30 January 2012

This chuck's not chuckling

2012 may well be the year that stumps even Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary prognosticating rodent. His cousins - Malverne Mel, Holtsville Hal and even his Canadian counterpart, Wiarton Willie - are likely dumbfounded too.

Even while many of us living in northern climates bask in a sun that somehow seems too strong for this post-solstice season, the question on everyone's not-so-frozen lips is somewhat different this year: How many weeks left until winter?

We are, it seems, shadow-boxing with this page of the calendar. And for even the most hibernation-prone among us, the issue has become something to lose sleep over: Where is winter? We are, it seems, being taken by storm in an unexpected way: A blitz of sunshine. And these oddly warmer days have begun to, well, snowball: Day after day of bright sun. A dusting of white to tease us. Even the chipmunks, yawning off their lighter cloak of sleep, seem confused.

Winter itself appears to have gone underground, reveling in the great torpor that was once the province of Phil and his ilk instead. So has the groundhog been deprived of the Arms of Morpheus? Will he ever again manage to achieve the R.E.M. stage of sleep, that deepest level which unwraps the gifts of all our wildest dreams, burrowed beneath consciousness?

To sleep, perchance to dream, dear Phil. Skip the holiday if you must, and snore your happy snore past Feb. 2 and beyond.
It's OK. As long as you close your eyes and dream of winter.
Make it happen. Chuck this weather.
Spring will come soon enough.

20 January 2012

'Tis the season to be ... appreciative

And so, among the squirrel-loving community, the December festivities are behind us and our own holiday season has finally arrived. It is a week or so of glory unto the highest - in this case, the highest branch:

Saturday, Jan. 21, Squirrel Appreciation Day, through Thursday, Feb. 2, Groundhog Day marks a time for rituals of deep winter napping, acorn-gathering, ceaseless chattering and, more often than not, going out on a limb. For the squirrels, at least, if not for us.

Even for the most orthodox and observant arboreal citizens who partake in this season, these rituals offer no opportunity for introspection or reflection: Rodents aren't known for their talents at self-assessment. When you're at the bottom of the food chain, it hardly seems an asset.

Neither is this a time for them to exchange gifts or indulge in acts of charitable giving: In their cache-as-cache-can world, squirrels have a notorious aversion to poverty, particularly their own. They covet one another's nuts. (Holiday season or not, when was the last time you saw a soup kitchen in an oak tree?)

And frankly, this is not even a season sweetened by melodies and caroling. Squirrels burst the winter silence with their pointed cacophany, their ill-mannered, loud and often dissonant chatter.

Squirrel Appreciation Day? It's all the same to them.

Ah but how do we humans - more inclined toward gratitude and related emotions - mark the season? We do our observing by serving. We deck the halls (and every place else) with bags of nuts. Cobs of corn. Chunks of bread.

And we dress in the festive colors of the holidays. Basic gray or perhaps even red for certain parts of the country. Or for those in the luckier regions to have even more variants of the species, a rare white or completely black outfit.

Somewhere after the reindeer of Christmas have departed and the bunny of Easter has yet to arrive, we encounter the simple squirrel of Appreciation Day.

This tiny bushy-tailed ornament makes every tree a holiday tree.

It takes so little to appreciate them.
Speak softly and carry a big nut.

And go forth, appreciatively.

04 January 2012

Portrait of the artist as a Young Squirrel

Add this to the list of notable movements in fine art: Cubism, Expressionism, Impressionism, Surrealism and now, Nuttism.

Nuttism comes to us courtesy of Winkelhimer Smith, a rescued eastern grey who believes that wielding a squirrel-hair paintbrush is hardly an artist's sure-fire route to the School of the Masters.

Rather, you need to engage the whole squirrel.

As we see in this video, Winkelhimer has matters clearly in paw.

Given the artist's diminutive size, one could argue the style more closely mimics Minimalism. And given the artist's unlikely talent, one might even press for inclusion in Surrealism. But Winkelhimer bears not even a hint of the signature Salvador Dali moustache and, of course, the facially hirsute Dali was never known for a matching, flamboyantly bushy anterior end.

Clearly, sciurus carolinensis could argue with success that this is Romanticism, plain and simple. There is something about his style, and the tilt of his talented paw, that touches the heart.

The bigger question, however, may well be this: What is Winkelhimer's next masterpiece to be? "Still Life With Walnut?" "Nude Descending a Maple?"

We can only expect great things.