Jesus on the Interstate: The Extraordinary Mavis Staples
God's Understatement

Slowing Down

120pxgreysquirrelcloseup_2Today I had the not-so-novel contrarian idea of getting on the Beltline around our city and actually going the speed limit, that is, exactly the speed limit. I admit to some small-minded delight in causing a few people to have to slow down for me --- including a woman in a huge Ford F-150 truck who was hellbent on getting somewhere. Everyone was passing me. Haven't they read the newspaper, I wondered? (Our newspaper just ran a series on speeding and how no one ever pays for it.) I felt quite righteous out there going the speed limit, pondering the vicious pace of life and the joys of slowing down.

I just slowed down even more. I'm watching grey squirrels in my backyard. The population is thriving. Do people still eat squirrel? I remember my uncle hunting squirrel when I was young, and eating it, but I can't remember the taste. But if you do eat it, no need to go hungry. There's plenty. I have a friend who actually shoots them from his back porch. Heartless.

Lately they have been working on my squirrel-proof bird-feeder. It's lived up to that claim, too. They have tried gnawing it (plenty of evidence of that), shaking it, tapping their nabby heads on the plexiglass around it, and today hanging upside down and trying to get at the seed that way. (That one fell off, hitting the dirt on his back, but he jumped quickly up and ran up a tree as if he actually intended to make that exit.)

Squirrels eat a lot, grinding away at seeds (donated by messy birds who knock seed to the ground), berries (off my tree), and nuts and leaves (the latter only as a last resort, sort of like Spam for squirrel-dom). All this foraging is not without its fun. They chase each other, roll over each other, jump on each other, and play tag running around tree trunks.

They look deceptively intelligent. (I don't think they are so smart, however.) The one sitting up now has a white underbelly and is perfectly posed for me. He's waiting for the robins to throw some seed down for him. The relationship is not symbiotic. I don't think the squirrel does anything for the birds, unless they enjoy their antics. It must be pity that motivates them.

My cat who left us thought himself a squirrel, I think. He'd climb 20 feet up in the trees and advance out onto teetering branches. He wasn't smart, either.

Look at that nest up there (called a drey). Squirrels don't build nice neat nests like birds. Just throw a few leaves and twigs together and you have a home --- more like a batchelor pad, roomy but not tidy, and definitley not up to Good Housekeeping standards.

And how about their bushy, twitching, oversized tails? Apparently their tails are used for balance, a blanket, an umbrella, parachute (never seen that one), and communication. I personally have witnessed the tail as bumbershoot. Very practical. And another thing. I've read that squirrels have one to two thousand caches of seeds and nuts every season! They remember where these storage places are not by smell but simply by spatial memory. Me, I just walk into the kitchen and can't remember why I went there.

It's just amazing what you see when you slow down and look at God's Creation --- the beauty of its design, the thoughtfulness and intelligence, the humor, and the pure pleasure of watching. I have no practical use for what I have learned, but it does make me love the common grey squirrel just a little bit more. If God so loved the world (cosmos), then that's warrant for me to love it too. Think about what they're missing out there on the highway.