I watched a squirrel make a spectacle of itself yesterday,
We dropped Al off at nursery, Macaulay the dog and I. and then we returned home and I donned my bag lady outfit ready to tramp through the forest. I should have run, but the day was dank, and even walking was a rage against the elements. The quality of cold was deeply unpleasant, much like Uriah Heap. The mist hung ingratiatingly, giving the appearance of Avalon but wringing its hands inappropriately and attempting to caress with the clammiest of fingers.
It was a day for trudging. It takes some talent for a dog to trudge,and perhaps I exaggerate; but it did appear that he slowed his pace, and trod more gingerly on his doggy patrol than usual.
And he completely missed that squirrel until far, far too late.
He had assumed the vacuum position: This is where, while the rest of him is animate, transporting him from patch to patch, his nose and muzzle remain at a 45 degree angle to the leaf mould, sweeping it meticulously for intelligence. But that mist sobered him; the moustache was not as charged as usual.
It was having a similar effect on a small forest squirrel. Perfectly camouflaged, grey against white-grey, it had been pottering around minding its own business, rooting for a few nuts, taking a breath of damp air, when Macaulay and his muzzle loomed up out of nowhere.
Double takes are wonderful in a cartoon, hilarious on the comedy stage, uproarious in a well-timed feature film. But here in the forest was one of the funniest I have even seen.
The squirrel took one look at Mac and, I swear, his hair stood on end. The dog, slow on the uptake, began furiously to press his neurons into action, waking them, giving them little sensory batons to pass on to their colleagues all the way up there in his doggy brain. As I watched his small cerebellum I was conscious of the huge effort it took to begin the process of clocking the squirrel and sending out the signal to charge.
Squirrels have smaller cerebellums. There is less far for their little squirrely synapses to sprint.
It’s all the mitigation I can muster for my dog, who came a sluggish second to the ittle creature’s reaction.
We have huge mendering oaks and beeches and willowy birches here; but we also have stiff-spined Germanic conifers, inflexible humourless straight-trunked freeways to the sky.
Reality slows for some moments, doesn’t it? That moment, for example, between you spilling your coffee and it landing on the expensive keyboard; the split seconds you have to stammer “no-” befre your three year old shuts the front door with himself, and the house keys, marooned alone inside. The descent of the top of the salt container into the stew, before its contents inevitably follow.
The squirrel was not for sticking around. But my mind slowed it progress in the same way.
It turned and launched itself onto the lowest part of the trunk. I heard its tiny claws engaging krampon mode. Somewhere – was it inside my head? – the Mission Impossible theme began to play with gung-ho boy-scout enthusiasm.
And then it shot skywards.
I have never watched a full ascent before, and nor have I listened to one. The tiny grey furry warrior’s claws tapped their way up this towering pine. I thought he would stop, as squirrels are wont to do. Generally they pause above the level of the dog’s head and administer chagrin, indulging in a little professional infuriation, mocking from a perch Macaulay is never destined to reach.
But no. This squirrel was not for turning. On it hurtled, upwards and upwards with such conviction one might think it were on its way to the moon. The dog’s little cerebral relay race had completed its circuit now, and he was their, doing the Alert Pointer Pose. I was right there, Macaulay conned the world. I was on top of it the whole time. I am monitoring this squirrel’s little furry behind.
After an eternity, neatly packaged in a few seconds, the squirrel made a realisation: the tree had come to an end. The moon would have to wait until another day. It screeched to a halt and looked down.
Way down there on the forest floor, there was a dog who looked as alert and charged as he should have a minute before. The squirrel could just make out the triangle ears, the eyes boring into its little squirrely soul.
But Macaulay was vanquished. Squirrelburgers will have to wait for another day.
Picture image here