23 March 2012

For leadership, look to Washington, D.C.

People who seek a guiding spirit for our nation, someone to lead us past petty troubles toward a higher, greater good, often come away disappointed as they stand, if only figuratively, in the shadow of the Capitol or the White House.

But yes, the spirit of leadership does thrive after all in Washington, D.C. Any doubters need only turn to the Washington Post website, to a recent article by columnist John Kelly, which speaks of cherry blossoms and their eternal hold on a now-retired botanist.

We are not talking here about cherry blossoms or botany, however. We are drawn to the very bottom of Kelly's column, where he reveals himself a true commander in this capital city. He writes: "My second annual Squirrel Week kicks off April 8. Send squirrel-related questions to kellyj@washpost.com. Put “Squirrel Query” in the subject line."

Wildlife rehabilitators are known to readily initiate such now-entrenched celebrations as Squirrel Appreciation Day, in the autumn, and Squirrel Appreciation Week, in January - and older tradition has, of course, brought us Groundhog Day in February. But it takes initiative, guts and pluck for a "wildlife civilian" such as Kelly to put himself out there on the maple limb with the bushytails and proclaim a designated Squirrel Week - the second annual one, no less - in a high-profile metropolis that has been known, throughout our nation's evolution, for far more global, history-making events.

This, I maintain, is leadership. The Washington Post already raised the curtain on this special week back in January with its online gallery of readers' squirrel photos. Kelly, who is clearly a fan of squirrels, also clearly works in a Scuridae-friendly environment - something I hope the nearby U.S. Department of Labor will take note of when handing out workplace merit badges.

Ah, but why is this leadership?

Because it takes courage, commitment and honesty to advocate for the little guy. To advocate for the helpless. To share the stories and photos of the oft-disenfranchised. We often hear these very pleas delivered in testimony on Capitol Hill, a nut's-throw (or two) from the Washington Post newsroom. Squirrels are simply a smaller, unseen nation of 99 percenters.

Thanks to journalists who are not afraid to take the lead, people such as Kelly - and the Washington Post, which supports his efforts - this small nation stands much less of a chance of being forgotten.

13 March 2012

Cast in a new role

Her name is Violet, and she is not much bigger than the soft, violet-colored cast crafted of vet wrap that presently protects her injured front leg.

Violet made news just a few days ago when she tumbled out of the nest in a tree, as it was being cut down, landing her, front and center, on the Huffington Post website as a squirrel in distress. MSNBC, The Daily Mail and a few other news services also picked up the story and ran with it.

And there, through it all, was this photo of Violet, cradled gently in the palm of some anonymous, off-camera caretaker at the Wildlife Aid Foundation in Surrey, England. It was her shining moment of glory, her celebration of a life saved - a not insignificant act, considering this occurred in Britain, where eastern gray squirrels are viewed as non-native, invasive, unwanted pests and are often the focus of sanctioned killing sprees.

Violet is clearly an eastern gray squirrel. A not-quite-3-week-old, eyes-closed, injured, orphaned and very important eastern gray squirrel. And she is very much wanted. The rescuers have committed to caring for her and her brother, who was given the name Fred, until their release back into the wild in a few months when they are healthy and grown.

So her little purple cast has become more than a vehicle for her recovery. It is a symbol of the love and responsibility people can still have for the tiny, the helpless and the disenfranchised among us.

There is no doubt that before she and Fred are released, this tiny squirrel will stir more than her weight in compassion and awareness that even in a hostile world there can be hope.

08 March 2012

Plumb out of answers

One South Carolina town has been so flush with squirrels this year that even its toilets have been flush with squirrels.

In fact, Channel 10, WIS-TV, broadcast a report about one local homeowner, Rose Strohman-Morris, of the town of North, who discovered one such bushytail getting down and dirty hanging out in her plumbing just this week.

Oddly enough, according to the report, she is not the only resident who has reported rodents in their restroom. The town's mayor, Earl Jeffcoat, is quoted by the TV station as calling this mini-invasion "a nuisance."

The locals attribute it to the overpopulation of squirrels. But that seems, to say the least, an oversimplification. And there have been reports of this happening before, in other locales: In March 2011, in Malawi. In Oklahoma, in 2010. And in 2008, in Canada, when it was a flying squirrel that landed down under the lid.

Squirrels are tree dwellers, not potty animals. It's unlikely they actively seek out homeowners' bidets and bowls in the hopes of scoring a big nut cache.

And a toilet is hardly an ideal receptacle for anything you wish to store for the long haul.

Clearly, the squirrels are there as uninvited guests: Those with standing offers to come to dinner or perhaps Sunday brunch are more likely to make their entrance through the front or side door, wiping their paws delicately first on the welcome mat.

A toilet is the last place you'd drop into as a guest of honor.

How the squirrels ended up in some folks' pipes and bowls is anyone's guess at this point but it's clear if the squirrels had any choice in the matter, they'd hightail (or bushytail) it out of there, especially if they knew what they were getting into, in the first place.

Fortunately, making use of an improvised catchpole of sorts, Strohman-Morris was able to clear the living clog safely from her bowl, taking him outside, thus saving a life and leaving the toilet free for its somewhat earthier mission.

You can bet the squirrel wasn't the only one who immediately felt relief.