At first, I wondered where the squirrel was heading in such a hurry. Then I gasped as she was nearing the top of the fifty-foot-tall oak and leaped to what looked like a very thin branch. My interest heightened when another squirrel came racing up the tree, making it from bottom to top in about four seconds. The second squirrel passed the first, got to the end of a thin branch and took a gigantic leap of what looked like ten feet and barely grabbed a thin branch of the adjoining massive oak.
Not to be outdone, the first squirrel watched (I suspect in disbelief) and then ran to the edge of the branch, stopped and backtracked. After a very short pause, she again headed to the edge of the branch, picking up speed. And stopped again, retreating ten feet back to a safer spot.
Within thirty seconds just as my compassion for the scared squirrel was growing, she took off a third time. This time she didn’t stop. She leaped across the open space and grabbed the thinnest of branches from the sprawling nearby tree.
I laughed and my heart embraced the good feeling of success for another. What courage! To face a challenge that looked, I imagine, impossible, and then take the leap and make it. I couldn’t see if the two squirrels caught up with each other. While I enjoy making up stories, I don’t know if they were related, friends, lovers. Or perhaps the second squirrel was a guardian angel sent for just this jump with no other relationship or job. Who knows?
My wife Geraldine gets a little worried when she sees me staring out the windows. Our home in Greenbelt, a planned New Deal era community, is surrounded on both sides by majestic trees, mostly oaks and maples. From any and every window, I can see squirrels. When we walk, we see squirrels. There are a lot of squirrels.
In the Twelve Step programs, one of the more popular slogans is “Live and Let Live.” When I want to meditate on Live and Let Live, I ponder the care-free, high energy life of the squirrel.
I find squirrels fascinating for a lot of reasons. They don’t seem to overthink their next action. One jump or search for food leads to the next one effortlessly. I am jealous of their self-confidence. They are totally fearless. They seem to know themselves and their capability well. They make jumps like the two I watched this morning that seem risky to me. To them, they are not. Sometimes they use their tails to flip over on a branch.
Squirrels I have come to learn are socially different. Some like to go it alone. Others travel in groups or families. There are black ones and brown ones and gray ones. Only once have I witnessed two squirrels making love. I imagine they are a little modest and do that at night up in their squirrel nest.
Their process for bringing up and teaching the young is unclear. It is not obvious how old a squirrel is. They seem ageless. Other than the victims of a mistimed crossing of the street and an auto death, or encountering the few people left who still enjoy hunting squirrels, it is unclear how or when death comes for them.
Of course, there is this thing about them appearing a little frenetic or compulsive, particularly around acquiring food. It is clear they have peak times of year for acquiring food and take that job seriously. I imagine some rough winters have embedded that habit deep within their psyche.
I learn about myself by being present in the life of the squirrel. For instance, in observing their frenetic activity and compulsive nature, I can identify and own those traits in myself. I actually refer to my behavior sometimes as “squirrelly.” In appreciating the frenetic squirrel, I appreciate and can modulate my own frenetic side.
I do this with meditation, mindfulness, paying attention to my breath – they all offer me an invitation to the sacred. The pause allows me to quiet my restlessness and embrace my oneness with the squirrels, the trees, the clouds, the people I encounter, with the world. This embracing is a form of love. Love drives our oneness.
As you celebrate Valentine’s day, what or whom might you pause to appreciate, to take delight in, to love? And in the process connect with the love that unites us all?
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