From the Vault: Squirrel!

In an effort to collect all of my writing in one place, I will occasionally post previously published work here, under the heading “From the Vault.” This was a mostly stream-of-conscious little ditty I wrote after watching a squirrel nervously scamper around the fall chestnut bounty of my back yard.

One of my favorite things about Fall is looking out the window and watching the squirrels try to wrap their brains around the sheer volume of chestnuts in my backyard. They scamper in, see one chestnut, then two, then fifteen. They get a little excited. “Wahoo!” they think. But then they find 30 more, and then another pile, and another and another. And even while they’re collecting the ones on the ground, more are falling off the tree. They get more anxious, they pace, they twitch, their movements grow more fitful, more frantic. I can see the panic behind their beady eyes.

I like to imagine that some of these squirrels tire of being slaves to their obsessive compulsive neurosis and try desperately to change. The one scampering along my fence looks particularly self-aware; I’ll bet he’s in therapy. Once a week, perhaps. Certainly once a month. And his therapist is his polar opposite. Something calm, something slow, something zen. Like a giant tortoise.

Yes, the squirrel visits the tortoise once a week. He’ll be on his way from somewhere else, like lunch with his mother, and the idea of two activities in one day – TWO activities keeping him from gathering nuts – will be enough to set him all twitchy again. He’ll think to himself, “Must reschedule this appointment for a different day. Can’t be away from the nuts for so long in one day.” But then he never gets around to it.

The tortoise has a nice office. Warm and soft and cozy. The squirrel doesn’t like how the office makes him feel. He doesn’t like the overstuffed invitation of the couch. Responsibilities like a squirrel’s require plastic chairs. Chairs that don’t invite. Chairs that virtually kick you out of them and tell you to get back to work. But the tortoise loves his office, especially the green shag carpeting. It feels good on his tortoise feet. He’ll lumber into the office, relishing the squish of the carpet between his totoise toes, and find his way to the gliding rocking chair. He’ll be wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches and smoking a pipe. He’ll have a full beard, but will maybe be balding a little. All of this will infuriate the squirrel.

The squirrel will spill his nervous chatter into the office and the tortoise will do his best to gather it all up and arrange it neatly into convenient piles to be analyzed. But the tortoise isn’t a gatherer – no, that’s the squirrel’s expertise – and he won’t be able to keep up with the squirrel’s laments as they drop like so many chestnuts onto the beloved carpet. Of course, the tortoise will fail to recognize this parallel. Instead, he’ll think to himself, “I don’t need that to survive. I don’t rush around at mach speed. Surely this has something to do with his mother.”

But you can’t blame him. A tortoise can’t be expected to understand the complexities of the squirrel’s plight. How could he? He’s a tortoise. Nor can the squirrel understand what it means to be a tortoise. Oh, they can try. They can ask each other questions like “how do you feel when…” and “what motivates you to…”.  But in the end, they’ll only produce a list of answers to questions; a list of expected behaviors. They won’t produce understanding. Not really. But this is okay, because tortoises are really quite good at being tortoises without any help from other forest creatures, and should generally be left alone to their tortoise duties. The same goes for squirrels, of course.

Which is why the squirrel wishes that just once the tortoise would understand his pain and send him on his way with a “Great job. Way to be a squirrel. Keep up the good work.”

This post’s “song:” Grateful Squirrel

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