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Andrew D. Hughes Blog

A Tale of Two Squirrels

It didn’t take me long to realize that something was awry.

My first clue was the absence of songbirds at my backyard bird feeding station.

The second clue?

A long, limp bush-tail draped over the side of one of my feeders.

A chubby gray squirrel, in his lustful frenzy for black-oil sunflower seeds, had unscrewed the cap and gotten himself lodged inside the near-empty steel cylinder.

“Oh holy night,” I muttered as I unhooked the feeder from the branch of its accommodating red oak. “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into!”

The squirrel, unable to see, protested my arrival with a series of stirs and stutters that, if translated into English, would make your grandmother blush.

I began my rescue efforts by turning the tube upside down.

The rodent didn’t budge, so I shook it a little.

Nothing.

Then I noticed his silvery claws latched securely around the feeder ports–the small holes designed for bird bills to slip in for a seed.

I pinched the claws and pushed them back into the feeder.

The squirrel, sensing gravity’s threat, rebutted with a growling sputter of consonants that promised certain death if I were to try my little circus act again.

I didn’t.

In fact, no sooner had he finished calling down curses from heaven, than I came out of my house with a tub of Crisco and no shortage of drinking straws.

(You didn’t think I’d give up that soon, did you?)

I dunked the straws in the shortening, squeezed them into the edges of the tube and slathered every bit of fur that I could find.

I kid you not; I buttered a squirrel!

Behold, my clever mind at work! [See footnote #1]

Again, I turned the feeder and shook it.

The squirrel began to slip, his rump emerged from the tube, then quickly retracted.

I was making progress!

The squirrel was terrified. What manner of horrors would he have to face next?

Seeing that rescue was imminent, I grabbed the tail and gave it a tug. For a moment, the squirrel followed my lead, but in a sudden burst of panic, he darted deeper into the feeder.

I gave an extra pull, and the squirrel did just the same until, at one point, the force of pressure on both ends outweighed the tensile strength of the poor beast’s posterior limb, and half of his tail ripped clean off!

I froze for a moment, surprised at my cruelty, and pondered its implications that this poor animal would have to carry until the day that he passes on to meet his heavenly reward.

I considered every possible means of making amends–the best admittedly being duct-taping the extension to the existing stub–but, realizing that my negligence had resulted in permanent damage, I gently apologized to the animal, and promised never to do it again, in the event that the tail should regenerate or be replaced by a prosthetic.

I’m still not sure if he has found it in his heart to forgive me.

But if a squirrel is one to hold a grudge, then he isn’t the only one in town harboring a personal vendetta.

About a year later, Daniel and I were driving across a stretch of country road, thoroughly engaged in planning emergency procedures for a zombie apocalypse.  It is useful to know, for example, that zombies are capable of climbing stairs, but are powerless against ladders. Ladders! They may be your lifeline someday. You can thank me then.

While in the heat of debate, a squirrel launched from the adjacent woodlands and bolted beneath Daniel’s car. We cringed, and heard the distinct “BAH-BOOM” of two tires cruising over the animal’s body. I hung my head in shame: I was, once again, a participant in bringing harm to one of these creatures.

But then, much to our shock and horror, the squirrel continued running, charged across a yard, and scurried up a tree. Unbelievable!

They may be fuzzy and cute, but squirrels are capable of withstanding some serious trials and tribulations. It makes me wonder how terrifying a squirrel uprising could be. If nature ever decides to release its sharp-toothed minions into society, then our human race is sure to perish.

If you were wondering, I did finally manage to wriggle the first squirrel  out of the feeder. He plopped onto the ground, a buttered mess, glared at me with fire in his eyes, and then hurried away.

That’s at least two candidates carrying a bitterness against mankind.

It only takes one to start a catastrophe, so please, be kind to squirrels.

I hear they have no problem with ladders.

 

 

 

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[Footnote #1] Actually, my subconscious memory retrieved the Crisco idea from an episode of Full House, where DJ and Kimmy had to babysit a bratty little boy whose head got stuck between two banister posts. DJ buttered the boy’s head, which made it slick enough to save the day. I thought Crisco would be more slippery than butter, so I have merely made an improvement on the resourcefulness of one DJ Tanner. You never know when those TV sitcoms come in handy.Wait until I tell you about the time Bill Cosby saved me from being trampled by cows.

Catbird Song

It was just before four o’clock in the morning when the catbird started singing.

It was still dark.

And I wished that I had that courage,

that dignity,

that standing,

that wisdom,

to burst into song,

at the mere anticipation of something beautiful.

Sidewalk

The night is as dark as the cracks in the sidewalk beneath my torn sneakers. I am going somewhere.  Somehow, even a busy turnpike can find the courage to be silent on a night like this. Maybe it’s the modest hum of my heart’s string section, or the electric murmur of the power lines above that lull me into this blissful state of consciousness: equal parts rainy funeral and first day of summer.

Behind me, the city’s lights bleed through fog, asking me questions I never want to answer. So I continue walking, step over sure-footed step, until an elderly black woman crosses my path. Fate locks our eyes and throws away the key. Only hindsight will offer me a glimpse of the raggedy blankets that twist around her body. But in the present moment, I can only see her eyes shooting through the night: walls of wet paint encased in a stern glare of milky suspicion and oily sorrow. I have never seen this woman, but she knows me from the inside out, and has walked enough silent turnpikes to distrust a stranger so inherently depraved.

Her unrelenting suspicion pushes me off the concrete; my shoes sink into a thin gloss of mud. I know better than to share her sidewalk. It’s the only thing she owns.

An hour passes, and I’m lying on a hotel bed, looking at the empty, white ceiling stained from cigarette smoke. I’m both warm and safe, and she’s neither. And I can’t help but feel a little guilty, watching the world from within my nest of human technology. Not everyone was given the chance I was given.

No, she’s probably still out there walking, step over hesitant step, living perpetually in her footprints. She is going nowhere. It begins to rain, a drop at a time, and I wonder what the city lights speak to her. And if they have anything to say at all, I wonder if she even remembers how to listen.

Whale Sharks and Life

All of a sudden, it was there.
I never saw it coming.
Perhaps it was the hammerheads and sawfish that had averted my gaze toward the far side of the 6-million gallon Georgia aquarium tank in which I swam. Either way, I was not prepared for either the proximity or the emotional power of the encounter.
I found myself abruptly on the back of Rhincodon typus, its mosaic blue and silver skin pattern shimmering in the light. The animal’s head and then dorsal fins brushed against my stomach. I stretched my arms out flat and floated still, breathing deeply through my regulator as the enormous creature cruised beneath me.
I was awestruck.
And either beads of salt water had leaked through my goggles, or I was weeping.
Any shade of nervousness I had carried into the tank had dissolved in the water, completely replaced by the hypnotic enchantment a man knows when he is touched by something bigger than himself.
The huge, sweeping tail fin caught my flipper and gently pushed my leg out of its way. I remained motionless as the animal turned and floated out of sight.
Maybe you’re unimpressed by the thought of swimming with the world’s biggest fish.
But it’s moments like this that shoot the electric force of the universe through my veins. Think I’m exaggerating? Swim with a whale shark.
The gentle giant circled back and passed by again. I got a glimpse of its eye: a tiny, ancient-looking disk that, just for a moment, begged me to question whether or not I was truly awake or even alive.
And I realized how beautiful life is. I wondered why people ever become busy, or just sit at home, when things like this not only exist but can actually be seen and enjoyed.
I wondered why boredom exists and why people are so unhappy with life when life itself seems so happy with them.
But as life unfolds, I realize that choosing to be anything less than hopeful and satisfied is a most short-sighted parameter.
So let’s instead seek the beautiful things in life. Dare to dream and believe that there is something, somewhere, ready and waiting to lift our weary hearts from the monotony of our daily lives.
And all of a sudden, it will be there.
You’ll never see it coming.

The Deer

The mountain fog engulfed the quiet stands of beech and oak, revealing only hints of their gnarled and twisted outlines. The air was dead and silent, and icy flakes of cloud particles clung to our faces. The smell of frozen earth beckoned us to continue the winding ascent. Time lost its meaning, distance its power. The peak, we assumed, was only a brief walk ahead, but at this elevation, slightly lower oxygen levels added strain to every step.
We paused, listening. Our gasping breaths were the only sound on earth. I turned toward Daniel; his gentle brown eyes matched the woodland’s every hue. We dared not speak; the silence seemed for a moment to hold the universe in place.
Finally, a white-tailed doe came bounding toward us from the depths of the fog. She barreled through the air–up, down, up, down–ascending with grace and descending with power. Her tar-black hooves stabbed the soil and splashed dirt across the trail. She strode gallantly past us–almost oblivious–from one wall of fog into another, until she dissolved, dreamlike, into the ether of cloud on the far side of the trail. The sound of her footsteps lingered for a moment more, either in the distance or an echo or merely in the magic of our memories, and then she was gone.

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