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Neighbours who do more than say hello

[media-credit name=”Photo: Paddy Duncan” align=”alignright” width=”300″]Squirrel[/media-credit]Demanding lives often reduce relationships with neighbours to hello, how are you?

One group gets even less attention than this, even when its proclivity for jaywalking ends in tragedy, and that is our squirrel neighbours. The following is a happy exception.

Shortly after we moved into our house, we discovered that the aged storm window in our bedroom was stuck open about six inches. One frigid night, as I gazed at the valley below, I caught a movement. There in the corner was a black squirrel, shivering.

Why was she there? Did her nest blow down?  Was she hurt? How did she get there? I put these questions to my sleepy partner who seemed remarkably indifferent.

The squirrel returned the next night dragging a branch in with her.

The following night I was startled to see a grey squirrel curled up at the other end of the sill. I know the popular view is that the two breeds do not get along, but it was so cold. Apparently the advantages of cuddling won out as the black squirrel was soon pregnant.

When she left one morning I opened the inside window and commenced Operation Nest, taping up a wall of heavy plastic with an entrance and stuffing shredded paper and fabric into the space.

Upon her return, the squirrel, her mouth stuffed with leaves, entered the door to find her home fully decorated. She paused, turned around, exited, and spat out the leaves.

Days later she and I were both awakened by the heart wrenching sound of a pack of hunting dogs (in training the owner later claimed) in the valley tearing a little creature apart. As I stared out helplessly I saw the squirrel with her face peering out her “door”.

The next night she was screaming. I jumped up fearing she was in danger. She was still asleep! I could guess the subject of her nightmares.

Roused by all the activity beside him, my partner murmured from his pillow, “What exactly would you have done if she was being attacked?”

“Well, something!”  I said firmly, but without conviction.

My observations of my new friend continued. I learned that she got up about 6:45, stretched, and looked out to see the new day. She washed thoroughly and then went out for breakfast.

A few weeks later she whimpered in the night. I got up again and had the privilege of watching the babies come into the world.

Like all newborns they changed our household instantly. They jumped at the sound of the vacuum, so we got very dusty. The bureau drawers closing alarmed them, so they were left open.

The tiny squirrels grew fur and became totally charming. When we awoke in the morning they lined up in a row along their side of the glass looking at us. Nest to nest.

Word went out about the babies and tours began in our bedroom. We discovered that the mother was comfortable with us, but the voices of our friends made her panic, so the tours were conducted in silence.

The day came when, unlike human children, these beautiful grey/black squirrels left home and did not come back. We felt the angst of empty nesters.

That spring, as I read in the yard, small distinctive squirrels ran by, stopped and stared at me. One afternoon I felt a soft pressure on my bare toes and there was a youngster with its paw on my foot.

I felt we had a connection, a moment when the future of the planet was assured, when we could all get along.

Or perhaps my toes just looked like peanuts in the shell.