11 August 2011

The mystery of the woods

Three squirrels, ready for release:
No one knows where they will go in the next few hours. We lift the door and set them free. It is as light and easy as exhaling. And at the same time, as heavy as a sigh.
"Well, it's about time," they think (or perhaps not). And then, as if pages from the narrative of their existence had never been torn out, they will move along with grace to the next chapter.
The word "release" is not in their vocabulary but surely some syllables or sounds exist in an elemental lexicon to express what they feel as the earth takes its rightful place beneath their feet, as their bones celebrate the newness of it all.
Not more than a mile or two away from this vast, wooded release site where this trio breathes in new life, a small litter proved to be no match for the objective harshness of the world. A rescue call came in the night before: Newborns, some with their umbilical cords still attached, had been placed on the ground by well-meaning rescuers - for a hoped-for reunion with the mother, which never happened - and a combination of dehydation, lack of warmth, and a small swarm of ants, had overtaken them all.
The rescuer's voice on the phone was frantic as she hurried them to the animal hospital. The animal hospital sent back a message saying their prospects weren't good.
Perhaps these babies are all dead by now.
Perhaps there was no way to save them.
And perhaps the only certainty here is that we will never know what could have happened and if they even had a future.
As for the three babies from Springtime 2011, who have now grown and are living beyond the sheltered realm of human care and captivity, the same can be said: After today, the only certainty is that they are out there. Hurricane season will blow through, and winter will hold us all in lockdown, and then the January breeding that heralds the baby season will begin again.
Will they survive until then? They have come this far and yet these woods hold so much more mystery than we can ever know. The only certainty now is the undeniable uncertainty of their fates.
But as they wait for the hatch to open, they do not look the least bit worried. Already they are looking beyond.
I cannot see what they will do after this day, but I do believe in it, nonetheless.
And so, I will be content and have faith in that.

08 August 2011

"Take Your Squirrel to Work Day?"

All of a sudden, it seems like "Take Your Squirrel to Work Day" has been declared in Miller County, Arkansas: Two squirrels have set up shop on the windowsill of a county building to use as their daytime hangout, and they're even putting in some overtime at the office.

Dubbed "Millie" and "Miller" by their human workplace counterparts, they have even proven themselves to be exemplary county employees: They take their breaks regularly at the office water cooler (in this case, a big water dish set out on the sill to quench the thirsty pair). They are often spied with their eyes casting a longing glance or two, gazing in the window (well, they're already outdoors, so gazing out seems pointless). And, as often as they can - whether the big boss is watching or not - they put up all four feet and snooze.

One of the county staffers working inside the office even goes through the pantomime of giving them belly rubs - with the pane of window glass safely between her fingertips and their little bodies.

Millie and Miller have claimed the county building as their branchless branch office, and they're got everyone charmed. They recently shared their work ethic with all the world in this CBS News Video.

Their workplace tenacity could, however, portend a bit of a labor skirmish: The squirrels seem to savor the attention - not to mention the strategic locale - and often stay perched up there well past the traditional quitting time of the folks inside. One worker, Julie Huntley, told CBS News that these little gray civil servants still remain on duty even after it's time for the humans to lock up their desks and head home. Not that she's complaining, of course. Squirrels were never known to be clock-watchers, anyway.

But wait 'til the department chief sees all those overtime slips - ones marked with curious scratchings on the bottom, where there's space for an employee's signature. And wait'll someone smells these same overtime slips, redolent with hazelnut and walnut.

Union and management might just end up in the middle of a wage grievance that could possibly lead to arbitration. Or maybe just an arboretum.