Friday, 10 May 2013

A Squirrel's Tale

For the month of May, I am facilitating a Sit Spot Challenge and through this challenge, the 160 participants share their stories. As I read through the stories, one really stood out and I would like to share it with you. It is written by Deanna Hergert, a Sit Spot Challenge Participant. Enjoy.

A Squirrel's Tale

I arrived at my new rental residence on May 1st, just in time to begin my sit-spot from the fantastic porch in the residential neighborhood backyard. First thing I noticed was a squirrel nest by the hydro pole which has been taken over by European Starlings. I noticed the squirrel had made a fresh, new nest in an adjacent Basswood tree, but I did not realize the importance of this until today.

This evening, as I sat "sit-spotting" in the back yard, I watched as a squirrel carried a curiously large black object in her mouth from the old hydro pole nest area to the new nest in the Basswood tree. I investigated only to find that this large, black object was one of her young! This youngster seemed to be nearly her size, yet she manages to carry it in a curled up ball, holding it with her mouth. With such a disproportionate front-end weight, Mama squirrel cannot maintain her fragile balance and agility required to traverse the finer limbs of the tree top where her new nest is. She carries the babe partway up the trunk, then eases her youngster out of her grip and encourages it to take hold of the barks and make its way up the rest of the tree to the nest. The a display of "watch and learn", "squirrel see, squirrel do"-type behaviour. She displays for the babe how to do it, then makes her way to the nest from where she coerces the young to climb up to her. Reluctantly and shakily the babe clambers its way into the high stretches of the tree. Trembling with (likely) a combination of fear and weakness, the young squirrel struggles for a solid 45 minutes, as I get pulled deeper and deeper into their story (this is better than a film!). Occasionally Mama comes out from the nest to help and encourage where she can, but this is a journey that the youngster must take much on its own if it is ever going to learn to survive in the wild. 

Suddenly, as Mama squirrel and I watch, the young squirrel loses grip and slips from the branches of the tree. Falling a staggering 20+ feet from the tree, the squirrel lands SMACK onto the wooden platform of a child's treehouse which lies below!!! My heart drops!! That had to be a certain plunge to death! How does this happen?! Where's Disney when you need him?! Mama squirrel runs down the tree to the rescue, picks the young squirrel (incredibly still alive and moving - phew) up in her mouth and carries it, again, partway up the trunk before easing it back onto its own feet to finish the climb.
The poor wee gaffer is more frightened and reluctant than ever (you can imagine!), and keeps trying to climb down the trunk of the tree to the ground, desperately wanting to abort the mission. With nightfall coming on, such exposure would surely mean the demise of such a vulnerable creature. Mama know this, so keeps hopping out of her luring position in the nest to coerce the youngster to keep trying ("come on junior, get back on the horse, you can do it!"); She literally pick the babe up in her mouth for a moment to reposition its aim, dragging it for a brief moment to set the momentum back in the direction of the nest. 

Another 45 minutes passes. Junior has now overcome its insecurity and seems to be crawling more confidently than ever up the trunk of the tree. It takes the nest from a different approach this time (instead of coming in from above and trying to drop itself into the nest like its mom, it is coming up from the bottom; This seems far more promising to result in success. Stronger, faster, you see the squirrel bounce back from its frightful endeavor. Alas, the babe reaches the bottom of the bulging round nest, and now must work its way up around the sides of it and up and over the edge into the its safe confines. Things are looking good - come'on' lil' guy - almost there! I watch more closely than ever when LO! The poor little bugger slips from the edge, plunging the 20+ feet! Again, SMACK! The sound startles me as the delicate creature hits the solid tree fort platform, again! My heart drops and tears fall from my eyes - this is the most dramatic thing I have ever watched! Mama comes running down the length of the tree to the rescue.

By this time, iIt is almost completely dark outside and I struggle to see what happens. Rain is setting in - we know its coming soon - but only threats for the moment with a light sprinkle. Mama is getting desperate and there is not enough time to raise her disheveled youngster back to a confident and capable state to make the climb before nightfall (and rainfall). This new nest location isn't looking like prime real estate right now. Mama decide to abort the lesson for the day, and just picks Junior up (incredibly still alive and moving - Phew) and tries to carry it into the fine branches of the tree toward the nest. Her balance staggers as she is pulled to and fro by the heavy weight of her load, each time nearly tipping off the branches. I see Junior nearly drop from her grip as they get closer and closer to the nest in the high reaches of the tree. My eyes are frozen on the scene - I cannot possible look away or blink. Come'on Mama - you can do it! Her dedication and strength is astoundingly beautiful - nature, nature - this is life! Every cell of her ancestral existence is on her side - this is just what a mother does. With all her might, she grips the limbs and she grips her offspring with the ultimate dedication and perseverance. Tragically her babe slips from her grip and plunges, once again, the shocking 20+ feet through the limbs and lands SMACK on the tree fort platform!! 

For a brief moment, Mama hops into the nest this time, rather than rushing to her youngsters rescue immediately. ...catching her breath? ...a sobbing, heartbeat of a moment of the ultimate blow to her ability as a mother? The poor female hops out of the nest and darts to the rescue of her babe. It is getting too dark for me to see now - but I hear two sets of claws scratching the surface of the treefort platform. 

Mama seems to succumb to the idea that this is just not going to happen tonight; She needs to come up with a B-plan...and fast! She picks her youngster up in her mouth and hesitantly, almost aimlessly scales down the side of the Basswood to the ground. The rain is beginning to come down harder now - more of a steady sprinkle. She drops the babe partway across the lawn and runs off towards the fence - ...desperately looking for an idea perhaps? The young squirrel doesn't seem to move much, but I see a twitch of the tail in the darkness. Alive, but not looking so great. Mama comes back, scoops up her young, climbs the fence and retreats into a hedgerow of cedars for the night.