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.