Nuts to the squirrel
Wednesday September 28th 2011, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

I happened to pick up two bags of nuts at the bird center last week. Might as well divert them with a little food too occasionally rather than keep fighting them off all the time, and maybe they’ll stop stealing my neighbor’s tomatoes that way. They don’t usually even like tomatoes.

She looked like she was overdue for an appointment with the hairdresser, a skunk stripe beginning to emerge down the center of the black fur in a stark line down her back. Mange.  The tip of her tail has been broken off too for awhile of late and I’ve seen it red, I’ve seen it healing, I’ve seen it infected after that and the tail hairs are very thinned and end in a sharp V that makes it easy to spot her, but now it seemed scabbed over, at least.

She was eating quietly away at ground level, for once not trying to leap to the feeder for a shakedown attempt.

Yet I went to chase her away anyway.

Have you ever been reproached by a squirrel? This one with the white whiskers had been particularly obstreperous in the past, but she just stopped and looked at me, head low.

And then limped slowly away.


I felt awful. And particularly so because I know what it’s like to have your balance get wrecked; squirrels do such cirque-de-soleil acts because they can balance so well by the flips of their long tails, and clearly, with hers damaged, things had suddenly not gone well.

I did not see her the rest of yesterday.

Nor today–till finally, in the afternoon, there she was, back on the patio alone in the heat of the Indian summer day, gleaning away at the time the others typically rest up and in the shade of the trees. She would have the ground to herself. Giving me, it felt like, a second chance.

I cracked open the door and she didn’t have the strength to run for it. I rolled a nut gently to her. She watched me. She ate it. I rolled her another, and it went past her; too far, too hard, not even for an almond, no. I tried again. Aimed better that time.

And so we communed a bit together, taking in each other’s measure, me offering her more each time she finished the previous. Nature says it’s Fall and solstice and one must eat much, and she was trying her best. Nature also says look out for hawks, and she glanced skyward a few times and seemed to shrug, eh, whatever.

She kept turning, trying to get a comfortable position. Facing me finally, I saw what I was expecting by then: her hip bone was splayed way out on one side, out of socket or broken I do not know, but I saw her try to straighten up to a squirrel pose but fall down in slow motion onto her forearms, again and again and again, giving up and just eating resting with the nut and her nose against the ground, but deciding to be determined and picking herself up and trying yet again. She hurt, she would do what she had to, but she was not going to let it get her.

There–put the left hind foot way forward to brace, okay, that worked.  She finished that hazelnut upright; I rolled another; she had to figure out all over again how to get the tail and the hip to work out right, and clearly it was hard and discouraging.

And one must put away for the winter too. I rolled one last big nut, thinking she couldn’t possibly eat one more bite, and I was right; she wanted badly to hide it, bury it, do the little squirrelly thing of faking out the bluejays and making and patting over ten holes to hide just the one nut.

But she just couldn’t. She turned back the other way: okay, tree time then.

She tried to go up and started to fall. I held my breath. She was going to DO this. She tried again and made it to the nearest limb. She caught her breath or resolve or something for a minute or two, and then climbed carefully higher where there was a wider limb she could better rest on.

That one hind leg kept giving out on her, but the better perch helped a lot. She couldn’t sit up but a moment–down again, down on her forearms, and that walnut became just the thing to make it all better; she held it and nibbled at it, unmolested by jays or hawks, full and having just a bit of dessert, watching me.

And I felt like I’d redeemed myself. A little.

12 Comments so far
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Oh, poor thing. It’s amazing how an injury changes our perceptions of each other. I hope your help gave her a bit more time to heal.

Comment by Pegi 09.29.11 @ 4:41 am

I love squirrels. I was afraid of them when I was three and their-size, but I think they are such a clever way to make keep the trees and the critters in O2/CO2 balance. I do believe that this is the first morning I have ever prayed for one. Thank you for getting my day off on the right paw…

Comment by Lynn 09.29.11 @ 4:49 am

Alison, will you quit making me cry about squirrels? You just made me feel it was a little bit of okay that the squirrels and birds ate all my blackberries.

Well, maybe I needed to start my new year off with forgiveness for the animal kingdom before I am ready to forgive myself.

La Shana Tovah!

Comment by afton 09.29.11 @ 5:11 am

I happen to like squirrels even if they are a nuisance. I bawled my eyes out the day I saw a mama squirrel showing her little one the ropes and then later in the day she was back, carrying him in her mouth, his soaking wet, lifeless little body hanging. She gently laid him down and nudged him with her nose, patted him with her paw, as if to say “Come on, Little One, it’s time to resume our lessons.” It was almost as though she didn’t know he was gone. I will never forget the hurt I felt in my heart that day.

Comment by Jody 09.29.11 @ 7:04 am

And she probably has little ones at home to feed. Poor little thing. I would bet she was caught by a cat. I am so tired of cats using my flower bed for a toilet that I have stuck plastic forks up in it to deter them–one more reason.

Comment by Sherry in Idaho 09.29.11 @ 8:10 am

poor creature. would it be worth it to try to capture her for a trip to the doctor?
we have a small forest right outside our front door just loaded with squirrels. i tend to throw out my plate scrapings/pizza crusts to them. they seem to be omnivorous. Mike also feeds them peanuts and they really like those. we have many oak trees here and we do our best to walk on the acorns that fall, so that the squirrels can eat them more easily. dont judge us; we’re empty-nesters with no pets.

Comment by Tola 09.29.11 @ 8:19 am

You brought tears to my eyes — your tale, and that of the commenters.

Comment by Don Meyer 09.29.11 @ 9:03 am

(forgot to put in my blog address above).

There was a time some years ago when we lost our first parakeet, Andy. He had lived about double the normal parakeet life span, but I just bawled.

Comment by Don Meyer 09.29.11 @ 9:08 am

Thank you Alison, for reminding us that we are here to care for the whole planet… even when it isn’t easy.

Comment by Channon 09.29.11 @ 9:50 am

Poor squirrel. I could recognize my own reactions when I don’t feel well so clearly in your descriptions.

There is a Wildlife Center of the Silicon Valley if you think she needs rehab. Hopefully she’ll do just fine in your yard where she’ll be understood.

Comment by RobinM 09.29.11 @ 1:04 pm

I know it is the natural cycle. Wild animals live and die in hard conditions, and it is part of what makes life so beautiful.

Yet when it is one-to-one, the dimensions are so changed that it is hard to keep that perspective.

Did you know that a suspension of nanoparticles of gold is not golden, it is blue? It’s all a matter of scale sometimes.

Comment by twinsetellen 09.29.11 @ 3:51 pm

Ah, showing compassion for animals- I have been reading all about that today. Mencius again, same chap as the Ox Mountain story I mentioned earlier. In his eyes, you would certainly have redeemed yourself, for it shows you are capable of great compassion to all humans, too! But we already knew that, didn’t we? 😉

Comment by tinebeest 09.30.11 @ 11:21 am

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