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.

Don't bet on it.