It’s a real holiday! It’s today, January 21st. Keep an eye out for squirrels as you go about your day, and appreciate their resourcefulness, climbing ability, and cuteness. (Photos are from http://squirrelworld.lincatz.com , a site for squirrel appreciators.)
I live in a solidly urban area of a major city, but even so, the neighborhood where I live is a major squirrel habitat. Even on the busy street of high-rise buildings where I work, I typically see at least one squirrel along my four-block walk from the bus stop to my office. A squirrel can live happily in an area so small you wouldn’t even know it was a forest, like a seven-foot-wide strip of lawn with a couple of trees.
As ubiquitous urban animals go, you can do a lot worse than squirrels. Although they eat from my compost bin, they don’t knock it over. I sometimes find a few gnawed nutshells on my porch railing, but those are easily brushed off. I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen squirrel poop, let alone found it splattered all over my car. Squirrels make noises, but at least they don’t sing a loud song every time the sun comes up or bark insanely while jumping all over people. They hardly ever bite people and certainly do not drink our blood as their regular diet. They don’t come into our house and crawl all over our honey jar. So I prefer squirrels to birds, dogs, mosquitoes, and ants–and I’m glad I don’t live in a part of the world where monkeys, snakes, leopards, or scorpions are a part of daily life!
Sure, I’ve had occasions to grumble about squirrels. They dig up and eat many of the plants and bulbs I try to get growing in my yard. They chewed a hole in the wood trim of the house where I lived 20 years ago, nested in the wall of my bedroom, and began their mating season (rhythmic thumping and gasps of squirrel passion!) before my landlord fished them all out. They used to destroy my mother’s peach crop. But this is all part of their simply living their lives. I’m sure they find it annoying that we live in their habitat, too.
I appreciate squirrels on an almost daily basis. It’s amazing how fast they can run up or down a vertical surface–even backwards!–or along a narrow, flexible wire. Their fluffy tails are gorgeous, and I like their little faces. Sometimes I sit on my porch and watch them playing together. For the past year, there’s been a black squirrel on my block, and being able to recognize that individual made me aware of how small a squirrel’s habitat really is. (After a while, though, my son pointed out that there are actually two black squirrels, maybe even three, within a few blocks, so we were not always seeing the black squirrel. I wasn’t sure until I saw two at once. Now I can recognize “our” black squirrel, who looks slightly different from the up-the-block black squirrel.)
I used to have a job running research studies on participants who typically arrived by car; I had to stand outside the building to meet them and open the gate to the parking lot. One day while I was standing there, a squirrel came dashing down the hill, across the street, right past me, racing about 200 feet in a straight line to a particular spot on the lawn, where it instantly began to dig. It soon unearthed some nuts, stored them in its cheeks, and immediately ran back the way it had come. That memory for the exact location is something to appreciate!
A few years ago on Squirrel Appreciation Day, after walking my kid to school I paused on the sidewalk to watch several squirrels capering overhead. The mother of another student stopped to see what I was looking at. She was from Japan and spoke very careful English, with an accent.
ME: Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day! This is a time to enjoy the squirrels.
HER: Ah…this is like…Gand Foke Day?
ME: Grand Folk Day?
HER: Gand Foke Day.
ME: Do you mean Grandparents’ Day?
HER: Gand foke is an animal, I think bigger than squirrel, and live in gown? It is tradition to watch him come up? Will we have more snow?
ME: Oh! Groundhog Day!
HER: Yes! Gond Hoge Day!
ME: Yes! It’s like Groundhog Day, only for squirrels. They don’t predict the weather. It’s just a time to appreciate them.
HER: (admiring squirrels) Not afaid of cold. Always busy.
It was nice to understand each other. We appreciated the squirrels together for a while before moving along. I still think of February 2 as Grand Folk Day–after all, pretending that the groundhog forecasts the weather is a grand folk tradition.
I’m sad to say that no squirrels presented themselves for my appreciation on my way to work this particular morning. We are getting wet snow here in Pittsburgh today, and the squirrels are probably in their nests sheltering under their tails. I’ll have to appreciate that mental image of comfort instead of appreciating squirrels face-to-face today.