18 Apr

The Daily Post – Squirrels


The McGlynn: I know this to be absolutely true.

A few days after I (an ancient one) was born I asked my mother where in the hell did I come from. Her reply was and remained always “we found you with the squirrels”. Immediately recognizing this I started communicating with my squirrels. We have had the most interesting conversations over more than 83 years.

They taught me to save, plan ahead, to debit those around me (especially my Gillie), how to gamble, be damn persistent, use only the best of curse words, be open-minded etc.

They gave me the inspiration for The McGlynn School of Listening and Observing for Women. However they have no solution, at present,  as to how women can pass the entrance exam. We continue to work on this problem and some day a woman will pass the exam!


Letter of Recommendation: Squirrels


They are like us and right there with us, our honored frenemies. Credit David La Spina for The New York Times

The philosopher William James once posed the following problem: A squirrel runs around the trunk of a tree, and a man, trying to see the squirrel, chases it. But in the end, the man is unable to catch up to the squirrel; all he sees is bark and more bark. “He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the tree,” the philosopher says, “but does the man go round the squirrel or not?”

This question boils down to a logistical or, if you’re of another kind of temperament, metaphysical conundrum. But regardless of how you answer the Squirrel Problem, the key just might be its perfectly ordinary premise: It assumes proximity between human and squirrel, and it also assumes that this close relationship means something. And why not? Because our daily paths are inevitably crossed by running squirrels, shouldn’t squirrels run through our philosophical questions too?

James aside, we all too often ignore our squirrels and their meanings. Even though we don’t give it much thought, we are a party to an unusual social contract with the squirrel. She is the only mammal who lives free and works in open, direct contact with humans. Rats and raccoons hide in the shadows. Coyotes lurk on the periphery. The deer and the bunny might as well occupy a kingdom of thin air. Dogs and cats, noble souls though they are, have been turned into a class of indentured clowns.

Squirrels, though, are right there with us. They live on our level and toil on the same schedule as humans, in every season. They share our approach to life’s problems: They save and plan ahead, obsessively. They make deposits and debits (of nuts and seeds, mostly); build highways (returning to well-known routes in and around trees); manage 30-year mortgages (they can inhabit a single nest for that many years); refrigerate their staples (in their case, pine cones); and dry their delicacies for storage (mushrooms, as we do). They work the day shift and live in walk-up apartments. And like stock traders, they gamble in the marketplace. While most animals breed as food becomes available, squirrels have developed the ability to predict a future seed glut and reproduce accordingly, like bullish investors.

Collective noun for a group of squirrels: Scurry

Species of squirrels worldwide: More than 200

Species of squirrels in the United States: 5

Humans bitten by squirrels in New York City in 1987: 95

Humans bitten by humans in New York City in 1987: 1,587

Bag limit on squirrel hunting in New York: 6

Squirrels are scarce in literature, but the few appearances they have made are telling. Herman Melville identified the flying squirrel as the fiction writer’s model for a realistic character: The creature is exactly as weird and incongruous as an actual person. One of Kafka’s most unsung creatures was a squirrel whose “bushy tail was famous in all the forests,” and whom he describes, in a jot in his notebooks, as “always traveling, always searching.” However, “it couldn’t talk about this, not because it lacked the power of speech but because it had absolutely no time.”

Our respect for squirrels as fellow commuters is all the more extraordinary when we consider that they belong to the hated Rodentia order. But squirrels’ stylish outerwear and good manners make them kindred city folk — so much so that we pay them the ultimate urban compliment: We totally ignore them.

Yes, there’s tension. The squirrel is not man’s best friend, but more like an honored frenemy. Squirrels are probably a bit too similar to us for comfort: They are workaholics, road-ragers and inadequate dads. They can be territorial and unkind to outsiders. They have been known to help themselves to the fruits of private gardens. I know this from experience. When I was young and Orthodox, a squirrel absconded with my yarmulke, which I had taken off my head while playing basketball. I tracked her to the woods, to her home tree, and I watched her clamber up to the snug opening of her den, a gap between the branches, through which she gleefully — or so it seemed to me — disappeared, along with my former yarmulke.

Squirrel panic is not unknown in our country. According to an anti-squirrel website, John C. Inglis, former deputy director of the N.S.A., supposedly said, “Frankly, the No. 1 threat experienced to date by the U.S. electrical grid is squirrels.” Of course the counterargument is so ethically unambiguous it’s no wonder an N.S.A. officer would miss it. The problem, as always, is our own rapacious overuse of energy, our own monstrous overbuilding of infrastructure, not the few squirrels who are the ensnared victims of it.

We would do well to take small acts of squirrel sabotage as a gift, a free warning about overstepping boundaries and a reminder of the need to share. Minor clashes with squirrels, the occasional breaches in the grid or the loss of a yarmulke here or a kumquat there serve only as reminders that we can, if we choose, afford to live in respectful peace with our neighbors.

We have made a truce with the squirrel, and we have done so because, in our own animal hearts, we know we’d lose something precious if earth’s trees — our own former homes — no longer chuckled with the sounds of mammal home life. Gardens are meant to be shared. And as for my former yarmulke, it was put to better and more lasting use as nest insulation for the winter. Let us not forget history. When European settlers landed in the New World, they nearly hunted the gray squirrel into extinction. So who, I ask, is the pest?

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