Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Raining squirrels

I was walking down the street singing down dooby doo wop, or something, when a squirrel fell out of a tree.

"THUMP" went the squirrel, and it was a small THUMP because it was naught but a wee squirrel, but it was a capital letter THUMP because the squirrel fell a long way. The squirrel fell 30 feet. Relative to size, for one of us bigjobs that would be like falling from the moon.

I looked at the squirrel. Who wouldn't? For one long second he didn't do a single thing, not twitch, groan, breathe, or live. Then he looked at me and ran back up the tree he fell out of.

When I see a dead squirrel, on the roads or the sidewalks, as I often do, squished or desiccated, wounded or almost like they're just sleeping, I always think "Car?" or "Cat?" or "Disturbed neighbor boy?". But this event of squirrel error, of near squirrel catastrophe, has given me new views on these wee beasts. Maybe rather than the horrid mundanity of predators and cars the squirrels' dazzling acrobatics are their greatest danger. Their magical grace and facility among the high branches is not some bland given of squirrel evolution, rather is is a private and earnest art. It is the testing, against death itself, of the limits of what is possible. A squirrel making an unearthly leap from tree to tree, tracing an impossible route through the sky of a thin winter canopy, is not inevitably successful. That squirrel is not merely going about its business. That squirrel is not even sensible.

What if the mistake we make is not anthropomorphizing? What if evolution, too thin for us, in all our exotic madness, falls short out at the far reaches of everything that lives. I have nothing against science or observation. I am all for it. But these are puny tools for music, and for looking at clouds, and yes, for squirrels, out in the trees, mocking the fear of death, on some absurd lark of a mission we fully understand, but are reluctant to admit.

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