Lily caught her first squirrel the other day. Just a young squirrel – barely more than a baby, really. I think Lily was as surprised as the squirrel, but not nearly as terrified. The squirrel lay on its back with its legs pawing at the air, squealing in freight.
Unfortunately, Alpha was close at hand. He barked the “Off!” order. Lily obeyed. I can remember a time, not so long ago, when she was an overly exuberant pup with absolutely no discipline, and she would have ignored the order. Whether she would have known what to do with the squirrel is another matter.
I myself can well remember the first time I ever caught a squirrel. I felt its fur on my tongue and gums for one brief shining moment. I was so astonished that I opened my mouth and the prey scampered away. I’ve since improved my technique, but I’m afraid my days of catching squirrels at a sprint across the big open field are behind me.
But what I lack in speed, I like to think I make up in acuity. When Lily’s young squirrel finally recovered its senses enough to flip over onto its paws and scramble up the tree, Alpha and I watched its progress. Lily, of course, was gallavanting off to new adventures, but we watched this squirrel.
And it occurs to my why I like this time of year so much – why these bleak, windy days seem so interesting. It’s all about being able to see the underlying structure of things.
The winds have whipped away the last leaf that still clung to the branches. The snows have not yet arrived. And so it is possible to see that vast and complex circulatory system of the canopy of our urban forest.
This is the squirrels’ realm. This is why they chatter at us with such insouciance, earth bound creatures that we are. Compared to our world, theirs is wonderfully three-dimensional. And this is the time of year we can really appreciate the subtle details of the geography above our heads.
And so for the last few days when Alpha and I go to the park, I’ve been looking up. I’ve been trying to understand the system of boughs and branches the way that a squirrel would understand, and it seems to me there is a big distinction among different kinds of trees. But the biggest distinction would not be between this species of tree and another. For a squirrel, the biggest distinction is whether a tree is solitary, or it grows close enough to another so that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.
A tree on its own, in the middle of a field is a fine and beautiful thing. Look at how perfectly it forms year by year. Nothing to shade its development. No race to the sun to alter its shape. From a squirrel’s perspective, it provides many different routes and possibilities.
But a tree growing close enough to another tree, so that the branches reach out and touch each other… well, this creates a whole new dynamic. And when enough trees grow close enough together that they extend a canopy, the possibilities multiply exponentially.
And it occurs to me that something similar is taking place in our expanded pack. With the Mom, Sporty and Sunshine and Lily joining Alpha, the Pup and myself, the place is much more crowded that before. It’s often more difficult to get away with a nap on the sofa. But there are also more people to accidentally drop food at the dinner table. There’s more options for walks – each member of the pack seems to have a different favourite route. There’s a lot more rolling and playing on the floor once you hit a critical population mass.
I’m getting more accustomed to having to share things with Lily. I still think she forgets her place all too often. But you know, I’m beginning to like this. It’s like a forest canopy that offers many highways, many directions, and many dimensions.
Head in the trees,
Many of Zoscha’s readers have observed that she often sprinkles her prose with various quotes, parodies and allusions. If you can identify a reference, send your contest entry to email@example.com, using “Zoscha’s contest” in your title line. Or drop a note off at the Firehall.
It seems that our neighbourhood is much better at identifying the classical canon than British musical hall ditties. Last month, Zoscha quoted from Flanders and Swann’s “The Hippopotamus song, “Mud! Mud! Glorious mud!” No one got the correct answer. Zoscha attributes this to the fact that humanoids have short attention spans. Just as she feared, they have covered the field with turf, and already we have forgotten that it served very well as a mud bath.