Respect the Squirrel

A couple weeks ago, I was walking past our dining room window when something caught my eye. In the front yard was a squirrel.

No news flash there as we live surrounded on several sides by woods. Squirrels and deer are regular visitors, along with the occasional raccoon, spotted owl and annoying woodpecker.

But this was different. The squirrel wasn’t darting hither and yon, playing tag with his buddies or running spirals up and down the trees. It was recycling day in the neighborhood, and this little fluffy-tailed tree urchin had brazenly confiscated a plastic water bottle from our recycling bin.

Squirrel chewing on plastic water bottle by Linda A Janssen on www.adventuresinexpatland.com

In the shade of a large tree, this ambitious squirrel was gnawing on the bottle cap.

He was chomping away with such gusto that occasionally the cap popped out from between his little paws, bouncing on the hard winter ground and landing a foot or more away.

Whenever this happened, he’d look around to ensure he wasn’t in danger of being attacked by natural enemies – our cairn terrier, Oli, for example – then dart over and snatch it back before continuing with his rapid-fire nibbling.

The little rascal was daring – no fear of chewing away in broad daylight – and I found the whole thing amusing enough that I grabbed my phone and snapped a photo.

Then I went on my merry way and forgot all about the squirrel.

Until the next day.

As I headed down the driveway to bring up the empty bins, I had good reason to remember my little furry friend. The lawn around the tree looked as though local college students had partied heartily and left their detritus behind.

It seems the squirrel had managed to snag a number of items out of the bin, and, over the course of the afternoon, he’d attacked them with a vengeance, searching for a culinary treasure. When he was finished, he left them strewn across the yard.

That’s when I saw it: an empty glass peanut butter jar, lying against the trunk of the tree.

As I bent to pick it up, I noticed it had been licked absolutely clean. Now I rinse any and all bottles and jars before they go into the bin, but let’s face it: peanut butter is gooey and sticky, and it’s tough to get all remnants of it out of the jar. This was spotless.

Then I saw the lid.

Bright blue plastic jar lid chewed up by a squirrel at Adventures in Expat Land

To say that the squirrel had done a number on the lid in order to gain access to any remaining peanut butter is an understatement.

Like a can opener, he had methodically chewed his way around the edge of the lid, then ripped it open, peeling it back as he would a banana.

Stunned by the ferocity of my masticating mascot, I felt compelled to take an ‘after’ photo just for proof.

After all, who would believe such a little rodent the size of a squirrel could wreak such havoc on a plastic lid? An extremely thick, durable plastic lid at that.

In the ensuing days, my thoughts kept coming back to the squirrel and his dental assault on that peanut butter jar lid. There were life lessons to be gleaned, and I found myself experiencing a growing admiration for the little critters.

Before you laugh, here are some thoughts to ponder:

  • Squirrels seem to be naturally inquisitive: if they see something they think they might like, they go for it. Okay, I don’t really know whether squirrels act solely on instinct, if they even think at all. They see something attractive, which they really want, and that curiosity pushes them to act.
  • Squirrels are courageous. Let’s face it: they’re fairly low on the animal food chain. Yet they operate well in trees and on the ground, under deep cover of forest, in open spaces like clearings and parks, even in close proximity to humans. Clearly they don’t let something like fear of being attacked, eaten, or looking foolish stop them. Several years ago my family visited the Grand Canyon and one thing we all remember – aside from how truly awe-inspiring that natural wonder is – was the squirrel who hung out on the dining patio of a restaurant situated along one of the walking trails. Somewhere in a closet we have photos of the fearless little fellow hanging out near Son’s shoulder trying to score a piece of a chocolate bar. No time for being afraid, he had food to mooch.
  • You know what they say – if you’re going to aspire to a goal or result, dream big. Bestselling author Brené Brown exhorts us to Dare Greatly, and squirrels seem to have taken her encouragement to heart. They fly through the trees with the ease of trapeze artists, taking in the big picture from a bird’s eye view. Yet they also hone in on the minutest of details. The one in our yard saw the recycling bin and said yes. He started by wrestling with a plastic water bottle – not much of a payoff there – and worked his way up to a glass peanut butter jar.
  • He stayed the course, and would not be dissuaded or denied. Not only did this jar weigh as much as (if not more than) the squirrel himself, it was topped with what appeared to be the Fort Knox of lids. Did he let little inconveniences like these stop him? No. This resilient little guy simply set to work, and with time, effort and intense focus, he was rewarded richly. Licking watered down, leftover peanut butter may not seem like much of a prize, but hey – to him it probably felt like winning the lottery. Or a trophy. Or a National Book Award. Depends on your dream 😉

In recent months I’ve been working on a few projects that push me in new and different ways. I wouldn’t be doing them if I didn’t want to, if I didn’t feel they are important to my personal growth and professional development, if I didn’t believe they would help lead me to where I want to be in many facets of my life.

Given the boldness, curiosity, strength, tenacity and singleness of purpose I witnessed, I have renewed respect for the lowly squirrel: they do indeed have much to teach us about dealing with challenges.

Besides, there’s one last thing I’ve learned from all of this. The current fixation with zombies, vampires and the walking dead? That is sooo last week.

But a Squirrel Apocalypse? Now that’s something to worry about…



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