I mentioned in an earlier post that I had started walking regularly again at the local park. Back in the late '70s and early '80s Joyce and I did a lot of running and walking there. In those days, the park had a walking trail that was covered with cinders which made a run very easy on the feet but not so good on your car's carpets afterward.
Nowdays, the park is even nicer. The walking trail is now a smooth asphalt band about 4-5 feet wide and although the old loop remains, a new part has been added that extends the loop to 2.25 miles.
We've noticed another significant change. The squirrels. They no longer scamper away in fear as you approach. They come toward you and stand upright with paws out in a begging position.
Over the years, more and more people used the walking trail to feed the squirrels. They would bring bags of peanuts to throw to the little bushy tailed critters. The squirrels soon learned not to be afraid. They also learned as the generations of squirrels came and went that they didn't have to work anymore to find food. Even in winter, people will walk along the trail and throw them nuts.
Yesterday, in the middle of my three mile walk, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Beside the path a large tree had fallen into the creek and a squirrel stood up on top of the splintered stump, arms akimbo, looking down. He must have sensed me looking at him, so he raised his head and spoke to me.
"Hey you. Yeah, yeah, I'm mean you. Come over here and help me."
I stood there stupified. A talking squirrel?
"Hey, I'm talking to you, numbnuts. Get your ass over here and help me."
I walked over to the stump. The squirrel pointed down inside. "Look, he said. "When the tree broke apart this morning, I lost my roof. Everything's gonna be ruined if I don't get it moved to that other big tree over there."
I couldn't believe my eyes as I gazed down into the hollowed out stump. The squirrel's den resembled a plushly furnished man cave, complete with miniature hardwood floors, black leather recliners and sofas, two tiny refrigerators, and an expensive looking mini flatscreen TV.
"You live like a king," I said. "This is pretty danged cool."
"Thanks," he said. "I've got this squirrel chick I know who's an interior designer."
"But how do you afford it?"
He laughed and gave me a big toothy smile. "I'm cute. And the other squirrels say I have the midas touch when it comes to getting welfare nuts."
"Yeah, that's what we all call them now. We're victims of urbanization. When the park came along it changed and damaged our way of life. We needed help and we got it. Help we can depend on, year after year. We can still work, but we don't have to now. The humans feel guilty and so they give us food if we're cute enough, or if we...Hey, I can look sad too."
He demonstrated by putting this "poor me" pouting expression on his face, spinning around, and then falling on his back with his little legs extended. He looked like he was dying or would die soon. I don't much like squirrels, or tree rats as some call them, but if I'd had a nut I would have given it to him. He was that good.
I turned and started to walk away.
"Hey, where you going? I need help here," he said.
"Sorry," I said. "You won't get any handouts or help from me. My advice is to get back to work again. Your real nature is too work hard and save up food for the winter, not lounge around and depend on human kindness."
"Look, I got a lotta friends here," he said. "Sometimes we get real hungry and band together in a group to attack an old slow walker like you. A little shin meat can be mighty tasty."
"Are you threatening me" I asked.
"Just stating a fact," he said.
"Ok, here's another fact for you. I got plenty of your kind around my house. They're not freeloaders like you; they make it on their own. But sometimes when they get too frisky and start running all over my roof and eating at my dormers or deck rails, I have to get out my Mossberg."
His eyes opened wide and he jumped off the stump and disappeared into the brush.
As I continued my walk, I noticed the squirrels up ahead scampering out of my way just like they did in the good old days.