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.

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


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.