Two Squirrel Tales - Twenty Years Apart
by Uncle Bear
Twice in my 70 plus years I’ve experienced something special while watching squirrels. The first took place when I was all of 5-years-old, while the second happened when I was twenty-five. The first was exciting but at that young age a bit frightening. The second can only be described as absolutely awesome.
In 1944 I was adopted by an older couple. My memory of first few months with them has been lost in time, with the exception of my first encounter with a Sciurus carolinensis. One warm spring Saturday morning my new father asked if I’d like to join him on our front steps. Like most any child who liked to be outdoors I jumped at the chance.
After we had been sitting for a short time, my father leaned over and instructed me to sit as quietly as I could and watch the base of a tree a short distance away. He laid a peanut a couple of inches in front of his shoe. I watched in utter amazement slowly a gray squirrel came down from the tree and cautiously advanced toward the goober. I was both excited to see this wonderful creature and a little fearful. When the bushy tail retreated I assumed that was it. He had been fed, left, and wouldn’t return. I was wrong.
As the gray became more comfortable with us humans, i.e. me, he made some moves that must have taken a lot of time and patience to perfect. The squirrel came to take a peanut on my father’s shoe. Next he took a peanut from my father’s outstretched hand. To top the morning off I watched with bated breath as the squirrel came to the shoe, proceeded to the hand, slowly climbed the arm to the shoulder, and very politely removed a peanut from a pocket and scampered away.
For reasons unknown to me I never saw my father feed any squirrels again. I suspect his wife feared I might try to emulate him and forced him to stop. However, because of that brief Saturday morning encounter with a wild creature, I began to learn about all kinds of animals.
Twenty years later a second experience involving a squirrel gave me thrill. The encounter lasted no more than a half minute; however, not one iota of it will ever be forgotten.
I had landed a temporary job with the Milwaukee Road. The railroad’s proper name was the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (CMStP&P). I can’t recall anyone ever referring to the railroad by any other name than the Milwaukee Road.
In mid-fall Minneapolis Minnesota can become a bit chilly after the sun sets. The crew I was assigned to worked from 4 p.m. to midnight. We took a short break around 6 p.m. It was twilight but still enough light to clearly make out any object 15 or 20 yards away.
On that wonderful memorable evening an older men asked if I’d walk to the edge of the tracks to sees something interesting. As we arrived we stood facing a wooded area, I wondered what did this man desire to show me? All he had done so far was toss assorted bits of food toward the woods but never quite into them. Then very quietly he whispered to me to look carefully for a squirrel who had ventured out to get a free meal.
As my eyes adjusted to the dwindling light and existing shadows, I spotted a totally jet black squirrel. While his coat had a soft sheen, it was his eyes that I recall the best. They were small black pearls that glistened in the falling light. I simply stood watching him, mesmerized. Suddenly he turned tail and headed back into the woods.
I never saw that beautiful creature again. Looking back I estimate my total time of viewing him at no more 90 seconds. Now a lifetime later, while I’m unable to dredge up images of anyone I knew then, I can close my eyes and see a magnificent black squirrel with the shiny black pearl eyes.