When I was about ten my mother and I would sometimes take an afternoon and walk across town to visit my elderly, Aunt Edna and Uncle Ed. While mother sat in the kitchen and chatted with my talkative aunt, I would settle in on the metal, porch glider beside my uncle, with his huge, black dog resting at our feet. There we would slowly rock back and forth and talk about nothing in particular as we watched the wildlife in the yard. (Birds, squirrels, and the occasional cat)
My Great, Uncle Ed was a man of many unusual talents. Unguarded valuables seemed to stick to his fingers and vanish without a trace. He could avoid work while appearing to be busy. He could lie far better than he could tell the truth. I wouldn’t have trusted him with my meager allowance, and I would never have repeated one of his preposterous stories as gospel, but unlike a lot of people, I liked the cantankerous, old villain.
It was Uncle Ed that gave me my first close up look at squirrels. Ten of them to be exact. Skinned, gutted, and pasty white they floated in a kettle of salt water upon Aunt Edna’s old, gas stove. When he proudly lifted the kettle’s lid to show me the results of his morning, hunting trip, I gasped in horror.
“Uncle Ed, you’re going to eat rats!” I exclaimed. Needless to say, my reaction took away a little of the old man’s joy. No, I’m not emotionally scarred, and I am not anti-hunting, but every time I hear a person say that a squirrel is nothing but a tree rat, I see those naked carcasses floating in that pot. Sure, if you take away the soft fur, the fluffy, twitching tail that curls in question marks as a squirrel watches you through the window, if you take away that feisty personality and funny, expressive face, you may have something that looks like a mere rodent, but you don’t have a squirrel. Not the whole squirrel at least.
The squirrel’s intelligence always leaves me in awe. They can get past some of the most advanced, squirrel guards, raid candy machines, and train humans to do their bidding. They can lope across high wires and leap incredible distances onto branches that wouldn’t hold a song bird. They can fall from the treetops, leap to their feet and bound back to the tree to try again. They are gentle mothers, fearless combatants, and brimming with attitude. They can bury a nut and find it three months later under six inches of snow, when I can’t even remember where I put my car keys five minutes ago. A squirrel is not “just” a tree rat. A squirrel is one of God’s more miraculous creations, placed on this earth not only to fill a nitche in nature, but to entertain us and teach us to take a chance, have fun when we can, and always prepare for tomorrow.