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Someday You'll Thank Me: The eternal optimism of squirrels


By Mary Zahran

When most people think of autumn, they probably think of gold and crimson leaves, crisp mornings and harvest moons. They envision an endless landscape with scarecrows, bales of hay and pumpkin patches beneath a cloudless sky.

I think of squirrels.

I can’t explain why I associate fall with squirrels, but I do. It’s not as if they disappear the rest of the year and only pop up when late September rolls around. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t find several holes in my yard that have been dug by these little darlings.

The squirrels and I are at constant war with each other – they dig the holes, and I fill them in. Sisyphus and his giant rock have nothing on me. After years of this relentless battle, I must confess that it seems the squirrels are winning.

And so, we come to the subject at hand – the eternal optimism of squirrels. I don’t know exactly how sentient these creatures are, but their behavior suggests that they always have a plan to accomplish a goal and a certainty that the goal will be achieved.

Have you ever watched a squirrel try to get food out of a birdfeeder? An entire industry sprang up to address the issue of squirrels outsmarting humans when it comes to feeding our feathered friends. We humans have had to resort to building feeders that spin around and fling squirrels off when they jump onto them. I guarantee you will never laugh harder in your entire life than you will while watching a YouTube video of a squirrel hanging by his claws and circling around on one of these flinging devices like he is on a ride at Disney World.

Have you ever watched and listened to a squirrel biting the metal lid of a birdfeeder in the firm belief that he will eventually break through and enjoy a meal? These persistent devils have scarred every feeder we have ever owned as they have spent untold hours at this task, which they do hanging upside down, standing right side up or stretched out in what looks to me like a posture done only in an advanced yoga class.

Despite their efforts with these feeders, they are never successful. They always resort to eating whatever falls on the ground, but they never give up. You can be assured that the very next day, they will be back at work,

spinning madly and gnawing metal to beat the band. If this is not eternal optimism, I don’t know what is.

I once had a brief encounter with what had to be the most optimistic squirrel of all. After chewing on the lid of the birdfeeder for quite some time and making no progress, this squirrel crawled over to the brick wall that separates the lower level of our backyard from the upper level. Standing on his hand legs, he stared at me as I looked at him through my kitchen window.

What happened next was astonishing. He slowly put both of his paws on his chest as though pleading with me to feed him. If he had requested “a morsel of food, kind lady,” I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. Little did I know I was looking at the Oliver Twist of the squirrel kingdom.

I must admit I fell for his routine, which he has probably used hundreds of times in every neighborhood in Fayetteville. If you ever spot a squirrel in your backyard who looks like he is auditioning to be the main character in a Dickens novel, just feed him and immediately close your kitchen blinds.

On occasion, I encounter a squirrel with a demeanor that is not so much a product of optimism as it is a product of what has been consumed in our yard. After years of witnessing the wild antics of squirrels that seem to be inebriated, I am still trying to figure out what foliage has fermented to the extent that it could actually make a squirrel drunk. I have seen these creatures run around the yard in a frenzy, leap high into the air, do cartwheels and appear to take a bath in the dirt. Sometimes they do these things several times before they run away, probably in search of more hootch.

Nowhere is the optimism of squirrels more obvious than on the street. Most people assume that a squirrel’s attempt to cross the road usually results in a one-dimensional animal and a messy scene. I prefer to think that most squirrels survive, despite their reckless tendency to run in front of passing cars and all but throw themselves under the wheels.
On second thought, perhaps I am exhibiting the same eternal optimism that squirrels display. After all, great minds do think alike.