Olentangy Valley News

Just thinking

Squirrel leaves broken heart behind

I've had it with nature.

I don't refer, specifically, to the terrible cholera outbreak in Haiti or the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia or the tropical depression formerly known as Hurricane Richard (I'm guessing the demotion may have been what sent Richard spiraling into a depression), but wider calamities of nature probably did their parts to help push me over the edge.

Front and center, however, was the sudden and unexpected loss of our squirrel.

Thanks a lot, nature, is all I can say. Why giveth, if you're going to taketh away?

We don't get many squirrels out here. You'd think they'd be all over the place, but they aren't. Our yard is a no-man's land — a no-squirrel's land — for tree-dwelling rodents.

Sometimes I speak to the squirrels I see in town, trying to put my finger on the trouble.

"Is it the way the wind keeps blowing out there?" I say. "Is it the farm machinery going in and out? Is it É is it us?"

But the squirrels don't have much to say. For chattering creatures, they're very closed-mouthed.

Then a squirrel showed up.

We noticed its leftovers first. A messy collection of half-gnawed corncobs appeared at the foot of a maple tree a little distance from the house. Too many corncobs were in the same general area to have been kicked out of the field by the corn sheller, and anyway, they looked like what's left at the children's table after the kids have gone off to play.

I noticed the cobs on the ground, and then I looked up to see even more of them heaped in the Y of the tree. No one was home just then, but I had no doubt that the tree was a home. A home for something.

We hadn't seen this creature yet — for all we knew, something that had escaped from the zoo was eating corn on the cob in our tree — but we already were crazy about it. When we did, finally, spot our new friend — a smallish gray squirrel — we felt complete for the first time since we moved into the house decades ago. A squirrel! At last!

Our dog also behaved as if a void had been filled, not so much with the squirrel as with the aroma of squirrel. Pip loves a good strong smell the way a buzzard loves roadkill. Now that he had a squirrel's fragrance to be his constant companion, he was a dog with a mission: Sniff the corncobs, no doubt drenched in squirrel spit. Sniff the grass around the corncobs. Sniff the tree itself. Attempt to climb the tree. (Meet with a surprising degree of success.) Sniff the ground twelve-trillion more times before, if leashed, allowing himself to be dragged away or, if not leashed, belatedly responding to our hoarse shouts.

Oh, we all were happy, each of us in his or her own way, now that we had a squirrel in the yard. The squirrel seemed happy too, I thought, watching him scamper around the yard one afternoon.

But the idyll of the squirrel was destined to be short. Before dawn one morning I walked Pip near what had become the Squirrel Tree. Of course he stopped to sniff the ground at the base of the trunk. This was nothing new, and I stood in the dark, almost sleeping as I waited for him to come up for air so we could move on.

Then Pip did stop sniffing. He picked up an object, an object that even in the dark looked distinctly squirrel-shaped.

My heart jumped.

"Put it down, Pip," I said, so gently I didn't expect him to obey. But he did obey, and we left that place, both of us, I think, troubled.

Back in the house, I told my husband about the squirrel-shaped something under the tree. He was sure it was merely corn fodder, and that I was mistaken about the shape. I wanted to believe him, but I wasn't surprised when he told me later that it was, in fact, the squirrel. Our squirrel. Perhaps it had been sick; perhaps it came to us as an old, ailing animal, trying on its own to brace for one last winter.

So that's why I've had it with nature. Nature, I've decided, is too natural for me. I'll take Disney instead. I'll take Hallmark.

Unless, of course, another squirrel comes along.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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