Yesterday morning, I had just driven the ol’ Camry onto the driveway and was about to exit the car when I noticed the creature staring at me from the nearest tree. His stare was something between being threatening and being defensive. In his mouth was an avocado pit. Apparently, the squirrel had been raiding the neighbor’s trash bin again.
I live in an old part of town–one of the neighborhoods that is overgrown with antique deciduous trees. This means squirrels are found in most people’s yards. This also means there is plenty of free entertainment for anyone who looks out a window or sits on a porch.
Squirrels are cute versions of rats sporting fluffy tails. This rattiness is readily apparent when you see a squirrel dashing across the yard during a rain storm. There are few sights as ironically amusing than a soaking wet squirrel dragging its drooping tail through the lawn and up a tree. Squirrels use their tails for balance and steering when leaping, so the critters probably don’t do much leaping during a storm. I don’t know this for sure.
Aside from constantly eating, squirrels’ main occupation is hoarding seeds and nuts for the wintertime. Sometimes, when I look out the window in front of my desk, I notice one of the neighborhood squirrels burying a kernel of field corn. The animal spends a few moments afterwards carefully patting down the turf to its original condition. Evidently, this is to impart the squirrel’s individual scent onto the ground so she can find the morsel of food underneath layers of snow in the winter.
It’s amusing that we have the phrase in our vocabulary, “to squirrel away”. We use it to describe saving something to use later, like squirreling away some money for emergencies or squirreling away a memory for posterity.
Besides grazing for food and squirreling it away, squirrels often engage in petty larceny. There is the case of the neighborhood’s thieving squirrel that hoards avocado pits. There is the common practice of squirrels raiding bird feeders. Although the across-the-street neighbor provides plenty of corn for squirrels to enjoy, the little rodents have figured out how to get past squirrel barriers on the bird feeders. They are getting fat by gorging themselves on the special tasty seeds and nuts intended for songbirds.
Then there is the dichotomous nature of squirrel behavior. We can marvel at a squirrel’s grace and skill as it does a tightrope walk across an electrical power line far above the ground or as it jumps from branch to branch and tree to tree. On the ground, the squirrel loses most of its proficiency and confidence.
At the slightest noise, squirrels seem indecisive and irrational when choosing their escape to a tree. If there is more than one tree nearby, the squirrel seemingly can’t make up its mind which one to climb. Frequently, it decides to climb the tree that is furthest away.
When we drive a vehicle down a street in a tree-filled neighborhood we can encounter a squirrel or two that seems confused about whether or not to flee. When it finally decides to run off of the street, it dashes directly into the path of the oncoming vehicle. It’s tempting to nominate the squirrel species for a “Darwin Award” for their counter-intuitive lack of evolutionary, survival tactics.
Now that autumn has arrived in Nebraska, squirrels are among the few lawn-creatures that inhabit the neighborhood. Aside from the remaining cardinals, sparrows, and blue jays, squirrels are the only apparent creatures to be seen or heard during the day.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet. “Living is no laughing matter. You must live with great seriousness like a squirrel for example. I mean without looking for something beyond and above living. I mean living must be your whole occupation.”