Squirrels rarely get my full attention yet they are consistently in my life regardless of where I go. As the new year begins to unfold, a recent run-in made me think back on other encounters with these bristly geniuses and ponder some wisdom they offer in its simplest form.
As a youth, I would spend hours in the woods deer hunting and would pass the time by watching the squirrels as they ran about chasing each other and foraging for food. They are remarkably agile and playful and communicate with each other through various sounds. In fact, some types of ground squirrels warn each other of predators by whistling. They are also extremely creative problem solvers. The corollary to building a better mousetrap is the quest for a squirrel-proof bird feeder. I have seen some terrific solutions on the market but the battle to keep the long-tailed foragers from a bounty of seeds intended for their winged brethren is a challenge that seems to raise up contenders.
Yet despite the underlying survival need for food driving these antics, they seem to enjoy the challenge and have fun. I’m not one to anthropomorphize, but I have seen them do things that challenge my fundamental feelings about their intelligence.
I once spent many months working on a very old home in Leesburg as a carpenter. I had set up a makeshift workbench under a tree in the backyard to cut and assemble the many custom elements required in “historic restoration.” There was a squirrel in that tree that did not take kindly to the racket, and he would sit directly above me and munch through the hulls of the nuts he had collected, raining down debris on my head. He did it all the time. I would look up at him, laugh, and curse at him, but he was relentless. Years later I stopped by the house with the landlord to see how the place had held up and as we stood in the backyard surveying the exterior work, I felt debris falling on my head. I look up, and there is a squirrel chomping away. Now I don’t know if it was the same squirrel or if his progeny had developed an affinity for that spot, but there he was.
Lately, however, I have encountered them as opponents once again. My garden experiment this year with sunflowers yielded beautiful results with healthy heads full of seeds. I left them to finish on the stalk but began to notice they were disappearing. Not the seeds mind you, but whole flower heads were clipped off and gone.
Then I saw them scurrying down the top of our fence back to the trees where they live. They were using the stockade-style fence as a highway to the sunflowers. They would clip a seed-filled head and carry it back home. Bastards!
The reality is that I had no use for the sunflowers. I was going to have to devise a creative use, so it wasn’t really a loss. It did turn out to be a lesson of a sort.
These creative opportunists attack challenges with unabated persistence and joy. They don’t complain or torture themselves over the possible bad outcomes of their pursuit. They save up for meager times. They are watchful and always ready to pursue an opportunity.
With my sunflowers:
- There was a goal
- There was a path to success
- There was risk
- It was undertaken with playful zeal
- There was a reward
If you have started this new year considering resolutions, or ways to improve your overall situation by visiting a gym or engaging a life coach, I offer you mentors in their simplest form. The squirrels have my vote.
Keep it simple and make it fun.