Today, I ran into a squirrel. I literally ran into a squirrel. Now, I realize that the word “literally” doesn’t carry any weight anymore, since it no longer means what it used to mean. So I shall say it this way: I actually, really, truly, and matter-of-fact-ly ran into a squirrel. I was running along the sidewalk (to ensure that I would catch the train I needed to catch). Instead of looking forward while running, I was looking off to the side to better gaze out at the beautiful serene vision of the lake in the morning. All of a sudden, serenity was stopped when my ankle hit something hard, yet furry–it felt like what you might think the head of a tiny, ungainly dog crashing into you might feel like. It was not, however, the tiny head of a domesticated canine, but the tiny head of an eastern grey squirrel. The victim managed to scamper clumsily with his friend, up the fence and away from the tall scary human who had just bopped around his noggin.
I’m left with the age-old question: How does one apologize to a squirrel? Even more crucial: How does one find the particular squirrel that is owed said apology? Not to sound speciesist, but most squirrels pretty much look the same to me. Will I be able to recognize him by the look of anger and resentment on his little squirrel face? Or do squirrels have an advanced network of communication, thereby causing ALL of them to look at me with anger and resentment? Do the squirrels who hang out in the park next to my front door communicate with the alley squirrels? Should I be wary when taking my garbage out from now on? When entering territories that may be inhabited by the same squirrel my ankle accosted, should I come bearing nuts? And if my nuts are too small, isn’t that just adding insult to injury?
But perhaps I don’t know the whole story. I wonder if this squirrel that I accidentally collided with–let’s call him, “Herbert”–what if Herbert is one of these squirrels that never pays attention to what’s going on around him. You know the type. Everyone’s out gatherin’ their nuts for the winter, and there’s Herbert–just staring off into space without a care in the world TOTALLY neglecting his responsibility. And YOU have to gather MORE nuts because no one deserves to starve. But Herbert forgets to thank you. And he’s constantly bumping into you on the branches, even though they are clearly marked with the sticks that YOU labored over yourself to lay out with the arrows. But there’s Herbert, always goin’ east on the west branch and west on the east.
So maybe it was good that I bumped into Herbert today. Maybe all he needed was a good scare. If the squirrel community is reading this, please know that I don’t need a ceremony thrown in my honor or anything. Just knowing that I’ve helped one squirrel is enough. So let this be a lesson to all small or medium sized rodents, pay attention to where you’re going–even if the lake looks pretty–focus on what lies ahead.