By Lisa Kunkleman
They caught one! They actually did it! I never thought I’d be burying a squirrel caught by my squirrel-chasing dogs. I’ll call him ‘Little Guy’. Probably one of the little acrobats I enjoy watching run around our trees like they’ve had a triple shot of espresso. I call them North Carolina’s monkeys. Such fun to watch if you’re not a “hater” who calls them “nothing but rodents.” This one might not have been the brightest squirrel in the bunch. Herd, crop? What do you call a group of squirrels?
I Googled it. Whether it’s a nest of squirrels, or simply the squirrel nest sans squirrels, or a mother squirrel and her young, all are called a dray. Never heard of it. A scurry is a group of squirrels but according to Google, they are pretty solitary animals so a scurry is uncommon. Maybe it’s uncommon in Google’s yard but it’s the norm in our yard. We have our own personal squirrel circus.
I spend too much of my writing time gazing out the window over my desk, watching groups of squirrels scurry, chasing each other all around the mulberry tree. No, I’m not trying to be cute. We have lots of mulberry trees, not bushes, which make great jungle gyms for our squirrel population. Plus providing sumptuous berries for them and their friends, the birds, bunnies, and deer. Since the woods beyond our farm are being replaced with “add water and a house pops up overnight” neighborhoods, Rocky, Thumper, and Bambi all happily frolic and forage in our back yard. (For younger readers, Rocky was a famous squirrel on a show called Bullwinkle; Thumper, a bunny who thumped his large foot was Bambi’s buddy; Surely you know Bambi, the Disney deer.)
Heading out the front door to feed horses, our three dogs rushed past, nearly knocking me down the brick steps as they headed toward a squirrel they’d spotted across the yard. The reason I think Little Guy might not be so bright is because he was safely behind a wire horse fence doing his squirrel business. He was gathering something or other when the dogs ran toward him. He could have stuck out his tongue and said, “Na Na, Na Boo Boo!” while staying put, but No! He ran under the fence gate, straight at the barking dogs coming his way. He ran to a big oak tree where the dogs did a sneaky partner maneuver, each coming around the tree from different directions where he was intercepted.
It happened so fast all I could do was yell from a distance. I yelled so loud I scared the horses and the dogs. Now my throat hurts. I don’t want to name names because all three dogs have reputations to protect. Any of the three could take blame for this involuntary ‘squirrelslaughter’ so I’ll keep it confidential. When I yelled, they looked up at me in surprise. One opened up, dropped the limp victim beneath the tree and looked sheepish, grinning guiltily. Probably planning to bring the critter to me as a gift as our cats do with lizards, they looked puzzled that I wasn’t thrilled. They all obeyed without question, which was a big shocker for me, too.
I watched my very gentle, kind-hearted dog tuck tail and take off for the front door. When the accused looked back at me for mercy, I fussed some more. I said it was a bad thing to do—to kill the squirrels that play keep away with them every day. Head down and tail tucked tighter, my message sank in. The other two doggies stayed away from me, their fussing, disappointed human. And here I have been worried about this season’s silly rabbits nesting under our back deck, wandering into the dogs’ wooden fence to eat beneath the squirrel resistant feeder. It isn’t. Resistant.
Little Guy didn’t have a chance. He could have chosen any of three sweet gum trees within the horse fence. But he made a different choice. He took the road more traveled, the tree, less handy. I’ve always wanted to touch a squirrel but not this way. Lying on his back in my hand, I carried his warm, little body to the compost area to bury him. I was surprised that he was soft like a bunny. I assumed squirrels were coarse. I was also surprised how tiny his teeth were. Dang! Those little teeth rip through walnut shells and shingles?
I indulged myself in some “What ifs.” What if his family is watching me and thinks I killed him? What if I’d been five minutes later going out to feed the horses? What if I hadn’t invited the dogs to go out front in my effort to protect the silly rabbits out back? Hopefully he’s already scurrying around on a road lined with nut trees and paved with acorns. Rest in Nut Heaven, Little Guy.