotsman which rightfully points a finger at the eastern grey squirrels - members of the non-native species who never asked for transport across the Atlantic but, nonetheless, are there. And with them is a lethal form of pox that, once it seizes its victim, kills over a period of weeks.

The greys are considered carriers - not victims themselves - because they appear to have some measure of immunity.

It is particularly tragic to see this small red squirrel, much loved in its native United Kingdom, immortalized by Beatrix Potter, destroyed by this highly virulent strain. It is sadder still that a distant cousin is responsible (even inadvertently) for the annihilation.

Britain's response to these awful deaths is not a much better antidote - it amounts to a different kind of pox. One called fear.

Officials have been calling for some time for the trapping, killing and otherwise wiping-out of the grey population.


There have been epidemics of human diseases in the past, ones that will go unnamed here, but these diseases too have been tied to certain populations of people, with hatred, fear, violence and other means also considered as antidotes, or measures of prevention.

Whether the violence suggested is directed at a human or an animal target it is still, unquestionably, genocide.

Can't science find a better way?

21 June 2009

The nuisance factor

Much is made, in newspaper articles and even in general discussion, about squirrels' ability to be exactly where they aren't wanted. In attics. Raiding bird-feeders. In the middle of a busy street. At the back door, begging.

It is socially acceptable, sanctioned and at times even encouraged to make them targets of our hostility or - worse. We can only feel sorry for the person who has never felt the rush of having been acknowledged, or even recognized as a sucker, by a squirrel accustomed to seeing them with a few tasty handouts in the garden or the park. These are the same people who have likely elevated Road Rage to one of the major martial arts.

Imagine for a moment, though, if we were to harness this nuisance-avoidance trait that is so uniquely human, and use it for more practical purposes: Consider, if you will, the workplace nuisance: There is the oversolicitous or overbearing boss, the unendingly chatty or curious colleague, even the phone, possessed by a perpetual motion ringtone that will not stop ringing? Imagine the consumer market, then, for some of these must-have products: A boss-sized Hav-a-Hart "humane" trap (or leg-hold trap for the seriously obnoxious). How about predator-proof work stations that throw the interloper off balance by being counterweighted (like some so-called squirrel-proof bird feeders). Imagine seeing your supervisor one moment coming over to badger you, and in an instant, seeing him or her flung across the room, airborne, and not sure why.

Let's not forget the curious colleague who has come to peck at your luncheon sandwich or salad. That's nothing a little hot pepper won't cure. (This well-touted garden remedy is presumably the last resort before folks resort to fox urine, but this alternate method doesn't lend itself readily to inclusion in a bag lunch.)

There is a world of potential in this new market. While some choose to make their money repelling squirrels, and encouraging others to do so (by purchasing their products, of course), I say: Let's go after the real nuisance culprits. They walk on two legs, and they are around us - everywhere.

11 June 2009

Back to reality

The work week resumed this morning with about 10 to 15 squirrels at the back door, waiting to devour handout pecans and all of my attention. There were also the pre-release squirrels out back in the outdoor pen to be tended to, and the few remaining ready-to-go young adults in their cages indoors.

And about 70 miles east of here, in a small veterinary hospital on Long Island's East End, a small hit-by-car squirrel succumbed overnight to his injuries. We'd called him Shelter Island Shelly when we found him yesterday during a bicycling trip on beautiful Shelter Island, a place of peace, redolent with blooming primrose.



But I will not be returning, as planned, to pick him up later this week to care for him until his release back into the wild. His journey is over.

We surely tried. There were four of us yesterday who came upon him lying on the pavement, and each one did our part. And even as we held his body in our arms, we also cradled his fragile existence. If intention alone were all that was necessary in this world to save any life, the odds were unquestionably in his favor.

In the end, there were forces greater and more powerful than our own that held his life too.

Meanwhile, there are still squirrels at the back door awaiting - no, demanding- the next round of handouts. And there are pre-release squirrels still in my care waiting to get on with their lives in the next few weeks.

And they will. We do what we can, but we can only do that - nothing more.

10 June 2009

Shelter Island Shelly


This is not a blog post so much as it is a prayer. It is being written for a small squirrel found lying in the road bed on an otherwise peaceful, quiet street on a place called Shelter Island, a countrified refuge that fits neatly between the North and South Forks of Long Island.

There were four of us today, on a visit together to Shelter Island, who found this squirrel. It was during a midweek break that was a gift for ourselves, a day of cycling and sight-seeing, an oasis of time we had carved out from our various trying work schedules.

We saw birds, we saw houses, we saw shrubs, flowers and even cacti. It wasn't even clear to me that there would even be squirrels to see at all on Shelter Island. It is, after all, an island. And squirrels can only swim so far from the suburban mainland.

But as we rode, each hopping, scampering, climbing squirrel in sequence caught our eye. We even remarked on the blessed absence of roadkill. And then we saw the small body lying still in the road. But no, not completely still. The squirrel was breathing. And there was a little blood around the nose, which suggested a fall or recent impact of some kind with a passing vehicle.

From that point forward there was no debate among ourselves: We wrapped the squirrel in one of the pullovers we had been carrying on this chilly day, and using cell-phones and GPS (thank you, Age of the Internet), rode off with the little patient as passenger in a basket of one of the two rented bicycles. When we lost our way - racing against the clock now, and against a roadmap we didn't really know - a kind man driving a pickup truck from a local masonry company responded to our distress when we flagged him down: He drove the four of us, our bicycles, and the wounded squirrel back to the right side of down, delivering us right to the door of the bike shop, and then we caught the ferry just in time to bring the squirrel to the one area vet that was still open.

We decided on the name Shelter Island Shelly. That is probably the only say we may have in his fate, however. The vet is holding him overnight on the mainland, after confirming there might be neurologic damage. I am to check with her tomorrow.

There is something about being in the right place at the right time. We were originally planning to make this trip on another day. On our way back, we were thinking of turning left, and back tracking along a familiar return route to town, rather than opting for the road that led us to the squirrel. And then the sympathetic soul in the truck came along. And the animal hospital didn't close until 6:30 - we arrived about 10 minutes before closing time.

I don't know if Shelter Island Shelly will recover but at least for tonight, I know this small animal won't be left for dead on a beautiful country road as the night turns cold.

30 May 2009

"I Pledge Allegiance To The Nest"

In Port Huron, Michigan, just outside Detroit, Mount Hope Cemetery administrators are keeping watch over a very different kind of grave robber.

This is no dance macabre, evoking black-cloaked perpetrators involved in midnight mausoleum break-ins and coffin crackings: In fact if anything is being cracked in between these wanton acts of daylight thievery, it is likely a few pounds of hard-shelled walnuts.


Indeed, the tiny culprit has been caught - almost - grey-handed: An eastern grey squirrel was sighted swiping American flags from the final resting places of military veterans in that Detroit-area cemetery. The squirrel was then seen spiriting the flags off to the treetops where the banners became part of high-flying nests for the next generation of bushytails. Old Glory, it seems, is a perfect size for bedding that cradles good old American newborn squirrels.

Could this be nothing more than an overt act of patriotism by these small natives of American soil? For all we know, the births of their litters could be greeted by a woodland version of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

Understandably, the veterans' families and the cemetery administration are bound to be somewhat upset. Squirrels, they must be thinking, should stick to raiding birdfeeders and not graves.

But the squirrels are not desecrating these final resting places, and they mean the veterans no disrespect. Besides, if we are often exhorted to fly our flag high and with pride, it could soar no higher than in those very treetops.

24 May 2009

Squirrels show their colors


It has been a weekend of red, white and blue throughout most of the U.S., as these three days focus Americans' hearts and minds on the celebration of Memorial Day (formerly known as Decoration Day), a time to honor those who've given service to our country.

In Brevard, North Carolina, however, the colors of celebration are strictly white, white and white: May 23 and May 24 mark the city's sixth annual White Squirrel Festival, a time for showcasing music talent, athletic accomplishment, and general all-around cleverness: White squirrel photo contests and white squirrel feeder-building contests are among the challenges offered against the backdrop of this popular music festival.


Brevard pledges allegiance to its white squirrels, and that love is clearly unflagging.

To celebrate squirrels at the same time the nation celebrates the bravery and the sacrifice of our military may seem a bit of a reach but, on second glance, it is actually quite proper: Memorial Day is a time for unity, for community and for good times - and for being glad we all share in the freedom of expression that spills over into our music and crafts and our everyday activities.

Clearly that thrives in the heart of Brevard and throughout all our hearts in the rest of our nation.

18 May 2009

The poetry of squirrels


There is a fine cadence, a discernible rhythm and, to some extent, even a bit of rhyme to the way squirrels glide through the wild. There's no need to have a well-tuned ear to hear the harmony between squirrels and their trees.

The release of young squirrels back into the woods, after a winter period spent in captive rehabilitation, constitutes a higher order of poetry. It is not the poetry of simple discovery but, in this instance, rediscovery. "Aha," it says, "this is what I was born to do."


Early this morning, we released two of the four young eastern grey squirrels from one of our rehabilitated groups (the next two will be released, I hope, tomorrow). We took them into a beautiful thickly wooded park, opened the hatch and thus said, without words, "welcome home." My hope is that they are quickly becoming the newest rhyming couplet in nature.

Upon my return, I was greeted with some squirrel poetry - the written kind - that also does the species proud. Rachel Fox, an English writer living in Scotland, has penned this fitting tribute to the fleet-footed and, sadly, imperiled little gems of that nation - the red squirrel - and was moved to write these verses after one crossed her path. I share it here, with her kind permission:

It might be about squirrels
(by Rachel Fox)

So loved and treasured
Little red squirrel
So quick and bright
Like a burning jewel in the pine

Your colour is inescapable
Your appeal unmistakeable
Your fate more like debatable

12 May 2009

July 4th, in the middle of May

The red, white and blue of Independence Day is still a few weeks off. Any glance at the calendar will reaffirm the fact that firecracker aficionadoes are going to have to hang onto their incendiary devices for a little while longer.

But the grey and white of the "other" independence day is only a few days off. Four squirrels, overwintered in the outdoor pen since early autumn, are preparing for a new life of freedom in the woods. The rescuer of two of them - two little males - named all four when we paired them with an orphaned brother and sister, creating a family of 6- and 7-week-old juvenile squirrels last year. The rescuer dubbed them Carmine, Francis, Vito and Violetta. Good names, a bit operatic yes, but even as operatic names, they are true to the drama of this quartet's rescue and ultimate survival.

Weather permitting, that drama will play out later this week (or perhaps early next week) as the stage of their lives moves to a leafier, tree-filled and cageless venue.

There will be no firecrackers going off, just a quiet celebration in their hearts. And yes, mine too.

02 May 2009

Treetop twitter?


We self-satisfied humans like to take credit for inventing ever-new means of communication. "Twitter," the online microblogging sensation that's fast and friendly, allows us to indulge in semi-meaningful conversation with friends and strangers alike via short bursts of 140 characters or less.

Somewhere, I know, the squirrels are laughing at us all. They've been communicating in even shorter datastreams for thousands of years.

Humans twitter.
Squirrels chitter.

And they don't even need screen names (in their case, tree names). They don't need Internet service providers, laptops, netbooks, PDAs or even desktop computers with flat-panel screens. When they want to spread the news of the day, or get up close and personal, squirrels stamp their feet, chatter their teeth and flick their tails.

And that, to a squirrel, says it all.

Meanwhile, we humans are busy posting "tweets" and updating our status on Facebook. Not a bad preoccupation for any of us, by the way.

But ask a squirrel to tweet and you're likely to get beaned on the head with an acorn.

Who's the more evolved life form here? If you can tell me in 140 characters or less, or by stamping your feet and chittering, you may already know.

30 April 2009

Statues raise the stature of squirrels

Irish sculptor Barry Wrafter had been trying to give clarity and form to Britain's tension between the native red and interloper grey squirrels in a big way.

A very big way: Working on commission, he crafted a grey squirrel that stands 8 feet tall, and its rival red somewhat fewer feet in height. He dubbed the duo "Squirrel Quarrel," to dramatize the native reds' struggle against the encroaching Eastern Greys.

Both squirrels, however, almost became victims of another sort. After the developer who'd commissioned the work pulled out of the deal, they found themselves displaced - a not-uncommon situation for squirrels of any size or stature - and they both were facing destruction (also a not-uncommon fate for unwanted rodents).

That is, until recently. The Irish Times recently reported these two mega-squirrels have become the beneficiaries of a bit of wildlife rescue that tops them all: The 8-foot rodent and his feisty counterpart have been purchased by a couple who own an estate in Cork. Rather than be demolished by their creator, they are going to find refuge in the wilds near a castle on the couple's grounds.

The "Squirrel Quarrel" has been resolved - at least for these two statues.

Britain's simmering rivalry in its treetops, however, may have a way to go before it can reach its own happy ending quite so handily.

21 April 2009

A dose of daily genocide



A recent Associated Press story that received prominent play in Washingon State newspapers recently reported that the city's parks officials are detonating a propane-fired device to collapse the burrows of ground squirrels on the grounds of the Finch Arboretum. Officials consider these animals problematic because of destruction they are supposedly causing.

OK, let's get a few things straight here: People who visit the Finch Arboretum are nature-lovers, and supposedly so too are the folks operating the arboretum. Presumably the government stewards are themselves are respecters of all things wondrous and beautiful in nature, caretakers of the natural world who are intent on creating a kind of earth-centered cathedral that pays homage to what graces our planet.

I think not.

Enter the nuclear warhead. Or rather, enter what must seem to be the Armageddon Machine to the small creatures living underground in their world beneath Spokane. Their world is being blown to bits and they are being suffocated.

Those of us who remember the Cold War recall the "duck and cover" drills that were supposed to give us an elusive sense of security when The Bomb hit and we can only shudder at this scene. In truth, whether you ducked and covered - or not - there was nowhere to hide.

And those of us who don't remember living with the threat of the bomb from those days can still relate to the notion of sudden annihilation by some powerful nation somewhere. Simply for the crime of being on the planet and having an agenda that didn't agree with someone else's agenda.

Shame on the people of Spokane for allowing this.
And shame on anyone who continues to visit the Finch in the name of appreciating nature. Anyone who pays for an admission ticket to this place has the blood of this tiny nation of squirrels on their hands.

13 April 2009

Please don't feed the squirrels?


A recent Associated Press story reports that the state of Wisconsin is asking visitors to stop feeding squirrels at the state Capitol because children visiting the area may have peanut allergies and this puts them at risk.

Please stop now, say the officials in Madison. Please stop so that schoolkids visiting the state buildings on classroom tours don't have an allergic reaction that could kill them.

Allergies are pretty serious matters. Children and adults can die from such reactions. And the warning is definitely well-intentioned but, I fear, it is off the mark.

First of all, people should indeed stop feeding the squirrels peanuts.

Peanuts are NOT a natural food for squirrels anyway - any more than Cheez-Doodles or Pop Tarts are a "natural" food for humans. Just because a creature likes a snack doesn't mean they need to make a steady diet of it. If people insist on feeding the squirrels, a handful of walnuts will do.

But better still, feed the squirrels something more helpful: a healthy dose of wariness of humans. Why encourage friendliness in wild animals by feeding them? The humans could risk an inadvertent chomp on the hand.

And the squirrels face an even worse fate: they begin to trust humans. Especially near a government building, is this kind of trust a safe thing? These innocent squirrels are milling about in close proximity to politicians.

Picture a state lawmaker luring a squirrel over with a juicy nut, and then handing the poor creature some campaign literature! If squirrels eventually get the vote, no one in Wisconsin will ever be able to unseat their state legislator even if they wanted to! The squirrels would outvote them!

Think about it, folks! Keep squirrels wild, for democracy's sake!

04 April 2009

Briefly.....


In Britain, they're known as Y-fronts.

But in one Colorado community, they may as well be called "Y-Not?" fronts. They're squirrel underpants, something we have written about before on this blog, but never quite like this: The undersized undies have been designated as a local public radio station's prize as part of its current fundraising effort. KRCC-FM in Colorado Springs, in fact, hopes the rodent knickers, sold by a West Coast novelty company, will inspire listeners to reach deep down into their own pants.

Well, just as far down as their pockets.

Station staffers were apparently inspired to do this after taking care of a young orphaned squirrel - caretaking chores that, presumably, did not include serving as fashion consultants.

Loyal listeners who sign over more than merely peanuts will have the option of choosing the "squnderwear" or, in the alternate, a pass to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, a noble cultural institution that, according to its web site, strives "to be a cultural and economic anchor, providing innovative, world-class programming to an ever-expanding audience."

Smart money rides on the skivvies.

Remembering Nero



It could be argued he was never meant to make it, after all. And it could be argued that we were wrong for taking him in and giving him the six additional years he had, especially when, by following the laws of nature, he would likely not have had six more hours on that July day in 2003.

But we rescued the neurologic young adult squirrel from the front lawn in a nearby community after an elderly homeowner, concerned for his safety, trapped him beneath a large flower planter. And we brought "Nero" home, finding him to be gentle and charming. He was also a little loopy, owing likely to some head trauma that knocked him forever off kilter from his course in life.

He never recovered his balance and would always tip over if he got too active but he lived stress-free with us, in the company of other, healthier squirrels who would come and go over the years on their way to freedom. And he looked forward to the times we would come over to his cage offering a nut, a piece of fruit, or one of the nutritional biscuits we often feed the youngsters when they are first weaning off formula.

At night he would tuck himself in tightly - wrapping his T-shirt around him, secure in his nestbox.

He was not in there on the morning of March 31. I found him dead, quite unexpectedly, beneath the ramp of his double-decker hutch. He had already rigored. He had not been visibly ill, though the day before I did note he had a curious, somewhat glazed look in one eye. Perhaps his time was through and that long-ago head trauma caught up with him at last.

It could be argued we should have simply let nature take its course so many years ago when predators were threatening him on that July day, prompting one man's care and concern. Ultimately, nature did run its course, just not that way.

I would like to think we did the right thing.

31 March 2009

A flood of emotions

In Fargo, N.D., where rising waters have thrown the community into a mix of fear and chaos, one squirrel lucked out. Plucked from the rushing tide of a river by rescuers who kept their eyes open as well as their hearts, he was quickly warmed up and given a name: Grover.

The people of Fargo have had enough to worry about, surely: losing all they have known and worked for their whole lives. It is both remarkable and heartening that someone cared enough to see this small fellow struggling against the currents, and to act to save him.

The toll in Fargo has been a high one. It is hard to know who else made it alive out of the angry waters, but this one little fellow did. We wish him well.

27 March 2009

For Scottish squirrels, a sweetheart deal


I guess you could call it a Sweetheart deal for the Scottish: a new campaign to save the native red squirrels.

Launched on Valentine's Day, and given full backing by the Scottish government, the three-year effort by two conservation groups urges local citizens to assume stewardship (a financial stewardship, in this case) for woodlands, preserving them so they will continue to have habitat, even as they battle a viral infection known as pox, brought to their country by grey squirrels - an introduced species that is, sadly, viewed as a threat.

The two groups are collecting money for a cause close to Scottish citizens' own hearts: Scotland doesn't just want to halt the decline of the reds, but reinvigorate their spread across the nation once more. The campaign takes a positive approach to supporting the reds, a different variety of red squirrel than the ones we have here in the States, and definitely a national treasure.

This is good news for the red squirrel, though it makes me wonder if there can ever be developed a similarly positive, and nonviolent, option for stemming the overtake by the greys, who never asked to cross the Atlantic in the first place.

One can only hope.

21 March 2009

Watching "Mr. Squirrel"

I am normally not a big fan of surveillance videos, but when it comes to cute squirrels, legal rights to privacy can take second place to squirrel-lovers' rights to see squirrels in action.

That's why this FLICKR video is the right kind of surveillance video. This squirrel isn't trying to rob a bank (or even a bird-feeder for that matter), he (or she) is simply squirreling away goodies for the future. The squirrel is investing, I might add, at a time of global economic crisis. As such, this little FLICKR clip serves as an instructional video for many of us trying to keep breathing while in something of a financial stranglehold.

You'll immediately note the squirrel is aware of being watched - perhaps even of being filmed - and mugs twice for the camera.

Everyone loves having a fan club, and being appreciated.

I expect after this video is viewed far and wide, the folks at CNNMONEYmay invite the squirrel onto one of their financial shows - or to scratch out a BLOG - and school many of us amateurs in the ways of true professionals who know so much more about saving in these trying times.

19 March 2009

Wild about junk food

It's official. The world's most famous Junk Food Junkie lives in the United Kingdom.

This notorious nosher, an eastern grey of otherwise normal proportions, has been immortalized via cell phone video - and later in a story in the Milton Keynes Citizen, gorging on cajun-flavored crisp delicacies, known as Walkers Crisps. The scene of the alleged crime: the back yard of local wildlife fan, resident Camilla Cullum.

Cullum caught the critter, crisp-handed in the act. The video and the photos went on the web and then went viral - globe-trotting via the Internet until the junk food junkie developed a following of fans as far away as India and the U.S.

Sadly, PepsiCo, the maker of Walkers Crisps, is not among the fan base. The newspaper made the images available to the company but they apparently did not seem nuts about the idea. Nor did they even give the notion a crisp reply.

07 March 2009

Putting squirrels on the map



Great Britain is having a hard time keeping its native, beloved red squirrels on the map, and unfortunately its assault continues unabated with the red's presumed assailant, the Eastern Grey Squirrel. Greys are an introduced (and non-native species) from across the Pond. This rather sorry conflict created all sorts of sadness and grief on both sides of the controversy.

But BBC home editor Mark Easton has found some happy middle ground. He recently posted on his blog at the BBC News web site, a way to keep the Eurasian Red Squirrel, personified by Beatrix Potter's saucy little Squirrel Nutkin, on the map. In this case it's a map of their native land, reflecting the change in their population, migration and growth.

It's pretty amazing stuff, because the same map can be used to chart the biodiversity of the whole United Kingdom, everything from scurius vulgaris (the red squirrel) to the growth patterns of native fungi. The makers of this map have crunched all sorts of data from a variety of sources, including the Save Our Squirrels effort, which is at the forefront of conserving the native reds.

Crunching data is a good thing - especially with respect to nut-crunching squirrels. The effort is admirable.

Now perhaps there should be another map - showing anti-grey squirrel factions and pro-grey factions - and a way to get everyone together to nonviolently solve the issue.

01 March 2009

Don't mess with the groundhog

To all of you who scoffed at Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of six more weeks of winter, pay heed to the winter storm that is quickly consuming the East Coast of the United States.

Don't mess with the groundhog!

Phil meant no harm with his February prognostication, he was only doing his job, and as the King of Forecasting Squirrels, this rodent is all pro. Indeed, there are many meteorologists out there who owe him their lives, if not their livelihoods too.

Don't mess with the groundhog.

Folks can throw their Phil Wanna-be woodchucks in front of the TV cameras and vow they're just as accurate as the Big Kahuna of Weathercasting but, in the end, the skies, the clouds and the barometric pressure issue the ultimate final judgment, and that decree says:

Don't mess with the groundhog.

It's going to be a splendid storm, folks, and I plan to enjoy it, to wake up and face the pristine snow where only bird footprints and squirrel footprints leave a tale to tell, like punctuation marks printed neatly across a clean white canvas.

As for me, I wouldn't dream of messing with the groundhog. Besides, he's back in his burrow sleeping for the next couple of weeks or so while we humans grumble about our fate: Into every life a little (or a whole lot) of snow must fall. Just ask the groundhog.

28 February 2009

One Texan's housing crisis


In today's edition of the Dallas Morning News, gardening columnist Mariana Greene has transformed herself into a kind of real estate writer: She greets the image of squirrels living in outdoor nesting boxes with the same kind of welcome that the rest of us suburbanites and urbanites usually dole out to freshly built neighborhood McMansions.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/fea/columnists/mgreene/stories/DN-nhg_fool_0219gd.ART.State.Edition1.4aa6eca.html

In her backyard box, she would rather have a screech owl, she writes, because they provide a natural containment for her property's rat problems, owing to the predator-prey relationship between the two.

So when a squirrel moved in instead, it was as strong a case of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) as one might see at a town hall public hearing when a developer proposes a big box superstore where a Little League field had once been. (Not only was this a common rodent but a somewhat corpulent one, making a strong case for a potential lawsuit based on Species Discrimination and Fat Discrimination.)

Do squirrels make bad neighbors? Other than the occasional tomato-plant thievery (so what? Plant a little extra and solve the problem), other than the more-than-occasional bird-feeder raiding (so what, again? Add a second or third feeder, or a platform feeder and enjoy the acrobatics), why fight nature? Unlike the guy next door whose teenaged kids hold pool parties, a squirrel won't blare his stereo until all hours or allow other squirrels' cars to block your driveway when they come to visit. The squirrels' kids also are off and on their own after 14 weeks - not 18 years (or longer). Best of all, if you are lucky enough, the squirrels will bury seeds and nuts that, in years to come, might just save you the cost of hiring a landscaper to do some plantings.

With apologies to Robert Frost who, I presume and hope, was a squirrel lover too, the bottom line is this: Good squirrels make good neighbors.

20 February 2009

Big squirrels on campus

I thought the Giant Squirrels of Borneo were big - and capable of big news - until I saw this article, which appears in the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian:

Coming soon to Locust: big squirrels - News

The university's Art Club will be placing almost two dozen larger-than-life statues of these ubiquitous rodents around the campus, encouraging people to sponsor and, ultimately, decorate them.

The sculptures are a fundraising effort to benefit various campus activities.

Now what eastern gray (or even southern flyer) could take issue with that?

To anyone who thinks squirrels are only good for taking handouts, or hanging out around a bunch of nuts, take notice: These Big Squirrels on Campus are capable of great things!

13 February 2009

The doctor, the squirrel - and the hawk

Warning: This is controversial. No matter whose side you're on, this is going to be very controversial:

A surgeon in Vienna, Va., was recently arrested and charged with firing his gun in public - and with cruelty to animals. He fatally shot a hawk in the backyard of his home after he saw it eyeing a young squirrel, one that he and his wife had nurtured after it had been orphaned. The same bird of prey, apparently, had previously caught and killed an adult squirrel in the couple's yard. When the doctor saw the bird return and track the younger squirrel, he tried to chase it off using other means - none of which involved firearms - and then, when those attempts failed, he got his shotgun.

Was he right to fire his weapon in a residential neighborhood? The law clearly establishes he wasn't, and deems this a crime.

Was he right to protect the little squirrel as he did? Another law - in this case, the law of nature -establishes just as clearly that he also wasn't. The doctor's intervention unhooked one of the links in the food chain and disrupted the natural order of predation.

Is it criminal to want to save a life? This is what doctors do for a living, after all, with their human patients. In this case, the doctor had cared for the small helpless squirrel, raised and released him and, when he again fell helpless against the talons of the hawk, the doctor again intervened.

But is it wrong to take a life to save one? Likely there are many who would argue that the predation should have proceeded, uninterrupted. Likely there are others reading this (and at least one person writing this) who wouldn't think twice before doing the same thing.

There are no easy answers.

09 February 2009

Stumping in Washington for "Stumpy"


The elections are long over, as is the presidential inauguration, but there is still some unfinished business in one corner of Washington, D.C.: Stumpy the squirrel wants his peanuts. And he wants them NOW.

Stumpy - whose name was inspired by the remaining fragments of his tail - navigates a busy part of Northwest Washington, near the studios of Federal News Radio, where my friend Max works, covering the news. His latest headline report to me - which came accompanied by the photo posted here - was about Stumpy. This was indeed BIG NEWS: Amy, the executive editor at the radio station, had first spied Stumpy near a Dumpster and immediately took pity on his taillessness which she presumed was a flag of his fragility.

Her impression was tossed the next day when she saw Stumpy take on a dog (who was leashed, thank goodness), the squirrel defending his turf with chatters and whatever flicks he could muster from his diminished hind end.

She soon found he had captured her heart - and later, some peanuts she began to leave out for him on a regular basis. That was last autumn, just as the election was foremost on minds in that most political of U.S. cities - and elsewhere.

Stumpy is still in office, so to speak: He makes his rounds outside Amy's first floor office window and Max, ever the intrepid reporter, pressed his cell phone's camera into duty to capture the official portrait you see here.

He took no oath of office, of course - but probably chatters a few good ones, nonetheless, at the occasional passing dog.

03 February 2009

Six more weeks of ....


Judging from what's fallen outside our door this morning, Punxsutawney Phil also has a great career ahead of him picking winning Lottery numbers.

But we've gotten more than a mere flurry of flakes - we have a storm of more footprints than I can count: Little exclamation points dotting the path, punctuation marks that serve to complete this sentence: "FEED ME, YOU FOOLS!"

And so, we obey. Happily. Yes, master.

A groundhog does what a groundhog does, and likewise the eastern gray.

Punxsy Phil has predicted six more weeks of ravenous squirrels.

No complaints here.

01 February 2009

Well-grounded and hogging ground

How much winter would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck winter?

Six more weeks - maybe. That's what the nation's Top Chuck told us last year, when we chronicled the frosty predictions of Punxsutawney Phil in this blog.

It's that time again. And in a few short hours, we'll once again be putting our faith in a furball instead of a crystal one.

Rodent prognostication isn't limited to Phil and his fellow groundhogs, though. If only we had watched the way squirrels were hoarding their stash earlier this year, we could have known what was going on in the economy, followed their lead, and averted the need for all those bailouts. If anyone had seen the local chipmunks slip away into sleep a little bit earlier this year, they could have figured out that the winter temps would come on fast and furious.

Instead of paying money to psychics, reading our horoscopes in the paper (or online), or simply wishing on a star, we should go outside and feed the squirrels - and then watch them with an interpretive eye. These creatures know a whole lot more than they're letting on.

Meanwhile, the squirrel community has not yet weighed in on the Oscars, the Grammy Awards or even the outcome, later this year, of the U.S. Open. And not one has handed me a winning set of Lottery numbers in exchange for the small fortune I've spent on nuts.

Prognostication, after all, has its limits.

29 January 2009

No squirrels in this end zone

A certain team will be missing this year from the big contest in Tampa Bay between football's Steelers and Cardinals: The Eastern Grays.


Nowhere in the noble list of big game sponsors is there a company who, this year, enlisted the help of these agile, photogenic, crowd-pleasing rodents to help showcase their products and services.


Are they nuts? (Apparently not, because a nut company would have chosen the obvious spokesrodent.)


Gone is the genital-chomping squirrel who assailed a dentist in the Trident chewing gum commercial of yore, the screaming, and (fortunately) tire-eluding fellow in the Bridgestone ad, and of course the unforgettable "Running of the Squirrels" high drama staged in Cecil B. DeMille-like fashion for a very forgettable company called EDS.


Are squirrels experiencing layoffs too? In this season when their cousins the chipmunks and the groundhogs are nestled in sweet hibernation, should the eastern gray perhaps rethink the addition of a similar midwinter's snooze too? Granted, that means they would miss the playoffs and Superbowl, even as spectators, but that would open up whole new career possibilities for them in sports advertising once baseball's spring training season is through.

Provided, that is, Major League Baseball can somehow keep them from gnawing at the teams' bats.

25 January 2009

Nothing lost in translation

Do squirrels speak Spanish?
Or, perhaps more importantly, do the people of Colombia, South America, speak Squirrel?
The answer, most assuredly, is "Si."
During a monthlong visit to that country, my friends Rich and Luis traveled, visited Luis' family, and took pictures of everything - squirrels included. Apparently, the South American nation that practically deifies the humble java bean also apparently gives an admiring nod to the bushytailed denizens of their trees.
Squirrels get their name, or at least their profile, in lights during the Christmas season, and Rich was thoughtful enough to capture this image of a Christmas squirrel before the glowing rodent clambered up a holiday lightpole where, no doubt, he was building a nest made entirely of incandescent lights and LEDs strung together.

Then, on a visit to a place outside Medellin, they found a restaurant known as Pescadero Trucha Arco Iris (or "fishing place" for a type of rainbow fish) which was furnished with tables and chairs hand-painted by local artists. The chair pictured here would obviously be a place of honor for the squirrel-lovers among us. (It's not clear, however, whether that would obligate one to order something from the menu featuring acorns, nuts or berries.)

Squirrel decor, both indoor and out, can be downright chic. Imagine if the modern furniture designers, Charles and Ray Eames, had been rhapsodic over rodentia. Imagine if the evolving designs of Frank Lloyd Wright had gone through a "Chipmunk Phase."
It is encouraging to think that while some people view squirrels as pests, annoyances and even vermin, others see them as inspiration.
No matter what you call them - and in whatever language you speak their name - they can leave an image buried in your imagination long after you have seen one scamper across your path.
But then, they're good at burying things, aren't they?

He's inclined toward progress

Mr. Tilty is doing fine. This should set the record straight for anyone who has been worried about him (and that includes me).

He was seen out and about during the last snowfall a few days ago and today, I am happy to report, he was back atop his regular nestbox. Weaker squirrels often get picked on and I'd feared he might have been evicted. But no, he has not been thrown out by some cruel rodent landlord or by a contentious roommate wanting to crack nuts privately, late into the night; rather, Mr. Tilty has been sharing his living quarters, as squirrels - even warring ones - often do in the winter because friendship is the greatest warmth that acorns can buy when the temps drop to single digits.

I admire him for the one habit he has displayed, which I find particularly endearing - sitting atop his nestbox, even in these frigid temps, basking in the sun. He takes it all in, crooked angle notwithstanding. Sitting up there, he is full-bodied and apparently happy, his nose sticking almost straight up in the air.
Tilted or not, he seems to be sitting on top of the world.

21 January 2009

News on Squirrel Appreciation Day

I wish squirrels read newspapers.
I wish they at least subscribed to them.
Sometimes I even wish they worked for them. Then again, it is entirely possible they already do, judging from the squirrelcentric content of some major papers in the last two or three weeks:

USA Today, the Washington-based paper, reported earlier this month on a far-reaching shortage of acorns from some of the nation's oaks. It was done with respect and with input from scientists, biologists and others who are concerned not just with the botanical consequences but the "squirrical" ones. The story showed a good bit of research, balance and respect on the part of the author who, I suspect, could have had a bushy tail and some formidable incisors. One never knows.

And earlier this week, the venerable New York Times included yet another squirrel-related item in its popular, chatty Metropolitan Diary column: This one about a squirrel whose carefully plotted acorn-hoarding tactics over the years have charmed the doorman of a building near one of the city's parks. I love this one in particular because the survival of urban squirrels is a particular concern of mine, but this one clearly has his game all mapped out. I suspect the reader who submitted this item to the Metropolitan Diary might possibly have been a squirrel, admiring this guy from afar, in an adjacent tree.

Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day - a festival that has the unfortunate acronym of S.A.D., but it is anything BUT. Squirrels have been in the news on a regular basis and it is clear that the Fourth Estate believes in total coverage in black and white (if not also grey and, at times, red and even albino.)

In that respect, it might well be Newspaper Appreciation Day too.

18 January 2009

Tilting toward trouble?


Meet "Mr. Tilty."
I first wrote about him in November. We realized then he has not just been a welcome resident in our yard, but he was making his home in a wooden nestbox high in our tall sycamore. We love him for many reasons. He is a symbol of courage and also of determination, living out a difficult winter with varying degrees of disability.
At times he runs and moves in a troublesome fashion, seeing the world at an angle because he lists to one side, like a slowly sinking ship.
In these photos, taken a week and a half ago, that tilt was not so evident. But today, when we saw him, the slight tipping had become a toppling. Once or twice he lost his balance altogether and was lying in the snow, however briefly. He also has an injury to one digit on the left front paw, which appears to be healing - but it is the tilting that is of concern to us now. He can run, he can climb and he can gather food.
But we are worried.
Wish him well. We are monitoring his progress, and his decline, if it continues.
If he cannot continue to make his way in the world and needs us to step in and help him, I hope he will let us. This is a tough winter for everyone - especially Mr. Tilty.