While sitting on my small patio one spring, I spotted a baby squirrel emerging from its nest for the first time. I knew it was the first time because I had spent most of the previous day on my patio as well, and had not seen any small squirrels.
This baby squirrel staggered around, unsure of how to walk or even what it was seeing, but it looked at me. I was the first thing it had seen apart from its enclosed world of the nest.
I watched it for an hour or so, mesmerized. It fumbled around for awhile, but kept adding a bit more ambition with each new effort. It would go from one bush to another, back and forth, forth and back. What could it be doing, I wondered? Once it seemed to master a process, it would add another bit: It would go a tiny way up the bush–the first time, with great difficulty–then fall or climb down. Then over to the other bush, doing the same. Over and over, until it finally had aced both bushes, top to bottom.
In the coming days I would see it simultaneously learning its territory and developing its abilities to navigate and climb. It memorized every branch of every bush and tree, sniffing, examining, climbing, falling. It then began to learn to jump. The first time, when leaping from the original bush to the other, it miscalculated and fell short, thus unceremoniously plopping onto the ground. It then tried again, only to put too much oomph in the effort, sailing clear past the targeted bush, like some Roadrunner cartoon. The third time it finally landed on a branch, performing a wheelie.
The funny thing is, it was clearly aware that I was observing its little triumphs and humiliations. When it would mess up, the squirrel would pick itself up, look at me, and I swear it would make a gesture that said “Meant to do that!”
In this manner, she and I bonded. And for the next six years she trusted me, letting me into her private life as a squirrel.
To be continued.