January is notoriously drab and dreary and dark---the holidays are over, the cold is bone-chilling, there's slush to shovel and slippery steps and perilous driving. A few bright spots, some good news items, the comfort of warmth and shelter in these weathery days---they brighten.
And in addition to the bright of bottles in the Summer sun, perhaps a bit of fun for a change:
SQUIRRELS I HAVE KNOWN
The first was "Squirrely Boy," a backyard companion of my parents, with his own little picnic table and chair secured to the limb of a huge pecan tree on their lawn. He was waiting every morning for his ration of nuts, usually pecans---in the shell most of the time, but Winter days brought him great fortune in the form of already-shelled ones from the freezer, microwaved warm on the plastic lid from a Folger's can.
He’d climb down into reaching distance for the first bite, and eat it upside down. Having broken his fast, he took his seat in the wee chair and ate his breakfast al fresco, ignoring any watchers or bystanders unless they approached too close. He would then gather up all he could carry, stuff his cheeks full, and retreat a few feet up the tree to finish his meal.
Once when they went on vacation, I was enlisted for feeding chores. I went by before work, put out the pecans, and he arrived right on time. I availed myself of Mother’s clothesline by hanging several large spreads and blankets to sun before storing them for the Summer. At lunchtime, I ran back to the house to take them down for folding.
As I was reaching up to undo the clothespins, I felt a gentle tug on my pantsleg, down in the vicinity of my ankle. I looked down to find him holding on to the fabric like a child holding his Mother's hand. I walked slowly toward the house with him still holding on, just walking along on two legs like a tiny man in furry trousers. He let go when we got to the back steps, and started up on his own. Mother and Daddy let him come in occasionally, but he didn't KNOW me, and all I needed was for them to come home to find the damage done by a rampaging, captive squirrel.
I sat on the lawn, he walked up into my lap and ate his lunch, and for always after that, he came to my call when I visited. They never DID figure out how I tamed him so well, and it stayed a secret between Squirrely Boy and me.
#2 was the little fellow who came to our apartment door several times a day with the huge flock of ducks we fed. We started out with a nice married couple of the lake mallards, named them Maurice and Velveeta, and then the crowds started to increase with every meal, so the time for individual naming was past. They brought their little parades of yellow fluff, standing around the yard and muttering to themselves like crowds at Six Flags, til we rolled back the patio door and Frisbeed out slice after slice of bread.
We became a fixture at the "used bread store" and bought several 45-lb. bags a week. Chris could compress 40 loaves into a grocery-store baggie. I was in the habit of setting out a folded-over peanut butter sandwich for the little brown squirrel who stood observing in the tree every day. One busy afternoon, I forgot about him in the melee of ducks and bread, and here he came across the lawn like a little Western gunslinger, elbowing ducks out of the way right and left. He picked up slice after slice of bread, sniffed it, then flung it away in disgust. He marched up to my feet and looked up with a frowny face, telegraphing quite plainly that I was to go put the good stuff on his.
#3: The fluffy brown squirrel which was a fixture of our second-floor deck in our first house here. I'd see the pine tree swaying, then he'd step off onto the deck railing to see what goodies I had put there. I would lay a dozen peanuts in a line, and he would walk the 2x4, picking them up one at a time, sometimes loading his cheeks and going back up the tree to stash his haul. I put out various treats from time to time---peanut butter on a cracker, a few raisins, an orange section.
He seemed to welcome them all, and one day I peeled the foil off a Hershey's kiss and set it in a line of peanuts on the rail. He sniffed it, picked it up, took an experimental nibble. I swear his eyes crossed and he almost swooned with pleasure---the expression on his little face was positively orgasmic.
He was a regular visitor thereafter, hoping for more of that magical manna, but seldom was there ever another bit of chocolate. I didn't want to be responsible for his demise, but he'd probably have deemed it a wonderful way to go.
#4: We have quite a few regular visitors in our backyard here, with trusting forays up to the back door…I toss out peanuts, filberts, parrot food, crackers---they accept it all. The only mishap we’ve experienced is the patio pillows which suddenly began to look as if they’d been in for liposuction---they deflated slowly over the Summer, and when Autumn bared the trees, great floofs of white stuffing sprouted in several places, standing up from the far upper tree limbs like Don King’s hair.
And our flowerbeds have mysteriously given hatch to two appletrees, a patch of peanut plants, and quite a nice stand of corn. This last gift is exceeded only by the head of broccoli which disappeared from the top of a nice plant in the garden, to be replaced by a perfectly-balanced empty corncob in exchange.
I need a hobby.