If you feed birds, chances are that you consider squirrels to be nothing more than a nuisance. Indeed squirrels eat so much seed that it is often difficult to keep a feeder filled, especially a small one. While I have no particular grudge against this furry animal who, after all, is just trying to make a living, I am very mindful about the cost of sunflower seeds. Our budget simply does not allow for replacing the seeds that the squirrels whip through with such astonishing speed. I compromise by spreading seed on the ground—some for the squirrels as well as crows, mourning doves, and, yes, mice.
Recently I came across a writer—Hal Borland—who also had some sympathy, and even empathy, for squirrels. According to Wikipedia, Hal Borland “was a well-known American author and journalist. In addition to writing several novels and books about the outdoors, he wrote ‘outdoor editorials’ for The New York Times for more than 30 years, from 1941 to 1978.”
In An American Year Borland writes about baby squirrels by his home. “Our baby squirrels were down on the ground today, for the first time. After that initial venture from the nest, they came out each morning, gaining confidence by the minute….But even on the fourth day they still descended the tree tail downward, in the manner of a black bear cub.”
Borland then goes on to describe how gradually the babies learned to go down head first and how cautious and frightened they were when they were on the ground. But Borland concludes, “From now on they’ll be coming and going many times a day. The mystery is broken. They have found the ground. The world is theirs—for a time.”
Even though I have lived in the woods for over thirty years, I have never been lucky enough to see baby squirrels venture to the ground for the first time. How I would love to see this!
Borland, with his beautiful, precise prose, reminds me yet again what an observant layperson can bring to nature writing. But better still, he reinforces my belief that when you look closely at the natural world, you can gain not only knowledge but also sympathy for the creatures who are struggling to earn their keep.
To my way of thinking, this sympathy can only be a good thing, especially when you consider how quickly we humans are driving so many animals to extinction.
For now, anyway, the squirrels are thriving. Next spring I’ll be on the lookout for baby squirrels leaving the nest.
And I’ll definitely be reading more of Hal Borland, who was introduced to me by Gladys Taber, in one of her books.