Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Year of the Squirrel

This morning I was driving to work and as I sat waiting for the light to change, I saw a squirrel run across the road. I was impressed how it crossed between the standing cars. They say animals can learn those things. I remember reading "Watership Down" and there being something in there about the dangers of the road. (Which reminds me, I really need to re-read that book!)

I started reflecting on how important squirrels are when you live in the city. Often they are the only wildlife people see, unless you include pigeons, which some people love and feed in violation of the city ordinance and many people despise as "rats with wings". My Dad is a card-carrying member of the "I Hate Pigeons Club." I remember one Father's Day, we had just come from brunch and we passed an obvious pigeon-lover throwing out breadcrumbs, and my Dad said to them as we walked by, "I see you like feeding the rats."

I myself notice all kinds of animals, but I am as they say, "very tuned in." I've seen hawks, rabbits, raccoons, deer, a myriad of birds including Monk Parakeets, waterfowl, possums and of course squirrels -all in the City of Chicago. Year round, I always have an eye out and ear craned for a woodpecker or a hawk, hummingbird or unusual insect even.

Over the years, I've devoted quite a few blog posts to our grey furred friend. I've pondered their busy-ness with bemusement. They have vexed me with their mischief. They raid my bird feeder and maim my pumpkins at Halloween, but I really don't mind. Squirrels gotta eat.

I've often joked that "squirrels are my affinity animal" or "I was a squirrel in a previous life." I tend to be thrifty and I hate to waste anything, especially anything edible. I will take the smallest bit of leftovers, toss it in a salad and call it a meal. All our stale bread goes to the birds. I compost as much as I can. If I grow an excess of say, kale in my garden, I start making kale tarts and such and freezing them. I wait for big bags green tomatoes to ripen at the end of the season and make gobs of sauce. Still have some in my freezer from last fall as a matter of fact. So, you get the picture. I am squirrel-like in my storing of food. I think like a squirrel.

But the squirrel is such a humble animal and it has such a difficult and short life, an average of 6 years. Around these parts, they also freeze their little squirrel butts off in winter. Why identify with such a creature? I really should identify with a more glamorous or worldly animal, one that lives a long time like an elephant, or maybe a tiger or at least a more useful animal that is also beautiful, like a horse. Or maybe a dog, everyone loves dogs.

But no, it's this little gray squirrel that crosses my path on a daily basis. I've gotten to know its character far better than any of those others I mentioned- except for the dog. I have 2 wonderful dogs and I know them pretty well. But they have a cushy existence and thus far have not impressed me with their fortitude or resourcefulness. I would not trade their adoring gazes for the world, but they are ultimately, big time moochers.

Obviously I've given these little critters some thought over the years. I have quite a few stories too. I don't think I ever posted about this, but once a squirrel got into our basement and hid there. Unfortunately, Billie, our cairn terrier hunted him down, cornered him, grabbed him by the neck and shook him till he was dead. That was a BIG day here at the 2-flat. After that, Steve and I were certain that Billie had fulfilled her destiny and that if she had died right then, she would have died satisfied. And did I cry over the grave of this unlucky critter? Nope. Cycles of life and stuff, ya know.

Just this year, I witnessed a stand off between a cat and a squirrel. The squirrel sat underneath my bird feeder gorging his pie hole with sunflower seeds and about 3 feet away sat a house cat, just watching and waiting. The squirrel looked unworried. The cat, in an ecstasy of predatory glory. Another day, I witnessed the same cat chasing a squirrel across the alley. Just think, here in the city, we have a microcosm of predator and prey playing itself our under a bird feeder. Hilarious.

So what is it I admire about these creatures?  Besides their overall resourcefulness, they are brave little creatures existing in a world that is dangerous beyond reason. Imagine dealing with the hazards of city living when you have a brain the size of a walnut?

They are very organized and store several thousand caches of food supply each season. And for the most part, they remember where they put it.

They are simple little animals, but they are extremely tenacious and persevering. And they live their little lives without pomp and circumstance. They never get the glory. They are overlooked and maligned as "rats with tails." But they just go on about their business. I admire their fortitude.


Sharon @ Laurelhurst Craftsman said...

We have a squirrel living in our garage. It's very cute, though it's a real pain to clean up after it.

Gary said...

Long time no post. I remember in England as a teenager seeing a sign in a butcher shop with a line of rabbits in the window. It read "Watership Down. You've read the book, seen the movie, now meet the cast,"

Gary said...

Long time no post. I remember in England as a teenager seeing a sign in a butcher shop with a line of rabbits in the window. It read "Watership Down. You've read the book, seen the movie, now meet the cast,"

Jocelyn said...

That's pretty funny Gary. :o)