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.