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Get off life's treadmill long enough for some squirrel-watching

By Charley Reese

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, May 7, 1998

Next time you're feeling low, instead of popping a Prozac, go find a squirrel.

The squirrel people are sort of the children of the animal world. I find it impossible to watch squirrels and not feel cheerful. Their bright eyes, their bubbling energy and their curiosity make me smile.

And unlike squirrelly people, an epithet that I think insults the real squirrels, these little people are very competent. When it comes to squirrel business, which is mainly finding something to eat, they are tireless, daring and ingenious. If we pursued our own goals with the same cheerful determination, we would all be so successful that we probably wouldn't recognize ourselves.

When I was boy, I made the mistake of catching a squirrel with my bare hands. If you wish to know why squirrels can navigate trees so easily, I can tell you. It's because their claws are needle-sharp. They can also move those claws more quickly than a blender blade. It had taken me a long time to catch that squirrel, but I couldn't uncatch it quickly enough. Catching that squirrel proved to me that success isn't always what it's touted to be. Failure would have hurt a whole lot less.

There was a time when I used to shoot squirrels with my .22 and eat them. They are tasty. Some people think they are too much like rats to eat, but having never eaten a rat (at least not knowingly, but, if you eat out, you never know), I can't say if the flavor resembles roasted rat or not. You'll have to find an ex-Green Beret who was with the Montagnards and ask him. The 'Yards often ate roasted rats as appetizers.

I can say that squirrel meat tastes somewhat like rattlesnake, which tastes somewhat like alligator tail, which tastes somewhat like chicken.

Today, I would have to be mighty hungry before I would shoot a squirrel. They are at the bottom of the list of things I would shoot, way below certain humans and other bad critters. Guess you could say that I have mellowed out and made my peace with the squirrel folks.

The main reason I keep a bird feeder is to watch the squirrels steal the birdseed. I suppose I ought to call it a squirrel feeder, and then the birds would be guilty of stealing the squirrel seed. That's a good example of how you can perceive the same thing differently.

When I was a reporter years ago in a coastal city, a man called and said he had trained a wild dolphin and wanted me to come out and take his picture. I asked him what he had trained the dolphin to do.

``Well, every day at 4 o'clock I go down to the end of my pier, hold a fish up in the air, and the dolphin leaps out of the water and takes the fish,'' he said with a sort of smug pride.

I replied, ``How do I know whether you trained the dolphin to take the fish or the dolphin trained you to walk out onto the end of your pier every day at 4 o'clock and stand there, holding a fish over the water?''

The guy was perplexed. It seemed not to have occurred to him that the dolphin was training him to feed it, but I think that was the case. It has been my experience that dolphins are a lot smarter than people who want to have their pictures in the newspaper. I declined to take his picture.

Looking at things from multiple perspectives is a useful habit. There is a human tendency to take much of the world for granted. It is never true, for example, that if you've seen one of something, you've seen all of them, because all of them are different.

In the meantime, be kind to squirrels. Think of them as little Prozac substitutes hopping about. They are a nice gift from God.

[Posted 05/06/98 9:16 PM EST]


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