the squirrel, in the tree
We have a gorgeous, enormous black walnut tree in our backyard which has many fans, particularly the human and furry types. It’s not so much a bird tree as a squirrel tree, and I’m particularly enamored of watching squirrels, so that’s fine with me.
Over the past few months, we’ve recognized the formation of a relationship with the critters, or at least one of them. The squirrel in question will sometimes sit and watch us chatter to each other outside, will stop and look at me as I leave the house, rather than immediately escaping to safety, will often pause when I say good morning to it. It has even cautiously descended the trunk a bit when V is clearly outside to, as far as we can tell, get her to chase it back up. We see one or two squirrels pretty regularly, but never more than that, so we’ve decided that they must be residing in 2 of the 3 or 4 nests nestled in the large branches. Sometimes we listen to them chattering to each other across the tree. We’re so into them, and the one in particular, that we, just last night, shared the story of our extended family with some friends (who were not all that into it; fair enough: we’re odd). This is our household: 2 humans, one dog, two squirrels, a network of outdoor spiders, the bunny babies that the shitty rabbit mother abandons to us to protect 3 or 4 times a year, and the occasional chipmunk or mouse, welcome in the yard only, though there is sometimes disagreement on that.
And then, this morning, B came up to the office after I thought he’d left for work and tearfully told me that one of our squirrels had died. It didn’t show any signs of attack; he just found it on the ground by the tree. And then I remembered – the nest of dried leaves piled on a chair and the grass next to it. I’d seen it after I walked V earlier, and innocently assumed it was a nest that had fallen into desuetude – it couldn’t possibly belong to one of Ours.
I felt crappy for the next few hours. Not for the squirrel – I can no longer believe that death is bad for the dead – but for us, and for the squirrel friend we imagine it left behind. I had been worried that our buddies might not have enough food for the winter because our tree decided not to fruit this year, likely due to the drought, and wondered if we should donate some nuts…. And now – one less squirrel to worry about. It’s been a while since I felt a loss. But when I finally left the house this afternoon, a squirrel ran all the way across the yard to scatter up the tree next to me, pausing when I said hello. And when I returned from my errands, it stopped and looked at me before heading out on its own. And just now, when I came out to write this, it ran up the tree trunk again, pausing at the fork and checking out V & me.
Maybe it’s the more social squirrel that survived, which would be nice, but still sad. Maybe it’s looking for its friend. Maybe it is trying, in some knowing, unknowable way, to let me know it’s still here. (There it is now, climbing to another resting spot.) Whatever the magical or materialist reality, it has certainly made itself known today as squirrel. That Squirrel still lives. That there is Squirrel and there will be Squirrel. And whatever squirrel loss we have endured, Squirrel survives; long after we and V and even the tree are gone. I’m grateful for that illumination.
I’ve been thinking a lot about anthropomorphism lately: the arrogance of attributing human attributes to plants and animals, and the arrogance of assuming we know their limitations. I’ll dig into that sometime soon. This is just a squirrel story.
7 thoughts on “A small, furry loss (perhaps)”
Ah, this hit home because our beloved cat died last week. I won’t get into details here but I’m grieving. Also I happen to have a similar squirrel story (what are the odds?) that I will tell you in person. Please remind me.
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So, so sorry about your cat, Cherie. You can share one or both of those relationships whenever you’re ready. I’d love to hear about them.
I loved your story about the squirrels, and I’m sorry you lost one of them and glad that you still have one to brighten your days. A few years ago, we had a squirrel who would climb into our circular window-mounted bird feeder and do all sort of acrobatics, perfectly happy to have three cats intently watching him. My daughter, who gave me the feeder, asked to have it back so she could give it to her grandma who was in the nursing home, so I didn’t see the antics of our squirrel anymore. But one night, there he was (maybe not him, but I like to think it was, because we only ever had one crazy friendly squirrel), climbing all over a window, hanging upside down, scuttling up the window frame. This went on for a long time. I’ve also seen him running around on the deck and coming up to the door to interact with the cats. I got another of the same bird feeder and want to put it up again (I bought it in 2020 but they were suggesting we not use bird feeders after we twice had a bear walk through town, walking through a yard kitty-corner to mine). I was thinking of the patio door so we can get back to watching our squirrel’s antics and entertain the cats at the same time.
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It doesn’t take much for me to get attached to an animal. Tonight I rescued a fly from my mom’s water glass. I poured it out and scooped up the fly with some tissue and brought it outside … a creature that I would have otherwise swatted. I can’t swat a fly when it’s down. I took the fly outside, set it on a leaf, and watched it prepare to fly again. I think it took 15 minutes, and I watched with my phone zoomed in so I could see the fascinating details of the drying-off process. It was windy, but the fly hung on. Eventually, it just zipped diagonally past my face and was gone. No thank-you, no goodbye, just a simple outta here. 🙂
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Love your engagement with that fly, Lauriellen. And your compassion. It takes virtually nothing for me to become attached to animals, too. I think it’s a gift? It does make everyday losses a little harder, but increases everyday joys as well. We recently had a fly in the house that drowned in the dregs of a maple syrup jar. I felt like it was a pretty good way to go, since we’re all gonna go. Kudos to your fly saving talents!
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Thanks, Zoe! I figured you’d relate. Jada, my granddaughter, turned 20 this year, and I shared an array of photos of her holding bugs. I love to see the fascination!