As the autumn matured into a pallate of rich golds and reds, our relationship began to follow a familiar routine. He would appear at the window in the morning to remind me to put out some peanuts out for him before I slogged off to University. As I was in a basement apartment, the window placed us equally at eye level. In the evening, if I am back before the sun goes down, he may condescend to an appearance. But if he did show up, he would entertain me with his enchanting little dance. I think I will dedicate one whole posting to his dance skills but that will be later. Yet despite this familiar routine, the rapscallion, was well versed in the skills of entrapment and allurement. Looking cute and constantly engaging interests were the tools of his trade; the easy path to procure delicious edibles.
The fact was, that on the very first day we met, as I sat on the stone steps leading to my little garden, he came and sat on my lap and ate out of my cupped hand. He granted me a glimse of such pastoral pleasure and hinted at intimacy. However, once he knew that I was hooked on him and his Sciuridae brethren, he became aloof again. Throughout that autumn, he would be coy, coming close and then draw back again; staying just a finger’s touch away but racing away if you tried to close the gap. It was infuriating but it kept the relationship from becoming routine and stale. Perhaps there is a lesson here about keeping romance fresh in marraiges and relationships. It kept me looking forward to our encounters and wondering if the next time would be the time we would connect again.
Did I tell you that I am a scientist? Well, for a scientist, I was pretty dumb. My excuse was that I was still at that time studying for my PhD and a) I was too stressed to think; b) PhD = permanent head damage, c) one must be inherently dumb to sign up for more studies and exams and d) all of the above. It was only when all the riotous fall color had begun to fade into grey skies that I had an epiphany……. winter was coming.
With this realisation, I was overwhelmed by worry and guilt. Was I making Spikey a tame squirrel? One that got too used to human handouts and became unable to cope with the harshness of winter. Was I ruining his hibernation cycle? Would he be attracted to come out in the cold for the handouts when he should be hibernating safely? Had I killed him? Riding on a crest of adrenaline, I fumbled through the yellow pages and found the telephone number for the Canadian Nature Federation (today, Nature Canada).
“Hello” said the sweet feminine voice.
“Hello, I have been feeding a squirrel.” Please don’t judge me harshly.
“Yess…. feeding a squirrel?”
“Is that bad?” Don’t hang up! It’s not a crank call.
Well, the patient voice explained to me that in fact squirrels do not hibernate but they live off their store of nuts which could be in caches in the trees or buried in the ground. However, if the squirrel had become too dependent on the feeding, he may not have stored enough. So she advised me to keep feeding through the winter.
“Uh huh, … do not hibernate. Need to keep feeding. Yes Ma’am! I can do that”
I was wiping the perspiration off my forehead when she asked what I was feeding the squirrel. I told her I was feeding Spikey, peanuts but that don’t worry I learnt from a friend who reared dogs that giving animals salted food was bad as it caused them to lose their fur. I was careful not to give salted peanuts. “That’s good” she said,” because squirrels can only eat blanched peanuts as in untreated peanuts, there is a protein that is toxic to squirrels.”
Although I still had perspiration on my forehead, I felt the most awful chill down my whole body. I thanked her and placed the phone back in its cradle. The next few steps to the kitchen seemed to last a lifetime and all the while there was pounding in my ears which seemed to say, “Killer, killer”. I opened the cupboard and took the peanuts out and with my heart in my throat, I looked at the package label and it said …….”blanched unsalted peanuts”.
Whew! I learnt my lesson. Don’t feed wild animals. Its bad for them. Well, the lesson is for you readers because I was hooked. After all, the patient voice had commanded me to feed him through the winter which I did with blanched, unsalted peanuts that you can buy in bulk at the supermarket. And despite, my ignorance, Spikey would live on.