healing haven

March 29, 2008

A Squirrel’s World

Filed under: fiction,Pythian Games — by thalia @ 2:03 pm
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In response to a prompt at Pythian Games: 

My fingers find it hard to plait the daisies into a chain.  Reacting to the weather, they are swollen as well as just being pudgy.  I remember having no trouble doing this until recently.  Someone is watching!  Who would be out here?  I slowly look up and glance around the circle of trees where I am sitting.  No one there.  A slight motion at the corner of my eye catches my attention and I peer closer to observe a small brown squirrel peeking out from a hole in the base of the oak tree.  He watches intently even as I glimpse his tail moving in the dark.  I don’t see any others—just the one.  Is this the greedy squirrel who always eats all the birdseed?

He seems to take a deep breath as he says, “If you are going to come, you better put your best clothes on.”  A talking squirrel?  How can it be?   He scampers a bit closer and turns sideways, his bushy tail seeming to beckon me on.  “Are you coming?  No time to wait.”  He moves into the dark opening.


“I won’t be able to fit.”  How is it I am talking to a squirrel, much less worrying about fitting into the rotted hole?  And if I need to follow there is no time to change clothes.  That doesn’t make any sense.

 “Come, come.  No time.”  He disappears into the tree.

My curiosity aroused, I crawl over to the small opening and look inside.  Nothing there.  I cautiously extend my hand in to see how far back the hole goes.  As I do, I notice my hand appears to change, just like putting your hand in water and watching the refraction caused by different densities of air and water.  I pull it out and watch my tiny hand with thin fingers revert to a plumper hand with signs of aging.  In again, a little further, to see hand and arm shrink to.  Would the rest of me shrink, too?  Would I be flexible, once again, able to play like a child, to climb trees and run through the woods?  Like an adult able to climb onto the house roof to help build a chimney?

Without making any conscious decision, I surprised myself as I stood in the hole, not at all cramped.   What had looked to be pebbles on the ground just outside the tree-hole now appeared to be huge boulders out there. 

“Are you coming?” punctuated by a exasperated sigh.  I squinted into the inner recesses of the hole and discerned the squirrel with upraised tail – now bigger than I was.  For the first time I noticed how sharp and long the nails on his front feet were.  Gulp!  I’m so small – no match for an angry squirrel.

“Come!” he commanded, and started climbing up the inside of the tree.  I followed as best I could, grabbing onto protrusions formed by natural and, perhaps unnatural, means.  Sap and dirt clung to my hands and feet, dropping onto my clothes.  I was glad I hadn’t dressed in my best clothes.

Concentrating, to be sure I didn’t fall, I nearly bumped into him.  He stopped at another hole and then stepped out.  I followed, with more caution, but also curiosity.   My hands, for all the dirt and sap and activity, felt better than ever.  I could climb without my back hurting.  What happened to my glasses?

I flashed back remembering this: standing on a branch of the apple tree in the “little woods,” pausing to look around and see if I had time to climb higher to avoid detection in “hide and seek,” reveling in the smell of the apples and woods, observing green leaves against the blue sky, hearing the sounds of birds and squirrels scurrying about their business, feeling the tree bark as I held on.  Much of my childhood was spent here, delighting in the freedom of climbing trees, running through the woods, and building forts.  A welcome contrast to younger childhood years spent in an apartment being told not to make noise and disturb the sick man below.

I stepped out, balancing easily on the branch, following the squirrel who then said, “Watch how I do it.”  Before I knew it he threw the top part of himself off the branch as he held on with his hind feet.  His front paws grabbed the sunflower seeds in a green birdfeeder hanging from the tree.  One paw held onto the feeder tray for stability while the other stuffed sunflower seeds into his mouth.  A few quick mouth/nose wriggles and the hulls flew out, falling to the ground.  

He ate mouthfuls, then hoisted himself back upright.  “OK.  You try it while I get seed from the other feeder.  He trotted onto a smaller branch as it bent closer to a different feeder as he moved to the end.  He took a flying leap onto the top of the feeder, overshooting and falling to the rocky ground.  I gasped as he shook himself and then darted into the hole, reappearing at the top and heading out to do it again.

“Don’t watch me.  Get your own!”  He flew off again, judging the distance correctly this time.  I decided squirrels were use to getting their food while hanging upside down as I watched him as he hung upside down and gobbled seed.  The annoyed birds chirped their disdain for his gluttony and impatience to eat.

A black-capped chickadee flew at my feeder, startling me, grabbed a seed and flew off like a ribbon waving in the breeze.  I always liked to watch them politely take one seed and fly away so other birds could also partake.  So unlike squirrels who gobble everything until nothing is left. 

I moved over to the feeder,  and sat down, with the branch close to the crease of my knees, slid back and let myself down as I did years ago when I would play on the monkey bars at school or in the trees.  Will I get nauseous? or fall down?  But as I viewed the world upside-down, I felt great.  Everything looked so different from this perspective.  So much more to wonder about.  I took a seed, broke the hull in my teeth, separated out the hull and ate the sunflower nut.  Delicious! And now I knew why squirrels seemed to be so greedy.  With all the work and energy it took of getting into position to do this, more than one seed needed to be eaten to make it worthwhile.  So I ate slowly.  My deliberate movements eased the fears of the birds so they started to come around even with me there.  A tufted titmouse even landed on my outstretched arm as a perch, finding it easier to reach the seeds.  I longed to stroke a bird but didn’t want to upset them.

I was so engrossed with the living, colorful bird collage I jumped when Mr. Squirrel appeared on the branch next to me.  He appeared to be upside down when in reality it was me.

“Well, do you understand now?  Why we gobble a lot?  I’ve heard you asking why as you filled the feeders, thinking we were greedy.  You used to chase us away from eating but have relented and allow us to ear from two of the feeders, at least.  You even greased the feeder poles but that only kept us away for a short time until the cold solidified whatever grease you used.  It takes a lot of work for us to get the seeds.” 

I had swung back upright so I was sitting next to him.  We watched the other two squirrels and the inordinate number of birds flitting about as they determined pecking order for eating.  They ignored me as if I were of no consequence… and at my present size, I wasn’t.  Tiny, covered with dirt and sap to which seed hulls were stuck, what could I do?  Well, I didn’t want to do anything but enjoy being a part of the picture I always enjoyed watching from my window.

“It’s getting dark.  Time to retire to my nest.  And you should go back.  Who knows what would find you a tasty morsel… an owl?  a raccoon or a possum?  even a snake?”

“Thank you for inviting me.  It’s been so wonderful.”  I pirouetted along the branch as I moved closer to the trunk.  I allowed myself to tumble down even as Mr. Squirrel ran up and over a few trees to his nest.

“Could I come again?  Maybe visit your nest?”

“We’ll see,” resounded faintly.

I danced around at the bottom in the hole, did a few back flips (because I could), then took a deep breath.  I inched out of the hole, watching my body revert to the now familiar bigger, heavier, aching body.  I found my glasses in the dirt. I picked up my daisy chain and hung it over the doorway, as an offering, a blessing, a hope.

(see also http://pythiangames.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/a-squirrels-world/#comments)

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