I used to think these common rodents were just, well, bushy-tailed creatures who were good at caching away acorns. But the more I watch and read about them, the more my appreciation grows.
My interest in squirrels began years ago when my father-in-law told me an incredible story. His backyard was at the edge of the woods, and he and my mother-in-law enjoyed feeding the birds. The squirrels kept getting into the feeders so one day he shot one, thinking that if he left the body lie on the ground for a day or two, the squirrels would get the message. Minutes after he killed it, another squirrel came out of the woods and lay on the body. It stayed there for several hours mourning the life of its friend, family member, or mate.
My father-in-law never shot another squirrel.
I, too, witnessed an example of their humanity. I was driving on a country road when I saw a car hit a squirrel. I slowed down. The squirrel twitched and then lay still. A second squirrel who must have been watching, cautiously crept toward the lifeless body. It picked it up by the scruff of the neck and carried it off.
I’ve also observed the intelligence and agility of squirrels. Besides their acrobatics in the trees and their ability to get into “squirrel-proof” feeders, I’ve seen them cleverly cross busy roads by climbing up poles and crossing on the wires.
Since getting a dog, I’ve also learned to appreciate how squirrels can entertain. My Cockapoo, Josie, sits on a chair on the back porch and watches. When a squirrel appears, she runs to the door, hoping I’ll let her out. If I do, she streaks off. The squirrel flashes its tail in alarm and either runs in a confusing zigzag pattern or scampers up the tree. Josie’s never fast enough to catch one. The treed squirrel seems to delight in either scolding or teasing Josie from
its safe perch. Josie foolishly holds hope that the squirrel will let down its guard and forget she’s there, but the squirrel is too smart for that. The one time Josie could have gotten a young squirrel, she backed off, proving that it’s more of a game than anything. The squirrels seem to like it, too.
For fun, my daughter let her six- and eight-year-old sons try to design squirrel traps. They baited a cracker with peanut butter and set it under a propped wire basket with a string. The boys held the string and waited in the woods until the squirrel sniffed the peanut butter and ambled over. Once it was underneath the trap, the boys pulled the string. Most of the time, the squirrel was fast enough to escape. The boys were able to catch a few, though. On a humorous note, the squirrels soon realized that the boys would immediately release them. So they stopped panicking while trapped (this goes along with last week’s column titled Worry Less; Live More) and leisurely finished their peanut butter cracker, knowing they didn’t need to worry.
And finally, I’ve come to admire the squirrel’s philosophy of life: live for the moment, but be mindful of saving for the future. That cache of acorns might come in handy during the long, cold winter.
As I conclude this piece, a gray squirrel is twitching its tail and shooting glances toward our porch. It’s egging Josie on, I’m sure. I walk to the door and open it wide. Let the fun begin.