Volume 14, Issue 3 ~ January 19 - 25, 2006

Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton

Seen in the Woods: One Squarl

January 21 is national Squirrel Appreciation Day

My friend Jan bought a field guide at a used bookstore. In the book someone had tucked a list of observations from a nature walk. It was written in the large, blocky letters of a child’s hand. Among the critters noted by the anonymous budding naturalist was “One Squarl.”

When I see a squirrel in the woods, I too want to grab pen and paper and scrawl down the observation.

Squirrels have their fans; I might even consider myself one of them. They are handsome and agile; they are wily survivors. But familiarity has a way of breeding contempt. If only they would keep out of our yards. If only they kept out of our bird feeders they might be viewed with more respect. If only they kept to the deep woods, where they might be rarely glimpsed, glimpsed by only the most sharp-eyed observers, then they might even be celebrated. Wildlife artists would paint them and the Post Office would issue stamps with their engraved images.

I once worked for an outfit that sold bird seed, feeders and binoculars. It was a position that required the patience of a bartender or a marriage counselor. Here is a conversation that, I swear, was repeated over and over:

Customer: I want to buy a bird house.

Me: Here is a nice one.

Customer: Where do you put the food?

Me: You want a bird feeder.

Customer: Oh, that is what I meant. Where do you stock them?

Me: Here is one.

Customer: But it is so ugly.

Me: Well, perhaps, but it is fairly squirrel proof.

Customer: Squirrel? Squirrels eat bird food?

The next 30 minutes would be spent patiently educating the naïve and innocent customer. I remember one Saturday conversation. One hour later the customer was out the door, bearing a new feeder and some seed, a little wiser and $30 poorer. Right away, a new face wandered in. I said, “Can I help you?” She said, “I want to buy a bird house.”

I am sorry that I rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t help it. I needed a break. Too bad I couldn’t have snuck off to the woods with a sharp-eyed seven-year-old for a nature walk. We could have taken some paper to make a list of observations. We could have searched for one squarl, one wild squarl.

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