Prior to sitting down at my computer, I spent most of the last hour lying on the bathroom floor as a squirrel tucked walnuts around me. He’d take breaks here and there to tackle my hand and I’d wrestle him for a bit before giving his belly a good scratching, and then he’d race back to my sleeve or collar to retrieve one of those nuts just to hide it again.
You know, a morning pretty much like that of most every other 56-year-old woman.
A few Sundays ago, I was working in my home office while Don was a few rooms away, working in his, when I was struck with this oddly urgent need to make a run to our storage unit.
(In the past, if I were to share this story, I’d likely have left out this part as it makes me sound a bit mad, but perhaps it’s this age-56 business that has me not caring who thinks what about me. It’s freeing. I like it. Think of me what you will.)
Because our house is somewhat small and storage is scarce, a year or so back we rented a mid-sized space a few blocks away. On this particular day, we only had a few items we were needing to take and generally would’ve waited for more, yet I felt absolutely compelled to get up and go right then. Don came along.
Our storage unit is inside a warehouse-sized building, with our space far in the back. We had just started down the main hallway when Don stopped suddenly, having seen what appeared to be a dead rat on the floor.
And then it moved.
I hurried around him and saw it was a nearly dead young squirrel that had apparently gotten trapped inside the cavernous building and couldn’t get out.
Before this, my experience with squirrels was limited to those I encountered while working at the West Virginia state capitol. Panhandler squirrels, prone to slam-dunking food morsels that weren’t up to their standards. Wary of being bitten, I retrieved a cooler from our storage unit and rubber gloves from the truck, yet this poor little guy was so weak he didn’t resist.
At first, I worried he might have gotten into rat poison and feared we were about to watch him suffer a horrible death, or that he was simply too weak and dehydrated to revive, but we found a recipe online for homemade Pedialyte, and a few droppers later, he began to come around.
My daughter brought over a container of goat’s milk, which we warmed in a shot glass (even a starving baby squirrel may refuse food if it isn’t sufficiently warm), and he drained it greedily, and then a few more. After he finished, he crawled into the pouch of my hoodie to sleep. As if this was the most natural thing in the world.
We researched baby squirrels and learned his age — according to hair growth on his tail — was somewhere between five weeks and seven. He had not yet begun to eat solid food and his teeth were so tiny I guessed five weeks was more likely. I ordered better formula and special squirrel feeders, found a used three-story cage, and learned of the best times and places to free the squirrel once he’s raised.
Since then, I’ve been going about much of my days with a squirrel in my sleeve or my pouch or my hood. When I must go into the office, Don assumes the role of human tree.
And when we traveled 12 hours to my brother’s house, the squirrel came along.
Over the years, my parents and I have raised many creatures. Wild baby rabbits were the hardest, as often a failure as they were a success, but the rest generally flourished, growing strong and healthy and prepared for going back out into the wild, if they chose.
This new little guy — Rudy — has been the sweetest distraction. A nice reminder of happier, healthier times.
“How about banana?” Dad said this morning at breakfast. “Has he tried a banana?”
“I saved him some of my toast,” said Mom, nudging her napkin our way.
Because of COVID-19, this is the first time I’ve been able to see my folks for months. The changes between then and now have been hard.
My heart hurts.
The first time I ended up on the bathroom floor, it was because my emotions were getting the better of me. That Rudy was there was simply because I was being his tree. When I slid down to the floor, he emerged from my hood and began spazzing around.
Began making me laugh.
Began reminding me what a blessing it is to take care of someone you love.
So, was it a fluke Rudy appeared in our lives just when and how he did?
I don’t believe that it was.
But maybe I’m nuts.