Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Squirrel's Tale

When my parents first moved here they were both relatively active.  Neither one used a walker, cane or wheelchair and they could manage stairs with little effort.  They were able to do for themselves in most situations, such as making light meals or simple housekeeping.  Over the last 5 years, though, I've watched both of my parents gradually deteriorate. My father uses a walker now and my mother is in a hospital bed. Before she was bed-bound she hadn't attempted a flight of stairs in years.  Many things have happened that made me realize that having two octogenarians in the house requires close monitoring 24/7and as a result, I spend the majority of every day at home.  So one drawback to taking care of my parents is my lack of socialization.  It has a way of  isolating me from the outside world which I would not have expected in this age of social networking.  Most days I talk only to those who live here.  My husband, my children and my parents.  I don't think talking to myself counts.  Which I don't do.....yet.  

I love animals, particularly wildlife.  I am still awed by the sight of deer in my front yard, opossum  & box turtles on my back deck, chipmunks raising across sidewalks and squirrels digging through my flower pots looking for buried peanuts.  Competitive hummingbirds vie for the feeder like dog-fighting between Rickenbacker and The Red Baron.  I never tire of watching them, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I turned to the animals for socialization.

It started in the summer of 2013.  I had always given scraps to the animals.  I would throw them toast crusts, broken chips, leftover popcorn, trail mix, peanuts & granola.  I noticed the food was gone almost as soon as I put it out.  I continued this habit and started noticing one particular squirrel coming to partake of the assorted goodies.  I recognized her (yes, I know the difference between male and female squirrels!) because her tail had a "V" split in the tip and her side had an orange spot on it.  After she'd finish off the last tidbit she would look toward the door.  I was curious to see her reaction so I opened it.  She ran off into the closest tree.  I was intrigued and wondered if she would ever become less shy.  So I continued to watch for her often whenever I put out scraps.  After about 6 weeks, Harriet (that's right, I named her!) didn't run off at the sound of the door opening.  In fact, she would move closer each time to see if I was going to feed her.

Several weeks after I began feeding her, my little squirrel got bold and started coming to the door, stood up and peered inside with her little paws clutching together.  I found great joy in that simple act.  I then began to create items specifically for Harriet.  I had noticed that peanut butter sandwich crusts were always gobbled up quickly, so I started making her peanut butter crackers.  I was further intrigued by the way she would grab the cracker sandwiches, scamper to the railing ledge on the deck and proceed to lick the peanut butter off the crackers once she had pulled them apart!  Sometimes she would eat the crackers, too, once the peanut butter was gone, but she would also bury the naked crackers in my flower pots for safe keeping!!  To simplify the process further, I made peanut butter balls by mixing powdered sugar into some peanut butter until I could roll them into dime-sized treats.  She loved them so much she told her friends who began coming to the deck to stare at the kitchen door.  One thing about squirrels, though, they don't like to share!  If I gave out treats, they would chase each other.  Sometimes, the squirrel with the food did the chasing which was quite a sight!  Imagine a squirrel with a mouthful of food running around a tree in pursuit of a jealous rival!!

Since I began this post in June of 2014, both of my parents have died.  First, my mother in October 2014, then my father in December 2015.  During one of my conversations with my brother this past month, I learned that Nanny, my maternal grandmother, had an affinity for feeding wildlife, in particular, squirrels.  Apparently she would hold peanuts in her hand and wait for the squirrels to come to her to take them from her.  I never knew this!  I can certainly believe it, though, seeing how I am the same way.  My grandmother died when I was only 3 years old so I never knew her like my older siblings did.  I've been told I look just like her, but knowing that she was also a "squirrel whisperer" makes me smile.

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