Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dying Squirrel

Every afternoon in the sixth grade, part of my walk home took me on a path where I got to watch a squirrel decompose over the course of several months.  When I first noticed the dead squirrel in the middle of the single-person dirt path that ran beside the busy city street in front of my school, it was still furry and contained remnants of its cute squirrelness.  Eventually, as bikes and many feet rolled or walked over it, the middle of it turned into part of the path, only the furry head and tail on either side.   Why this childhood experience stands out to me so strongly, I am not sure about.

This afternoon, about an hour before dark, a lady in the park where many dogs were playing called out to everyone that she'd just found a dead squirrel.  She was warning all the dog owners about it in case it was poisoned, telling us we should keep our dogs away.  By the time I got to her, she and hour preschool-aged daughter had found out that the squirrel was actually breathing.  It was laying there in the cold mud on its stomach, all hunkered up with its face tucked in as close as possible to its chest.  Every minute or so, it would try to move, which is when I noticed that its front left leg was wounded.  The lady was working hard to keep her dog away from it, and I tried to figure out what to do.  The three kids stood around watching it, giving a running commentary on each development of  the squirrel's health.  Would the parks service come get it on a late Sunday afternoon?  Of course not.

We finally decided to get the box out of the back of my car to put it in, at least to get it out of the middle of this field.  I used a stick to shove the little guy as gently as I could into the box.  He was still breathing and looked utterly miserable.  I wanted someone to come along with experience in bringing a swift end to the suffering of a wild squirrel.  I picked up the box and looked closely at the guy.  The preschool girl asked to see too, so I bent down and let her look.  My own kids studied it too.  The part of me that has seen sitcoms and horror movies tensed up as images came to mind of the squirrel's eyes turning red, fangs glaring, as it lunged at my children.  Zombie squirrel attacks!

It just laid there though, perfectly still, breathing, eyes half-closed, suffering.  The small weight of it in the box I was carrying made me really sad.  The lady and I agreed to at least get it out of the way of dogs, so we found some high hedges to place it on top of.  I nestled the box down into the middle of the hedge, and covered it up with fallen limbs from trees.  The lady seemed genuinely relieved that I put the limbs around the box, saying with sadness in her voice, "Oh! That's such a good idea! Maybe it'll wake up and think he's in his own habitat!"  Whatever, lady.

As we walked away, I looked back at the box a couple of times.  The lady and her kid walked with me and mine to our car.  She kept telling her daughter that the squirrel may wake up in the night and scamper back to its home in the trees, happy to be reunited with its family.  The kid wanted to come back tomorrow to see if the box is empty.  The mom said they could but warned her that the squirrel may still be there.  We both agreed though that recovery was possible and that we should hope for that.

 If not, maybe some kid who lives in the house next to the hedge will notice the box with a dead squirrel and watch it decompose into the greenery over the next few months, the way I did in the sixth grade. Maybe my own kids will remember the day their mom stuck a dying squirrel on top of some bushes in the park.  If nothing else, by writing down this sad and weird moment, I got it back.

1 comment:

  1. I have a similar sad/weird moment involving a dying bird. This piece is lovely and awful (awfully lovely?)--thank you for sharing.