His life began, as it does for all squirrels, in darkness. But when the critical 4-week period of his development arrived, bringing the promise of that welcome fifth sense, there was no sunlight to greet him: He'd been born without the eyes that would have let the world in.
The squirrel's rescue was the stuff of myths. We found this small creature ourselves, a gray body rolling about in the midst of traffic on a busy road one early evening in 2002. When we scooped him up, dodging traffic all the while, we discovered he was mysteriously unscathed. His skin betrayed not a single scratch, he harbored not a single flea. He appeared a picture-perfect juvenile of about 15 or 16 weeks, well past the weaning stage. He was, quite possibly, a squirrel of newfound independence from the birth nest.
Except for those eyes. The eyes that weren't.
How a squirrel denied vision could have made it this far - then made it to the center of a well-trafficked thoroughfare - will forever remain a mystery to us. Perhaps even to this squirrel, who was given the name Stevie Wonder. He was, in every way, a wonder - and more.
Our job, as rehabilitators, is not to keep, to collect nor to cage what is rightfully nature's. Our job is to give back, to restore, to make whole again. With Stevie Wonder, this was not possible. A veterinarian's exam confirmed that his eyes had never - and would never - develop. And so this gentle being learned to navigate a vastly narrower world, find joy in food, toys and such simple creature comforts as a hammock.
Ten years passed. A decade borrowed from beneath the crushing wheels of a car can be a gift. And so it was.
We can be certain of two truths central to the work of wildlife rehabilitation: The animals you raise are going to die. They will either die in your care or, someday, out there in the trees, well beyond your care and beyond your own field of vision. Perhaps these are things we are not meant to see.
But still, there are some things we hope to gaze upon: A few days ago, a young male and female squirrel left our care, ecstatically free as they ran out into the sunlit woods, released into the lifetime of wholeness they were born to seek.
That same week, Stevie Wonder took his leave of us. This, however, was a goodbye we had neither planned nor expected. An elderly squirrel, he slipped from the confinement of his sightless body and found his way to his own moment of release.
His life ended as it had begun - in darkness. Shortly before midnight he returned to nature, and the world he never saw made him whole again.