While out walking a dog several days ago, I happened to glance down in passing at the base of a tree. Crouched in the nook of that tree, barely visible, was a small squirrel.
My canine charge, not really concerned about this tiny creature, ambled on until the leash ran out of slack and began to contentedly sniff at the ground. Meanwhile, I crouched down to take a better look at the squirrel. Its big, luminous eyes blinked up at me while its body flinched away from my presence, deeper into the base of the oak. I noticed how violently its haunches shook, and how its tail was tucked up close to its body. I feel a deep pity without knowing why.
I walked away from the tree slowly and continued to glance back for any sign of the squirrel bounding away as we left. I thought that, perhaps, my presence had forced it into the nook of that tree; but a part of me also felt a penetrating sadness and certainty that the squirrel’s life was about to end. I did not see the squirrel emerge as we left.
When I returned the next day, I walked eagerly up to the same tree, hoping that there would be nothing inside the nook. My spirits immediately fell as I saw a fur-covered paw, outstretched and stiff, emerging from the hollowed-out base of the tree. I recalled the vulnerability and perhaps fear that I had seen in the squirrel’s eyes. I felt sad that there was nothing I did or could have done to help it.
In my more rational mind, I know that squirrels can damage human property and are considered ‘pests’ by some. Populations of squirrels are quite healthy and they are by no means endangered. Roadkill is very often in the shape and form of squirrels, once vibrant and living. You could say that they are a ‘disposable’ creature.
But in the emotional, nonsensical part of my being, I felt just as sad for this squirrel as I did for my mouse. I made eye contact with that squirrel, and sensed that it was in pain or fear of some kind. I had witnessed its animal distress and perhaps its last hours. I felt, sharply, a sadness at its death. Somehow, life and death had all been encapsulated in the nook of that tree.