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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Little sympathy for harried squirrel

Herald Outdoors Columnist

Herald Outdoors Columnist

I was sitting on a rock in the stream cleaning some trout. It had been a good morning’s fishing. Dappled sunlight danced through the trees and the cool shade was delightful. All was totally right with the world.

As I performed my fish-cleaning task and dreamed of grilled rainbows and steamed potatoes, my eyes took in the pristine mountain surroundings. Late-blooming rosebay rhododendron added pinkish highlights to a verdant backdrop of hemlock and white pine. Tiny water droplets hung suspended in a mist above cascading rivulets flowing between moss-covered boulders. A gray squirrel played in the treetops above me.

I don’t know why my attention became fixed upon the squirrel, but I began watching him with undivided concentration. He carried a tiny green apple in his mouth, a morsel he no doubt planned to carry to some safe spot for his breakfast. The bushytailed critter found a long limb extending out over the water and proceeded to cross the creek. He was maybe thirty feet above me.

The limb was the wrong route to take. Evidently dead, it gave way with a loud snap just as the squirrel reached a point about halfway to the other side of the stream. The branch, squirrel and all, paid homage to gravity and plummeted downward, landing with a resounding splash. I don’t speak squirrel, but this one had a recognizable “Oh !@#$%!” look in his eyes as the limb gave way.

The waterlogged rodent floated on the surface for a moment as if dead. When he gathered himself, he swam for the bank in panic. Squirrels aren’t accomplished swimmers. The sight was quite amusing.

Then I got to thinking. How insensitive my mirthful laughter. Squirrels, after all, are hapless, hard-luck, pathetic creatures, their lives no bed of roses. I began to imagine this one’s day from the time he first climbed out of bed.

Emerging from his leafy nest, which had nearly disintegrated in last night’s wind storm, he climbed sleepily down the tree trunk toward the ground. Halfway down, a bigger squirrel attacked and chased him round and round the tree, clawing several hairs from his tail in the process. Winded, he made it to the roadside, where he climbed a fence post and rose to full height on his back legs. Fortunately, the red-shouldered hawk was either nearsighted or suffering from a hangover. It missed. Barely. The squirrel lost a few more hairs and a shred of skin, this time from his buck-toothed little head.

Escaping across the road, he was too panicked to notice the oncoming log truck. Close call. The turbulence from the rapidly turning wheels blew him into the ditch, where he was hit full in the face by a stream of Brown’s Mule tobacco juice just that moment expectorated out the driver’s side window.

Headed for the creek, he crossed a farmyard, where a grinning barefoot boy narrowly missed gunning him down with a homemade slingshot as he snitched that little green apple from a tree in the small orchard. All in all, a pretty routine morning, he thought. Such is a day in the life of a squirrel.

Then, bless his squirrely little heart, he makes it to the creek bank, climbs a tree, starts across, and crashes headlong into the water below. This he could not have possibly figured on. Poor little guy lost his apple and his dignity, only to be laughed at by a seedy-looking two-legged critter sitting on a rock.

I left the creek that day harboring a whole new understanding (tempered with no small measure of sympathy) of squirrels and their daily fight for survival. Maybe, I thought, I am a changed man. Come October, perhaps I’ll let the .22 just gather dust behind the closet door.

Then came images of squirrel and gravy, squirrel and dumplings, fried squirrel quarters, and fricassee. My mouth began watering over thoughts of my secret-recipe squirrel stew and fried cornbread. Added to that reverie were images of squirrel-demolished bird feeders and pilfered expensive garden bulbs.

Sympathy, huh?

Nice try, squirrel. It ain’t gonna work.

Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at cletus@windstream@net