This morning, I wandered past an infant squirrel, chirping in distress. A solid, preying neighborhood cat crouched over the helpless body with fascination and deadly playfulness. Confused as to what manner of creature would utter such strange cries, I crossed into the neighbor’s yard where the baby lay squirming. As I approached, the feline had turned the rodent onto its back to reveal the soft, vulnerable underbelly of the small creature.
I swatted at the cat, who barely paid me any heed as I forced him back. The baby had wriggled itself upright and began to chirp again. I could see now, the ailment and the cause of the baby’s distress was an army of fire ants who had just begun their investigation of this new meat. I could see no blemish upon the infant squirrel and determined that even if he had fallen from his nest, it had not been a nasty fall. Despite the frightful form of the rodent sprinkled with red ants, I hastily scooped him into the palms of my hands and brushed the insects from its soft body. His chirping subsided and I stood frozen in awe as it curled up, pulling my index finger close so as to snuggle further into my hands.
I examined the strange creature with a tearful eye and searched around for any sign of what to do. I couldn’t leave the baby there alone; several cats had already joined the first to await my departure. I was too involved.
Just then, an adult squirrel scampered down the tree before me and observed my position with a panicked eye. She held in her mouth an infant identical to the one resting in my hands. Assuming her relationship to my palm-dweller, I lowered the baby onto the concrete once more. I was careful to keep the anxious cats at bay, hoping to allow the mother her opportunity to relocate her brood safely. She fled, only to watch from a distance my attempts while holding the sibling squirrel in her mouth and gathering its small body closer to hers. I proved too looming a being, and she moved hurriedly away into a tree.
Resumed chirping again arrested my attention as the ants returned to claim the baby. This time, I was overcome with horror as the baby called helplessly for aid. He was unable to even more or to shake off a single ant. The infant’s only power was to call out frantically for someone who could. Once more, I snatched him away and allowed him to curl up into safety.
Alerted by the same calls of distress which had brought me into the situation, my neighbor (who’s door I was standing before) came to investigate. I placed the baby onto the concrete bench adorning the yard and informed her of the situation. I was embarrassed and acutely aware of how ridiculous I appeared as I stood in her yard clothed in old pajamas. Having a heart even more tender to animals than my own, she joined my endeavor without invitation or question.
The mother appeared again briefly, still guarding her other offspring, before hurrying away again. All we could do was relocate our endangered one into an obliging tree and hope that one of the many squirrels inhabiting it proved to be the mother.
One curious individual dared approach us and watched closely as the chirping infant was placed into the crook of the tree. She examined the baby and immediately hurried to the place I originally discovered him. It was all we could do to leave the little one laid in the tree in hopes that the mother would return for him.
I cannot imagine what became of the little squirrel. My trepidation over this small life is greater than I could expect. If I return this evening to an empty tree, I will hope that only good befell the creature and try not to consider the possible alternatives. However, if he remains untouched, I will be compelled to mother it myself.