I felt sorry for a squirrel this morning.
I was driving to church, and there was one making its way across the road in front of my car, as they do . . . except they don’t, really. Squirrels don’t make their way. They scamper or dash or dart. They don’t mosey or meander or make their way. This one didn’t seem to have anything wrong with its legs, but there was a definite kink in the back third of its tail. Since, I believe, a squirrel’s tail is fairly vital for its basic balance, and, one would assume therefore speed, I guess that was why it wasn’t doing any of those speedier verbs across the road. It did pick up the pace a bit as my car approached, and it made it to the other side of the road before I ran it over–or had to slam on the brakes–but it was lacking a certain squirrel grace that I never really thought about before.
I thought about it then, though, while I was feeling sorry for it and noticing. I thought about how unusual it was for me to be feeling sorry for a squirrel, and then I thought about the days when I used to think squirrels were cute and endearing. Those days were when I was a small child and lived in Honduras, where we didn’t have squirrels, so I quite enjoyed when we visited the US, seeing them gamboling across my grandparents well-manicured lawn, pocking it with acorns. I thought they were lovely in spite of being assured by the adults in my vicinity that squirrels were a nuisance and that if I tried to pet one it would bite me and give me diseases.
Guess what? Eventually they ended up convincing me. Or the squirrels themselves did. But it occurs to me that there are still people who might actually think squirrels are cute and cuddly. Presumably, for example, there are squirrels in England, where they pronounce the word the way it’s spelled (squih-rell) instead of the way it’s pronounced (skwerl), because Beatrix Potter wrote about them, but for some reason all I can remember of vermin over there are mice (one ran up my arm out of the catfood once) and pigeons.
But they are vermin, really. There’s no question at all that squirrels are and always will be more visually appealing than rats, but that’s about the only difference. They’re bullies around birdfeeders (though, to put it in perspective, not as bad as bears, which is why we don’t have a birdfeeder up) and they empty them out in a day. They dig up people’s lawns and bury acorns and other seeds in them so that oak trees turn up in unexpected places and people have to pull them up or mow them over or put unhealthy sorts of chemicals on their lawns. (Of course the people don’t have to–but sometimes they think they do.) Worse, they squirm into people’s eaves and attics and breed and infest them like other house-rodents. They’re messy and dirty and last autumn my Paul had Rosie the cat and Shemp the dog chasing a flying squirrel all round the house because those ones, apparently, infest cellars.
But I still felt sorry for that one this morning.