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.