25 December 2010

A new breed of Christmas

It's Christmas, and the squirrels are out there exchanging gifts of fecundity. Devout pagans that they are, worshipping the trees and the cycles of the Earth, one could expect no less of them.

They haven't been mobbing the malls, crushing the kiosks or even tying up the toll-free numbers with orders for monogrammed acorns, sheepskin-lined nests or elegant combs and brushes to keep their busy tails bright. They certainly don't need to give one another any nutcrackers.

No, these squirrels are giving one another the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.

And so...off come the wrappings on their brand of generosity, bought with hormones instead of debit cards. They are bestowing the seeds of the spring crop of youngsters. One size fits all. No exchanges necessary. Sadly, no manufacturers' guarantees either.

So ultimately, we ask in the spirit of this season, is it truly better to give than to receive? Try asking all those mama squirrels in about 48 days.

16 December 2010

Girls just wanna have...fun?

Every high school class had at least one - the girl who'd go with any guy, the one whose reputation won her a kind of red letter emblazoned across her chest (or any other equally active body part).

Now, it seems, almost every tree in the United Kingdom has one too: A red squirrel for whom The Mating Game constitutes a second career, if not an obsession, second only to the gathering and cracking of nuts.

The truth can finally be told: Female red squirrels in Britain are sluts. Bad girls. Bushytailed hos. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Toronto are making big news as the academic peeping Toms who have successfully charted the drey-hopping ways of these frisky hot mommas.

It all comes down to opportunity, big opportunity, on the single day in the breeding season when the female reds come into season. They don't just wanna have fun, they wanna have a healthy litter and the more they shop around where the sample is ample, the more likely they are to achieve their goal.

"We found the more males in the area interested in participating in the mating chase, the more squirrels she will mate with," Guelph researcher Eryn McFarlane is quoted as saying in a variety of published accounts of this report.

So the likelihood is eventually that most red squirrel females will indeed find their Mr. Right. They can't go wrong. After all, a tree is not just a tree anymore: It's a singles bar.

12 December 2010

He was just a potty animal

Fact #1: A squirrel does not belong in a toilet.

Fact #2: A toilet is an exit, not an entrance. You don't want to be going into it; you merely want to interface with it long enough to send stuff on its way.

Fact #3: This past week's story about a squirrel in a toilet in Oklahoma - the one that made national news - is mildly amusing (and only mildly so) solely by virtue of its happy ending. Otherwise, there is not a shred of "funny" to the sequence of events.

But, it seems, there was indeed a squirrel in a toilet in a woman's home in Oklahoma this past week and she called 911 because she considered it an emergency - for her, presumably, and not for the squirrel, though the unfortunate creature was clearly the one up the ceramic creek without the proverbial paddle.

The news accounts don't say how the squirrel got into the toilet, much less how he entered the house or bathroom in the first place, and even the video accompanying the stories gives no clear view of whether the squirrel was injured - but by all accounts, he wasn't.

Fortunately, there are only a few true-to-life Demons of the Toilet we need to fear. In New York City, many apartment-dwellers are haunted by the prospect of sewer alligators emerging from their commodes in the dark of night and creating all manner of violence. This is the uptown equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster.

And there are other horrifying toilet nightmares that, frankly,I would rather not recount in polite company of my readers. But suffice it to say, these scenarios involve spicy food.

A commode-caught bushytail, however, is hardly a toilet terror.
And though the woman was right to call 911, she was clearly looking to save herself, not the squirrel.

The good news is the squirrel survived.

Perhaps now the woman will have learned something: When it comes hysteria and toilets, it's best to keep a lid on both.

10 December 2010

Power to the squirrels

Oh to be small, gray and powerful. And oh, to be a gatekeeper of sorts at a public high school where kids are almost always clamoring for an early recess.

One squirrel made the ultimate sacrifice this past week in granting an early exit to students at Summit High School in New Jersey. He paid with his life.

He separated the educational institution from the power grid, no doubt with the only power tools he had at his ready disposal: his teeth.
The cost, to the squirrel, was probably a dear one (it almost always is): He perished in the act of liberating the kids from class. The squirrel went out in a blaze (or at least a smoldering) of glory.

And as one news account relates the tale, shortly after the heroic rodent killed the juice (and himself) some 1,041 students and an estimated 125 staff were set free. Any squirrel can relate to that kind of love: freedom at all costs.

Jersey Central Power and Light indicated that the high school was the only customer to have lost power.

The squirrel's final act, then, seems to have been highly targeted - specific to the school. It was an early Christmas gift to students who would rather have been home anyway instead of hitting the books.

If that doesn't create another 1,041 new squirrel fans instantly, I don't know what does.

Rest in peace little guy. And let's hope the students stopped to feed a few of your cousins on their way home that morning.

27 November 2010

A fly-by-night operation, for sure

In the interest of keeping our nation safe from the menace of bad acorns, a government division known as the TSA - Touchy Squirrel Agency - has instituted mandatory full-body scans and pat-downs of all flying squirrels before they can become airborne.

This has not been easy to implement, particularly when the fullest if those full bodies barely weighs an average of 85 grams (less than 3 ounces) and does most of its gliding nocturnally. This has not been easy particularly because, whether or not the aforementioned suspect rodent is harboring an Acorn of Evil somewhere in those tiny body folds, at the very least he or she is in full possession of the Incisors of Destruction, notorious flesh-piercing instruments are not shy about making an appearance any time of day or night.

Still, TSA agents have their orders to follow: Flying squirrels everywhere are being told to drop their tails, open their flyer flaps, known as patagiums, and give it up for the good of their country.

The battle cry can be clearly heard throughout the land: "HEY, DON'T TOUCH MY JUNK!!!!" - followed by a rapid chattering of tiny teeth.

"Is it really worth the delay and inconvenience?" muse their larger cousins, the eastern grays and the fox squirrels. "We would rather travel by branch."

"Don't look at me when it comes to going anywhere by air," reply the chipmunks, 13-lined ground squirrels, golden mantled squirrels and other land-locked kin. "Our side of the family has kept its feet on the ground for generations."

"Now," lament the nation's flying squirrels, "everyone truly knows that I am naked beneath my fur."

And what of the bad acorns themselves? If they cannot be transported from Point A to Point B by some airborne good-squirrel-gone-bad, where will they end up surfacing?

Stay out of the wilderness, friends:

Surveillance informs us that the bad acorns, no longer being stashed in the various crevices of bad squirrels-in-transit, are ending up buried instead in the Big Bad Woods where, quite predictably, they will grow up to become Big Bad Evil Trees, hundreds of times their original size.

"See?" say the proud agents of the TSA. "The government's system is working."

25 November 2010

Pilgrims, all

They're poised at the door, as always, and they want an extra helping of pecan or walnut stuffing. The action is all-too-familiar and unrelenting. And it shows no mercy: gobble, gobble, gobble.

But these guests lack the patience required for the transformation of pumpkin into pie.

And sweet potatoes...are sweet enough, as is.

They are wide-eyed pilgrims from the treetops who've become settlers on my doorstep, colonizing my front yard and the property behind.

The only grace they say, or show, before (and after) their nonstop meals is their grace and deftness in the branches arching toward the sky.

And afterward, there are no Black Friday specials - every day on Earth is a shopping frenzy for them, and I'm always left picking up the tab.

This Thanksgiving Day parade surrounding my house is not sponsored by Macy's, but me. I deserve to ride on my own float for all the effort I make. But I'll settle for the quiet rap of tiny claws (not Santa's) against the windows and doors instead.

And I'll be grateful for them all.

10 November 2010

Minus one

Some squirrels are never meant to go back into the wild. They arrive into the care of rehabilitators, broken and damaged, and can never be fully restored to physical wholeness.

So it was with CurleyQue, who in the summer of 2000 was a fallen baby providing a soft landing for the two brothers in his litter, but only by virtue of having landed before they did on the hard, unforgiving earth. His brothers were none the worse for their journey; CurleyQue, however, remained unconscious for a few days.

He emerged from his twilight state into a world of challenges: his nose had been irreparably broken, he had issues with balance, his ever-growing incisors were maloccluded, requiring frequent trimming, and he did not have the best immune system.

What he had, however, was heart. What he had was courage. What he had was an incredible spirit to go forth into life for the next 10 years seeing himself quite clearly as the center of a big universe, kicking up his heels, burying nuts in the wilds of his indoor world, wherever he could - in his bedding, in a pair of shoes, behind a piece of furniture.

When his right eye clouded over with a cataract, partly from age, more likely from his original trauma, he never lost that clear vision of who he was and what he wanted. No vision could ever be clearer than that of a wild animal, even a damaged one.

In the arithmetic of the wild world, we rehabilitators often deal more with multiplication, and the numbers grow exponentially each spring and autumn as the heart of squirrel breeding season delivers its litters to our doorsteps.

Now, as the sun sets earlier and an autumn freeze sinks its claws into the earth, we are surrounded by subtraction. Loss of leaves from the trees. Loss of life-affirming sunlight. And loss of life itself.

On Monday, Nov. 8, 2010, at 2:15 a.m., CurleyQue closed his eyes for the last time and went free. He taught us much during this precious, privileged decade. Now we are the ones in free-fall toward a hard, unforgiving reality.

But for us, there is no one - and nothing - to cushion the sudden, damaging impact.

04 November 2010

Squirrels can't get enough holidays

The Formby Times, a publication in the United Kingdom, released a rather a happy report on Nov. 3, with details about Squirrel Fun Day, hosted by the National Trust.

The occasion was actually part of a larger observance - Red Squirrel Week. In Great Britain, this might well be considered a particular kind of holy week, given that nation's love of its native reds.

When you're a squirrel, however, every day is a holiday. Or it ought to be.

And, in fact, the folks in Formby did engage in quasi-religious rituals, or at least pursued the activities with religious fervor. Celebrants engaged in a squirrel scavenger hunt (no competition here - squirrels can sniff out nuts like no one else) and also competed to see if they could jump as far as a squirrel (watch out for low-hanging branches!)

The squirrels are always the winners, paws-down.

Before it was all over, though, youngsters at the event constructed a huge squirrel nest, known as a drey, for the reds to inhabit or play in. In its own way, this was a sort of religious offering to these much-worshipped reds. You can't argue with that kind of offering. After all, lesser disciples have always tithed their nuts to the little treetop icons.

Prediction: With Squirrel Appreciation Day, in January, still more than a month away, the next big holiday on the calendar, no doubt, will be something called Squirrelmas! Only the beard is missing: Britain's beloved natives already have the requisite red suit.

05 October 2010

In tennis, no love lost for squirrels

Stop blaming the squirrels. Please, sports fans, stop blaming the squirrels.

In this case, it was one Georgia squirrel - one whose unfortunate proximity to a mountain biking Robby Ginepri caused him to wipe out a few days ago and break an ulna. It appears that the tennis star will now be sidelined for several weeks and no, he can't even remotely claim it's the result of an on-court accident.

Squirrels don't play singles tennis, and they surely couldn't be roped into playing doubles either. In fact, Ginepri is surely convinced by now that the small creatures can hardly be classified as team players at all. Squirrels play their own game, and proudly so.

This little squirrel, thanks to Ginepri's selflessness which saved him from a fatal collision, is still in the game.

And fortunately, Ginepri himself expects to be back in action in time for January's competition, to prepare for the Australian Open. But, in our eyes, Ginepri has already won big where it counts.

09 September 2010

Giving a squirrel a brake

Wildlife rehabilitators are known to build unlikely alliances all the time: A tree-cutter, an exterminator, even the occasional hunter.

Now add to that list, automobile parts manufacturer. And, even more locally, add neighborhood auto mechanics who stock those auto parts, made by Monroe, thus taking up the mantle as Squirrel Savior.

On Long Island, one local repair shop waves this flag of allegiance publicly and proudly:

My longtime friend, David P., a professional photographer who sent me this image shortly after discovering it, couldn't have been more impressed to learn that the auto fix-it folks down the street from him are not just customer-friendly but squirrel-friendly too.

In a marketplace where ethics and conscience count, consumers who are energy-conscious, who recycle, who reduce the waste-stream and make purchases that are organic and non-polluting are considered "green."

By inference, Monroe and its patrons are "grey."

The message, in this well-publicized national ad campaign is that if you equip your car or SUV with a Monroe shock or two, you will be able to stop easily and instantly just in case a squirrel, absorbed in the daily rush-hour of autumnal activities, cannot.

Toward that end, this banner is warm and good-humored, engaging and convincing. And the squirrel? Too cute for words. Except for one word - Monroe - which is, of course, the campaign's whole idea. That's the one word they want you to remember.

I know I won't forget. I know that seeing it made me slam on the brakes on whatever I was doing at my computer when this beautiful image arrived in my inbox - and take notice of it. Effective. Dramatic. And, yeah, downright adorable.

Call it "Monroe Shock and awwwwwwwwwwww."

29 August 2010

Bollywood goes Bushywood

The blockbuster Bollywood dance number that wraps up the hit Indian film import, "Slumdog Millionaire," has got nothing on these fleet-footed squirrels in love:

How sweet it is too, that this brief rodent romance is actually a commercial for the popular chocolate KitKat candy - which like "Slumdog," is also a hit in India. Created by the international advertising giant agency, JWT, the ad spot wisely shows that squirrels are more partial to nuts than chocolate (Smart squirrels: Chocolate is not a recommended food for rodents anyway). But just because squirrels aren't chocolate-lovers (and shouldn't be), doesn't mean they can't be convincing pitchmen for it. Squirrels don't drive cars either (so far as we know) but they've been effective at selling Jeep, Honda, and a variety of other auto makes. Squirrels have even been used to sell auto insurance, financial services, even chewing gum - so why not chocolate?

Why limit the advertising power of squirrels simply to that of nut salesmen (and sales women)? Their potential as trusted advertising spokesrodents is boundless.

Remember, you read it here first: The next presidential election will be different. Democrats and Republicans will shed the conventional donkeys and elephants and go tail-to-tail in their ad campaigns on national TV.

May the best squirrel win.

22 August 2010

Nothing left to give but freedom

When there is nothing left for you to do, you have to open the door. Baby squirrels don't last forever.

If you've done your job, fed them, sheltered them, healed their wounds as best as you could, watched them emerge into healthy wild animals, an open door, a hatch swinging wide, is the only thing left you can give them now. The baby squirrels are long gone; in their place are juveniles, grown and growing impatient.

Open the door. Freedom rushes in at them like a deep breath they've been waiting their whole lives to inhale. It fills them.

Open the door. Let them come flying out or - in this case, strolling out, matter-of-factly. At whatever speed they choose, they will still know what to do. They are following a map that has been etched into their bones since birth.

Say goodbye. Love them from a distance. Don't forget them, though that favor won't likely be returned. And as you leave the woods, empty-handed, move on. Close the door. They already have.

13 August 2010

The little warrior

An armada typically signifies a fleet of warships or military aircraft or, at best, just a mass of objects moving powerfully in unison.

Meet a different kind of Armada: The little squirrel pictured here, who bears that name, first graced these pages in the July 16 post as a days-old pinkie. He was the first newborn of the season for a rehabilitator friend of mine, Barbara, and his arrival in her care signaled that the seasons had already changed in the squirrel world - that they had once again arrived in the autumn cycle of their lives.

Armada can hold a syringe in his tiny paws when he nurses from it and he is slowly discovering his ever-broadening world through newly opened eyes. His fate, so far, is a happy one because he has already survived the greatest battle of all - survival. The world is not very kind to newborn wildlife that has been left injured or abandoned, often by mysterious means. For just that reason, every young squirrel needs to be more than a mere soldier. Like this fortunate little guy, every one of them needs power and strength, and the will to live and become an Armada, too.

10 August 2010

Victoria, it's no secret

Under where?

Yes, under there!

Squirrel Girls, look out below! Way below! The same manufacturer who put tighty whitey underpants on the market (and on squirrels' private areas) a few years ago - those fabulous stretchy Y-fronts for males - is back with a pleasingly pink version for the ladies. Now ultra feminine squirrels can envision themselves as nothing short of fashionable femme fayTAILS, all the while retaining a modicum of modesty.

But do female squirrels really need to cover it all up? (For that matter, do male squirrels?) The answer isn't exactly a secret, least of all Victoria's.

The Archie McPhee product catalogue is betting $6.50 - the price of these delightful dainties - that those at the apex of rodent couture will scoop these up in no time. One size fits all (they're 95 percent cotton, 5 percent spandex, just in case you need to, uh, stretch your limits a bit after having snarfed everything up in a late-night acorn binge the night before.)

Sorry girls, no thong version is available. And there's no talk of a matching underwire SqunderBra for those four pairs of teats. At least not yet, anyway.

09 August 2010

The Enrico Caruso of Squirrels

Singing his treetop arias, he might well be the most operatic rodent on the planet:

Squirrel of the Month

This beautiful young squirrel most certainly captured the ears - and then the heart - of the California homeowner who decided to share the private serenade with the readers of his local paper - an appropriately named publication called The Acorn.

People who think squirrels can't speak for themselves had better listen up, and listen good. Squirrels don't just sing for their supper, they sing for warnings, for matings and yes, even - as in this case - for our attention.

This particular squirrel, however, may have been singing for his agent.

After landing in a prominent space on a page in the local weekly, the squirrel is likely to want his next public appearance on nothing less than a late-night talk show beside a host such as Jay Leno, David Letterman or Jimmy Fallon.

He might just get it too. Recall that "The Ed Sullivan Show," TV's popular 1960s fixture, had Topo Gigio, the singing Italian mouse. Then there was Alvin and the Chipmunks - a group that had their own Christmas album and, more recently, a musical film that included a "Squeakquel."

The 21st century might just be ready for another rodent with a set of musical pipes. I predict this guy's first recording could go platinum overnight. Or at least eastern grey.

25 July 2010

The toothsome truth

As the late rocker Jim Croce's lyrics advises us, you should always pick your battles wisely: Don't tug on Superman's cape. Don't spit into the wind. Don't pull that mask off that ol' Lone Ranger and ... don't mess around with squirrels' teeth.

Those ever-growing, razor-sharp incisors - the apotheosis of calcium gone wild - always win in any skirmish. These are teeth that can crack nuts and split bone and you don't want to cross their path enroute to dental disaster.

In Huntington, N.Y., at least one group of human dental practitioners has harnessed this simple scientific fact for commercial purposes. We hereby introduce Flossie the dentally conscientious squirrel - she appears to be a 13-lined ground squirrel, not a New York native - and Flossie is the spokesmodel not just for keeping your teeth sparkling and nutcracker-healthy between dental visits but for keeping your scheduled appointments.

She graces a postal card inscribed on the reverse with the following reminder: "We have reserved this time for your for your next dental checkup."

The card is downright cute, a word one doesn't normally associate with the dreaded dentist's chair. Combining dentistry with Rodentistry clearly has its perks and being cute is one of them. Indeed, I suspect those Huntington dentists may enjoy a greater-than-average compliance from even the most drill-shy patients who read the card and understand the ominous message hidden behind that engaging visage and those impeccably clean, well-flossed incisors:

Don't tug on the squirrel's temper. Be sure to spit into the sink after you get your semi-annual cleaning. And you don't mess around with Flossie.

16 July 2010

Autumn of our discontent - already?

Don't ever buy a calendar from a squirrel. They're convinced autumn is already here. Never mind that neither leaves nor acorns are dropping yet from the trees: Baby squirrels are.

This little newborn was received by, and photographed by Barbara, a rehabilitator friend of mine. The orphan is what's known as a "fall baby," not because the baby fell (though that is likely), but because the orphan's arrival on the planet at this moment in time signals the birth of the season of football, back-to-school, corduroy, marble-cover notebooks and harvest time - all right smack in the middle of the current 90+-degree heatwave here in the northeast.

If squirrels had their way, they would produce a calendar that would take us squarely from June to September, skipping the entire summer. Not that I mind, I'm a fan of cooler weather. But, much as I resent department stores' presumptuousness in hanging garland and playing Christmas carols in October, or weeks earlier, I am bothered by squirrels rushing the season. What's the hurry?

To every thing there is a season - and that includes squirrel baby season, I suppose. Squirrel baby season #1, and squirrel baby season #2. Lately they seem to blend together like one big mess.

But things could definitely be worse. Imagine if squirrels made timepieces as well as calendars. We'd be faced with an even more unfortunate prospect. People would be saying, "there's a squirrel born every minute," and the wildlife rehabilitators would be the real suckers.

11 July 2010

Skwerl'd Cup Soccer

This is Hammy, who, I'm told, would rather play soccer the conventional way than with acorns like the rest of his species. Hammy has thus been in training all year for his chosen sport.

Sadly, he did not make it to Johannesburg, South Africa for the football finals today, nor did he qualify to be part of Spain's team - which emerged the victor, despite the absence of his talents.

Besides, Hammy is not from Spain - he lives in Florida.

But Hammy will definitely be a contender in next year's Skwerl'd Cup when it is covered by ESPN (the Extraordinary Squirrel People's Network). Squirrels are, after all, naturals in this game:

They are terrific at faking out their opponents - recent news reports indicate they bury, dig up and then rebury the same nut as a way of deterring thievery by competitors.

Squirrels are also known for keeping their eye on the goal. And in this case the goal, most of the time, is FOOD.

And finally, squirrels refuse to be distracted by the mating call of the vuvuzela, whose ill-gotten cacophonies still have many humans' eardrums recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress.

It still isn't clear what a team of squirrels might do if they gained possession of the 18-karat gold trophy, which is a finely detailed sculpture depicting people standing beneath Planet Earth, holding it up. But keep your eye out for a revision of the time-honored design, with the new version sporting a few enterprising bushytails hoisting - and raiding - a gigantic feeder stuffed beyond capacity with birdseed.

In 2011, their cup - the Skwerl'd Cup - runneth over.

06 July 2010

Small but powerful

We love them because they are cute.

cute baby animals - Tiny Springtime Friend

We love them because they are baby animals. And for many of us, we love them because they happen to be baby squirrels, just like this tiny red squirrel, anointed with the title, "Springtime Friend" by the website, The Daily Squee.

Looking at this little creature, it's hard to believe there's a world of antipathy against squirrels out there - but there is. Is there hope that it could change within this baby's lifetime? Probably not.

The world is filled with pros and cons, supporters and detractors, friends and enemies.

Let's hope this tiny red emissary of good will is seen around the globe and spreads the word that there is more good than evil in so much of nature. This baby squirrel truly is a springtime friend, even now in the summer of our lives.

04 July 2010

Independence Day

In the nation known as Squirrel, there are no flags. There is no national anthem, no pledge of allegiance (except to acorns and other tree nuts) and no militia. This largely peaceful nation needs no commander-in-chief, has no policy on nuclear proliferation and, for the most part, runs its chief industry - foraging and the gathering and burying of nuts - as a "green" enterprise.

Into this nation steps the interloper human, raising and rehabilitating the orphaned, the injured, the sick and the near-hopeless. In this enterprise, there is one goal in mind: To someday create an independence day for each of these animals so they can reclaim their lives.

The idea is nothing short of revolutionary.

And so, just a few days before the United States' own commemoration of freedom, two female squirrels - named PeeWee and Feisty by their respective finders - declared their sovereignty and ascended to the world of branches and clouds. It was a triumphant moment for all of us.

A day or so later, a sickly squirrel on our property, felled by a severe case of malocclusion, was brought into veterinary care where it was determined her case was so advanced as to be near hopeless. She was riddled with infection and the roof of her mouth had been destroyed by her overgrown lower incisors. The next day, Reba succumbed to her distress and we brought her body home for burial in the yard where she had lived, at least for a time, comfortably. She did not die an anonymous death, her life was noted - as was her passing. Her life was one of independence until illness and injury took it from her. We had to only surmise she would not have wanted any other kind of life, if she could not live free.

PeeWee and Feisty made that abundantly clear as two individual squirrels, with individual personalities and individual histories, transformed themselves into fast-moving blurs of gray and asserted their birthright in the woods.

Independence, in whatever form it comes, can be a treasured possession.

Open the release hatch on any successfully rehabilitated squirrel, poised to return to the wild, and every day - any day - can be July 4.

23 June 2010

The way the cookies crumble

There's nothing sweet these days about Duchy Originals, an allegedly tasty confection that's popular in the UK.

The acorn-embossed biscuits are leaving a bad taste in animal lovers' mouths, and so is a violent plan against grey squirrels by a high-profile British royal, Prince Charles. As a staunch proponent of saving Britain's beloved red squirrels, and reintroducing them to Cornwall, Charles is once again suggesting a specific plan of genocide against greys, who are seen as the native species' enemy.

Kill them, says the unprincely royal.
Boycott them, say more than just a few animal-loving British, who believe their own culinary cull of the "nature-friendly" Duchy Originals brand will stand as a strong symbol of protest.

"We must speak out against such arrogant meddling with nature. Prince Charles may be King someday, but he is not God," said Kate Fowler, Head of Campaigns at Animal Aid, as quoted in Great Britain's Telegraph newspaper.

Added British zoologist Juliet Gellatley: "I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that there is a minority of 'well-bred' people who may seem normal but who are bent on killing. Sadly, Prince Charles seems to be one of them, following in the footsteps of his tiger-slaughtering father."

This is serious slaughter being talked about here, and its solution cannot easily be hammed out across a kitchen table. Cookies - or rather, going cookie-less in protest - seems a somewhat weak economic sanction against such an egregious and heinous act.

British animal lovers, there's got to be a better way to put one's anger where one's mouth is.

18 June 2010

For whom the bridge tolls

The bridges are down. They collapsed, even before they were ever built.

The Mt. Graham squirrel safety bridge system slated for construction in Arizona with $1.25 million in federal funds has become a casualty of community protest. People evidently believed it was a waste of money to create of a system of rope bridges, enabling the squirrels to bypass the highways below - the roads on which many of the endangered animals lose their lives each year.

So transportation officials dropped the project.

The bridges are thus the first casualties of this unfortunate decision.

And that means unless an alternative effort is devised by local wildlife officials, the rare, endangered squirrels will continue to be casualties for some time to come.

Bridge over troubled squirrels

Simon and Garfunkel would have a hard time retooling their original lyrics for the saga now taking place in Arizona: A $1.25 million federal grant is expected to help save lives of the area's endangered Mount Graham red squirrels through installation of 41 rope bridges that let the tiny critters traverse the highway below by safely going over it.

Unlike human motorists who cross over bridges all the time, driving like they might become endangered species at any moment, these little squirrels are indeed imperiled. The federal government declared them endangered back in 1987 and their fragile population has been carefully watched since then.

It seems the U.S. isn't the only place building bridges for troubled squirrels. Scotland's 300-foot-long Kingcausie Wildlife Overbridge, at the Aberdeen Bypass has the same goal, and in Longview, in the state of Washington, the "Nutty Narrows Bridge" has spanned 40 years - and all kinds of dangerous traffic on Olympic Way - to keep four-pawed pedestrians safe.

In each case, with each bridge, investments were made without any thought of gaining that money back by putting in itty-bitty toll plazas. No squirrels will be asked to toss any acorn-shaped tokens, or use anything like E-ZPass, before crossing to the other side.

No doubt this will cause bumper-to-bumper traffic and a whole new definition of rush-hour. These are great solutions, creative responses to a troubling problem, but there remains one still-unaddressed dilemma: What to do about all those bushytail-gaiters.

15 June 2010


This is not how I will remember them: Confined to an outdoor pen, reliant on being hand fed, their wild movements limited to the parameters of the enclosure that held them. No, these are not the memories that do them justice:

But they were beautiful. And they remain so, even now. Out of my field of vision forever, they are what they had been at birth: Wild and spirited and now finally - as of this morning - free. Everything they need to have a successful life they carry in their bones, their blood, their genes.

These five siblings entered my life in early spring, their infant eyes still closed to the storm that had ravaged their nest and sent their mother fleeing. She returned briefly, and took a sixth sibling with her, but these five remained.

The photos I have of them now - the most recent ones, taken only a week ago - are merely shadows of the squirrels they are going to become. Two brothers, three sisters, they came into the world together but they go forward into it now separately, as individuals.

We sent them off with prayers and our love. The trees embrace them now.

06 June 2010

Speaking of squirrels

Chattering up in the treetops, squirrels always seem to have something to say.
But do we bother to listen?
We'd better! Increasing numbers of Corporate and Professional SpokesSquirrels are making their way into our lives.

The newest arrival is Pearl the Squirrel, official spokesrodent for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Pearl came swinging onto the scene just this past spring, in grand style, and was welcomed in Manhattan's Thomas Jefferson Park as the city mascot.

Squirrel-as-mascot for NYC sure beats rat-as-mascot, as any city restaurateur will attest.

Then there's Filbert, the Freescore.com credit-minded squirrel who, teamed in this video with Ben Stein, advises folks to know the score - their credit score, in this case. Squirrels are legendary as financial whizzes so, really, it pays to heed Filbert's words.

And let's not forget Tufty the Traffic Safety Squirrel who, for more than 40 years, has been serving as an example to British children on matters of safe street crossing. Since 1961, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has relied on him to teach street safety lessons - a rather ironic point, given the hazards squirrels themselves face on busy pavement. There's even a Tufty Club on Facebook.

So look to the squirrels for answers on everything from safe street crossings to protecting your credit rating. Squirrels can be convincing spokescritters because they never lie, they get to the point quickly and, of course, if there's a tough nut to crack, you're going to want them - and their teeth - in your corner.

04 June 2010


To love animals means you will sometimes grieve even for the ones you may never know, the ones you have never held or raised but nonetheless care deeply about.You will turn your head away from the roadkill on the highway; you will avert your eyes at the images of marine life and wildlife languishing near the torrent of oil bleeding its way into the Gulf of Mexico. The pain of acknowledgement is too great.

So it is with our grief over Yoda.

This tiny squirrel was rescued in the Czech Republic, and her caretakers quickly sized up her many infirmities: mental dullness, poor swallowing reflex and no dental growth which, at her age of more than 6 weeks, should have been fully developed. Yoda had serious physical and mental disabilities but was not handicapped by any lack of love for her. The rehabilitators at the rescue station where she had been taken were committed to giving her a good life for as long as she remained on this Earth.

A Facebook posting announced Yoda's passing earlier today, and included photos of the tiny, innocent little one. People from around the Czech Republic, and even here in the U.S., from New York to Florida and beyond, had followed her saga, which opened the eyes of the rehabilitators there to the fact that even wild animals, such as squirrels, can be born with such conditions as Down syndrome.

Yoda's story nested in our hearts, and concern for her made friends out of strangers.

She was a brief wisp of life on this planet. It was not her fate to ever leave footprints in the trees. No doubt, then, her greater imprint remains within each of us who cared for her - either by ministering to her needs in person, or wishing her well from afar.

Nothing can take that away.

31 May 2010

A holiday by any other name

In Brevard, N.C., WSQL radio is broadcasting the news that most of us already know: That Memorial Day - this past weekend's holiday - is also known by another name.

Decoration Day? True. That's what this occasion for military honor was once called, in fact. But in North Carolina, the focus is on the white, when it comes to the red, white and blue. And the stars among the stripes are the real stars of the show: the state's white squirrels.

Memorial Day marks the 7th annual White Squirrel Festival, a celebration of all things related to the beloved pale rodentia.

Granted, it's not a particularly military theme. The most combative encounters are the 5K and 10K foot races, a white squirrel dance-off (featuring two-footed hoofers) and a box car derby. Not the stuff of which patriotism is crafted, for sure.

But as a celebration of one community's natural resources, and a reminder to treasure those things that make a town, a community, a state unique in its own right, it is a fitting reminder at the start of this season of outdoor living.

20 May 2010

Adagio is free

Perhaps if he had been named Allegro, his departure might have been easier. But from the very start, he was called Adagio, connoting music that is slow in tempo, easygoing and not necessarily quick to action.

It suited him: As a juvenile squirrel coming into my care last year, he was shy, slow to adjust, often afraid. Buddying him up with other juveniles was supposed to give him courage but instead it pushed him further behind his little protective wall.

Adagio spent the winter with two squirrels - a male and female - who got their freedom only weeks ago, after spending a long winter here, sheltered from a barren world of leafless trees largely inhospitable to the unindoctrinated squirrel. Adagio elected not to travel with his cagemates that day; he retreated, slow and steadfast, to his nestbox where he hunkered down, embracing his solitary stance against the outside world.

He would not be moved.

Today, when Adagio went free, he did it on his own terms. But his departure from the cage was accomplished only through the removal his nestbox itself - with him safely inside. He could not be enticed to go on his own. At least, not yet.

By the time the door hatch finally opened, we had carried his box deep into the woods. Still, he clung to that last piece of artificial shelter, the wooden box he'd called home for two seasons of his life. And once again, he would not be moved. He was listening to his own tempo, deaf to any other's.

Then, as if a cannon had propelled him, he shot out - and into relative obscurity. He left the life behind him - the life of wooden nestboxes and of captivity - making his final appearance to human eyes as only a blur of gray against a deep green background.

His physical pace, at last, had quickened to match that of his heart. And he followed it, without once looking back.

11 May 2010

Let's try the Squirrel Standard!

In some parts of the world, squirrels are letting people shop 'til they drop.

Forget the face of Jefferson or Lincoln on any currency: In Belarus, the paper bank notes valued at 50 kapeek (the equivalent of $1.65 American dollars) feature a bright-eyed Eurasian red squirrel printed on one side.
The same glorious ear-tufted creature also appears, in a raised image, on the striking silver coin of that nation, worth 20 rubles (or about 66 cents.)
In the Republic of Moldova, a silver coin also features another nicely sculpted squirrel.
A similar images appears on a smallish, now-out-of-production coin minted in Norway in bronze between 1958 and 1972, served as the equivalent of the American penny. The coin is so attractive, some craftsmen have gathered it up and resold it, incorporating it into cufflinks and earrings.

Squirrels have almost always had great value as tools for commerce. But gone, (we hope) is the medieval practice of using squirrel pelts as currency. Paper money and coin is a bit more civilized, not to mention humane.

But let's take things a step further: What if the world's markets were based on the squirrel standard instead of gold or some other commodity? Would there still be a horrendous monetary crisis in Greece, or in other European nations?

Would the United States - so rich with its eastern grey squirrels, 13-lined ground squirrels, chipmunks, Richardson's ground squirrels, Mohave ground squirrels, red squirrels, Columbian ground squirrels, northern and southern flying squirrels, ever feel the pain of overwhelming debt again? Would financial markets ever know crisis? The U.S. has clearly cornered the market on rodent resources.

In theory, the squirrel standard is infallible, as reliable as a stored acorn, as solid as an oak.

So let's reinvent our world monetary systems. Squirrels needn't be the images on our currency but perhaps they can be the basis of our financial infrastructure. Let the U.S. Treasury and the Mint toss away all those ridiculous dollar bills, coins and even that silly gold bullion in Fort Knox and let's bank instead on the value of our squirrels. Let's surrender our money and take stock in the natural value of the natural world.

Europe has its euro. Let the rest of the world enjoy the Squirro.
Hey, anybody got change for a chipmunk?

10 May 2010

Do you feel like a million?


There's nothing like winning a sweet million dollars except perhaps the New York State Lottery's current campaign known as Sweet Million. The clever bit of marketing for this particular game of chance is made all the sweeter through a website featuring creatures that are both ultra-fuzzy and ultra-cute.

Presumably, this makes the visitor feel ultra-lucky.

Well, maybe so: The lineup includes a matched pair of animated eastern gray squirrels wearing tall white chef's hats, holding a tiny exercise trampoline upon which a bouncing, beribboned baby chick repeatedly becomes airborne.

The chick, presumably, already feels ultra-lucky because the squirrels don't pull the trampoline out from under him.

Like winning the lottery itself, this scenario (called a "Sweetscape") is the stuff of dreams. And visitors to the website don't have to dream too hard to create personalized sweetscapes of their own, such as this one, called "Caryn Eve's Sweetscape."

Ethereal, dreamlike, cloud-speckled and fluffy, it's a landscape that is nothing short of heavenly. The bigger question here is: Is it lucky?

Squirrels are known to be hoarders, which means if any of them have made their millions, they've done so through honest hard work and, of course, their legendary savings.
That is, until now.
Now, in the New York State campaign, squirrels are seen as being a part of the lottery sweetscape too.
Am I more likely to gamble, to take a chance on my sweet million, because New York State has gotten squirrels into the game?

You can bet on it.

03 May 2010

Goodbye is just the beginning

And now it is time to say goodbye.

Goodbye to the two male squirrels and the female who shared our attention, our property and our lives since last autumn when they arrived here as orphaned babies.

The trees have sent out their calling cards - big green leafy ones that dangle invitingly from the branches.

This season belongs to them. The woods are echoing quietly with the sounds of the tiny feet whose generations have gone there in all the seasons before theirs.

Goodbye to three squirrels, three very good squirrels. Nature and circumstance had made them orphans and now nature and circumstance have made them whole again.

All they need for their completeness now is woodland. It is their birthright.

And so their day is coming. That day, weather permitting, is tomorrow.

My goodbye is just the beginning for them.
I will not see them again in this lifetime.
I can only wish them, on this second time around, the best that nature and circumstance have to offer them all.

26 April 2010

One squirrel's misplaced leap

No squirrel is likely to argue with this: If you're already out on a limb and looking to jump, don't leap until you're certain the next branch will hold you.

So it was with the blog post of April 9 for "Grey and Red, A Squirrel Journal." Out on a limb is precisely the spot where we were when we sat down to declare the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles himself, as a man for all squirrels. The praise here practically constituted a coronation.

It might have paid to look a bit further. The branch to which we were leaping was not quite right. Charles is a man for red squirrels - all red squirrels, the beloved natives of his land - but God save the greys. In Charles' eyes the interloper greys are persona (or rodenta) non grata, as fellow blogger, the aptly named Lone Grey Squirrel, wasted no time in pointing out.

In a June 9, 2009 post on his own blog, Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel, he takes Charles to task, and rightly so. The prince, it seems, has shown neither decency nor humanity in dealing with the greys brought to the UK from overseas.

In short, Charles wants them exterminated simply for the crime of living and breathing on British soil, a land they did not migrate to of their own accord. In likening Charles' not-so-modest proposal to ethnic cleansing, my colleague Lone Grey Squirrel is right on point.

History has long recorded royalty's desire to wage blood-soaked wars to protect a nation from invaders, but these are not savage warriors possessed of bushy tails and spears. The eastern gray squirrel is a victim too.

Shame on the royal family for showing no compassion for the displaced. Shame on Charles for his declaration of war in 2009. It is a fine attribute to care for and protect one's own, but an even higher calling to help those living in a strange land, with nowhere to hide.

Loyal to the death

This is a very painful video to watch.
And yet I couldn't take my eyes off it.
I will never forget the image of this squirrel, hovering protectively over the body of a second squirrel. I am guessing, from the location of the body, the first animal had been struck by a car and killed. But those are not the details that matter.

The surviving squirrel fiercely protects what is left of the other squirrel. Could this be maternal instinct that did not die with her offspring? Could this be something else perhaps?

In case anyone ever has any doubts about the emotional intelligence that thrives within these tiny bodies, watch this video. Then watch it again.

09 April 2010

A prince of a guy

Can it be that the Prince of Wales is really the Prince of Squirrels?

It's no secret that Prince Charles is an open advocate of the imperiled native red squirrel, and he has referred to the tiny rodent as "this precious little animal," an argument it would be hard to challenge him on.

It is also no secret that he is a major player in the UK's Red Squirrel Survival Trust, which seeks to protect the nation's reds.

But the Prince obviously considers newspaper inquiries about his advocacy to be, well, something of a royal pain. A recent request by the Times newspaper in London, wanting to know more about Charles' lobbying on behalf of an ecologically (and squirrel-logically) friendly property developer was rebuffed by authorities, which called such information "a state secret."

Secret Squirrel, anyone?

Though love of squirrels should never be classified information, when love and politics mix, the rules apparently change - at least in government's eyes.

Freedom of the press is, of course, as precious as the freedom of squirrels to dance in the trees, so let's hope members of the press and members of government can sort this one out.

In the meantime, it is good to know that the Prince holds the native red squirrels dear, and that in the kingdom of his heart, they are truly the reigning species. If only they could learn to share with the greys, what a peaceable kingdom it might be.

01 April 2010

A squirrel's best friend

Her owners call the 4-year-old North Carolina poodle Pixie.

But three baby squirrels called her "momma," at least for a while. The mother dog had just finished weaning her own puppies when her milk became precious, life-saving elixir to the three infant squirrels displaced by a felled tree in the homeowner's yard.

The Daily Reflector newspaper carried this story, and with it, some photos of the mother dog and her little adopted youngsters.

When it came time for the babies to move on to care with a licensed rehabilitator, Pixie went through some maternal loss, or so the story says. Her owners are reportedly helping her overcome some of the sadness of no longer nursing young ones.

As for the three babies, they have their own challenges that lie ahead. Two seem to be faring well but the third appears to have difficulty processing and retaining food. There likely will be no followup in the newspaper to give details of the babies' fates, but one can only hope that their time with this generous and loving mother dog will have given them all strength - especially the weakest one - to go forward in life when the time comes.

23 March 2010

The Squirrelosphere

It's spring and suddenly everyone wants to know about squirrels. Squirrels, and questions about squirrels, are everywhere:

Are there babies?
Were many displaced by the big storm in the northeast?
Do squirrels vocalize?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

Something about the nature of the squirrel - the personality, the expressive face and eyes, the graceful, balanced acrobatics - inspires observation and ultimately, questions. For many, something about the nature of the squirrel also inspires a desire to intervene and help, particularly those for whom the graceful dance into life has been interrupted.

And so spring is the season of the Wildlife Rehabilitator as well, and is often to wildlife caretakers what Christmas is to the retail sector - or what Fourth of July is to the fireworks industry - absent the seven-figure profits, and occasionally too absent the blockbuster celebrations. Sadly, rebirth and birth carries a potential for tragedy as well as triumph. Under the best of circumstances, rehabilitators do their best to increase the odds so triumph trumps adversity.

It is a big Squirrelosphere out there. The squirrels are everywhere. Let's all keep our eyes open.

25 February 2010

The ACORNan O'Brien Show?

You know you've got to be desperate when you invite squirrels to get into your act just to save your career.

Conan O'Brien is nothing if not desperate. He's not only employing squirrels lately, he's not even getting their consent, much less letting them unionize. And now he's tweeting about it on Twitter.

The late-night host has joined Twitter and his most recent post indicates he "interviewed a squirrel" in his backyard and then cut to a commercial. (My best guess is that it wasn't even a commercial for Blue Diamond almonds or an early preview of "The Nutcracker.")

I'm sure the squirrel had much more interesting things to say than O'Brien could ever spout. Hey Conan, just because you don't speak the language, don't deny the little fellow his 15 minutes of fame.

OK, now for a disclaimer: I don't watch TV, much less late-night TV. I find sleep so much more interesting than any quip an overpaid guy in a suit could spew at me while I do battle trying to resist the midnight Arms of Morpheus. And I know Conan's broadcast career hasn't exactly been enjoying a banner year. A lot of folks would love to catch him in a Hav-A-Hart trap and ditch him back in NBC's woods, assuming the network has any.

But here's a thought: Let Conan really put a squirrel on his show - and give that squirrel more than a few seconds' worth of idle chattering time - let him sit on the couch throughout the whole nighttime gig - and you might just make me a convert.

I might just stay up and tune in. This could have the greatest potential since "Rocky and Bullwinkle."

18 February 2010

Not amused

At first, when the news story about Britain's amusement park squirrel went viral, it seemed a clear-cut case of "Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun." After all, a squirrel determined to hitch a ride on a roller-coaster seems like a natural contender for News of the Odd.

Except when you look at the photos, and look harder at the situation, it isn't quite so funny.

Squirrels are nature's own athletes, and every branch is their roller coaster, every shrub their bumper-car ride, every birdfeeder or high wire their amusement-park adventure.

That said, squirrels need humans' roller-coasters like squirrels need humans: They don't. Not unless they are very ill or injured. And if you look at any photos of this squirrel, Sonic (as this unfortunate creature was nicknamed) does not appear to be a particularly healthy eastern grey. His eyes are sunken and his fur lacks a healthy sheen. If he was stealing food from workers at the park, as reports indicated, you can also be sure this is a young squirrel starved for food, and likely seeking attention as much as handouts.

"Alton Towers Bans Daredevil Squirrel from Roller Coaster Ride," screams the headline above the article in The Mail. "Squirrel Banned from Riding Rollercoaster," is the spin given in the Telegraph. This is the same British theme park that features a ride called Squirrel Nutty, in which thrill-seekers ride along an elevated rail in a small car shaped like an acorn. This little squirrel, however, chose to make his appearance on the Sonic Spinball.

All those news reports were supposed to be cute but while everyone was busy making light of the situation, no one really looked hard enough to see what was really going on. Young wild animals such as this one do not come this close to humans unless there's a reason. And it's not a happy one. Certainly not a funny one.

It is several days since these articles first appeared online and in print.
I have to wonder if Sonic is even still alive.
I wish more people had been on the lookout for the animal's welfare instead of just a good laugh.

09 February 2010

Having a blast!

The East Coast braces for yet another major download of snow - 10 inches alone expected in New York, with additional frozen blitz expected to slam an already wounded Washington, D.C., area.

But let's take comfort in the fact that squirrels - most of them, anyway - are going to be ok. That was the reassurance offered by a Washington Post article a couple of days ago after that city started to emerge from near-suffocation by this record-breaking blanket.

The snow will blast many of us - and we are worried about ourselves as well as the local wildlife - but squirrels are, after all, hardy. They can hunker down, nibble on the snacks they have put away in their nests, or just sleep until the Big Melt.

That's a good thing.

And yet let humans try that and they're called slackers and slugs. Who stores almonds in the cushions of their couch, or broccoli bits beneath the throw pillows? Who sleeps well past the noon hour? Squirrels - and they get away with it. They don't need to wake up and shovel, or summon a plow, in order to get to work. When they wake up (if they choose to wake up, that is), they're already on the job!

Then there's this squirrel.

Captured just the other day by the well-trained lens of a friend in Pennsylvania, this ambitious squirrel is actually in the middle of doing something most weary motorists would not attempt: Commuting to work. The squirrel seems to have little need of a snow plow or a tow truck. Or, for that matter, even two pairs of skis. (Click here for the entire sequence of pictures.)

So as half the nation readies for yet another blustery winter assault, and as Chicago, Minneapolis and other parts of the U.S. Midwest take stock of the precipitation that has already fallen, you can't help but be just a little bit jealous. It's blowing and snowing out there, and the squirrels are having a blast!

07 February 2010

The Honda Acorn???

This squirrel's funky. He rocks to a song from Kool and the Gang. He totes an oversized, disco-style acorn. And he's into Hondas - and also, it seems, this year's Super Bowl, where he'll be seen during a commercial break.

Take a look at this latest ad from Honda, which features the stylized, animated squirrel boogeying to the beat as a way of introducing the carmaker's new 4-wheel-drive Crosstour.

That's an Accord, by the way, not an Acorn. During a creative team conference at the ad agency, the squirrel probably lost the debate and with it, the naming rights.

Now, what would a Super Bowl game be without at least one squirrel commercial? There was the famous "running of the squirrels" that parodied the annual frenzy in Pamplona. And then there was the Trident chewing gum squirrel, who chomped on a dentist's nuts and no, the good doctor wasn't holding them in his hand at the time.

Super Bowl games and squirrel ads just naturally go together. And even though a football team called the Squirrels - from the Republic of Benin, in Africa - failed a few weeks ago to advance to the championships this year in its game against Egypt, it seems that the name, and the species, are been vindicated after all.

It's always a winning moment whenever squirrels get to go back to the Super Bowl. And this guy's driving there in style, in a Honda Crosstour.

02 February 2010

Groundhogging the spotlight

Punxsutawney Phil and the Stork have something in common, it seems. Both herald births.

In the stork's case, it's kind of obvious, since the legendary long-limbed bird has spent generations arriving with a delivery of diapers, baby and (before he wised up and quit smoking) a pipe in his mouth.

In the groundhog's case, it's the delivery of spring - six weeks in advance of its often warmly welcomed birth. (This year, unfortunately, there will be a bit of hard labor before this birth is through: Six more weeks of winter was the proclamation delivered Punxsy Phil who, no doubt eased some of our pain and suffering by text-messaging his findings to people's phones in case they missed him on TV.)

Well, at least three humans in my circle of friends are celebrating Groundhog Day, regardless of Phil's predictions, and it's not because they love winter. They love having a birthday today.

In fact, Hannah, who turns 10 today, doesn't even believe in the groundhog's power. Still, she says, "I think it should be a more popular holiday," she adds, no doubt because it happens to be her birthday. Hannah offers her own feet-on-the-ground weather forecast. "I also think that we will have a early spring because we don't really have that much snow now."

Marsha, who turns 33 today, is an animal lover but still thinks the holiday should be renamed. "Why don't they make my birthday a holiday, like Marsha's Birthday Day? See how good that would look on a calendar?" She's got a point. But she didn't expect to see her shadow this morning and, by all accounts, probably didn't.

Marshall, another two-legged non-groundhog pal, shares this birthday day with his wife, Sherry. And Marshall says: "You just put a damper on my birthday that I have to play second fiddle to a rodent. As long as he predicts I will have another birthday, that is enough."

Good point. Phil predicts that all birthdays today shall be happy ones - days in the spotlight and days without shadow.

Now please, he asks, can this tired groundhog just go back to sleep?

31 January 2010

Notes from the underground

No one could ever be more grounded - or perhaps UNDERgrounded - on the changing seasons than Punxsutawney Phil. He alone knows what lurks in the heart and mind of Mother Nature when he pops up from his legendary burrow on Feb. 2 and proclaims what the next six weeks will bring:

More harsh winter? Could that even be possible this year, when many of us have already overdosed on all things frigid and gloomy?

An early spring? Don't make us laugh, Phil. Please.

Still, the power does rest between him and his shadow, as the wakeful woodchuck rises from his Rip Van Winkle style nap and emerges at Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania, the eyes of the world upon him.

And why not?

Everyone knows: if you want a good deal on a product, go to the underground. If you want to learn a deep, dark secret about someone, look to the underground. If you want to get a dirty job done, take it to the underground. No one will be watching. Not even the groundhogs who, at this time of the year, are usually sleeping.

By now, though, it's an old story. Phil is likely weary of it too, partly because his notorious shadow is quickly eradicated by the glare of the network TV cameras surrounding this poor soul as he rubs his eyes and slowly makes his way above ground.

Ah Phil. Seems that on Groundhog's Day morning the only thing he may be able to reliably predict is six more weeks of publicity.

28 January 2010

Squirrels go posh

Who buried all those acorns around New York's Grand Central Terminal?

This time, you can't blame (or credit) some street-smart squirrel. Try the 18th century American shipping and railroad magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt wasn't looking to cache away nutritious foods for the winter when he worked the acorn and oak leaf motif into the stonework of the Manhattan rail station's main concourse: The Vanderbilt patriarch was creating a family crest for his emerging dynasty - the very visual signature it lacked, even as its fortunes grew over the years.

What better symbol than the acorn, known for hundreds, if not millions of years, to squirrels as the repository of a bountiful, leafy and sturdy future? It simply took humans a little longer to catch on to the idea.

The Vanderbilt-Acorn connection continues to this day, as the Jean and Alexander Heard Library at his eponymous university in Nashville, Tenn., is known to publish a magazine known as the Acorn Chronicle. You can just bet the campus squirrels couldn't be happier.

It remains to be seen whether Vanderbilt was a secret sciurophile, or just had a fancy for the same things preferred by our bushytailed pals. Nonetheless, to have a member of the nation's elite class share a sweetness for the same things as squirrels is a wonderful thing indeed. It's downright egalitarian.

Cornelius - or is that ACORN-elius?? - we thank you.

21 January 2010

For squirrel worshippers, a religious holiday

Season's Greetings. Merry Squirrel Appreciation Day.

And now, time for some carols: "Joy to the Skwerl." "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claws." And, of course, let's dance "The Nutcracker" and believe that there's a special present waiting, just for you, coming all the way from the Gnawth Pole.

Oh, so maybe you're not a believer? If you cannot possibly see royalty in a face such as this one - on a furry Floridian named King Hammy - then Ye of Little Faith may be doomed to a life without Reveling in Rodents.

And revel we must in this glorious season: The gift of Squirrel Appreciation Day was bestowed upon the world some years ago by a wildlife rehabilitator from North Carolina, and once its wrapping came undone, its charms and its customs spread quickly.

Forget the offerings of frankincense and myrrh. Walnuts and filberts are where it's at. Besides, Squirrel Appreciation Day ushers in the holy season that concludes early next month with Groundhog Day.

So may your days be merry and bright, and may your day be a beautiful shade of grey.

And remember: Only 364 shopping days until Squirrel Appreciation Day 2011.

17 January 2010

Victory, just for being squirrels

Sometimes the squirrels win.
Sometimes they don't.

The national football team of the African republic of Benin, The Squirrels ("Les Ecureuils") met with an unfortunate defeat today on the playing field where they were pitted against the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

I will resist the urge to state the obvious: that even in nature, squirrels rarely have a chance in any competition against eagles. Those sharp-eyed, high-flying birds are natural predators, and their talons are formidable weapons. There are no rules of sportsmanship here; only laws of survival of the fittest and swiftest.

Still, in this heated battle of the Orange Africa Nations Cup, it would have been heartening to see the pride of Benin give local sports fans something to chatter about. Instead, Nigeria's Eagles flew to victory.

In the United Kingdom, however, squirrels gained more than just a few points on the scoreboard about a week ago: A study by the British Trust for Ornithology revealed that, despite popular fears, the presence of the non-native eastern grey squirrel in Britain has had little or no impact (and certainly minimal negative impact) on that nation's 38 or so native avian species.

In this particular duel between avians and squirrels, it appears the squirrels have energed vindicated, if not altogether victorious.

Squirrel fans are cheering this quieter, less publicized triumph for the eastern grey squirrels in the UK. The squirrels are unwelcome strangers in a strange land where they have been targeted as a vector for the deadly squirrel pox, and for driving the beloved, native reds out of their home territories.

We all needed this good news, and so did the squirrels.
Although the Squirrels of Benin missed their chance today, the eastern greys of Britain can, for now, still carry the ball.

08 January 2010

Mother's Day

The new year, 2010, apparently isn't the only thing that has just been born: A small female squirrel is coming to our back door and she is very obviously nursing.

Spring baby season is out of kilter with the calendar, or so it seems. The annual December pairings generally don't produce the year's first crop of neonates until February (late January at the earliest).

So why - if my observations are correct - does the New Year's baby for 2010 promise to sport a bushy tail?

The seasons have begun to blend together. Mid-summer, normally a hiatus of a few weeks between the spring births and the fall arrivals, is now simply a continuation of the population assembly line. Gestation periods - 45 to 48 days - haven't changed, so are squirrels mating more, and more often?

We may never know. We can only hope, at this juncture, that this little mother squirrel, and the many others who are likely out there, are tucking their little ones in safe and warm beneath their fur, safe from an otherwise hostile blanket of snow and ice.

03 January 2010

Taking attendance

Here they are, again. Mr. Tilty. The pretty notch-eared momma squirrel who sits on the doorknob. The fat little youngsters who shoot up and down the trunk of the nearest maple to the house.

As they come to our back door, one by one, they aren't really reporting for duty - just for handouts, mainly - but I am taking attendance nonetheless.

The passing of 2009 left behind so many. We have long since ceased calling their names: Miss Tillie, an indoor rehab squirrel, died. Miss Daisy, who was caged right near her, survived to be joyously released. And then there were the anonymous squirrels relegated to the euphemistic status of "roadkill." The young males. The aging mama squirrels. They had no less dignity, no less worth, than the ones whose faces we knew, the ones we'd graced with names.

With 2010 upon us, we are taking attendance again. When they come, they bring a sigh of relief. Another long year awaits us all.

I will continue to call their names and hope for the best.