CAPACITY

by Dorothy-Jean (Dody) Christian Chapman

In anthropomorphic fashion I relate the saga of a local squirrel I believe I have met several times on our road. It was on Monday’s trip to school when I noticed two young squirrels cavorting on the yellow, no-pass lines. Oblivious to my approach, they tumbled with total abandonment. As I slowed the car, they noticed the impending danger in wide-eyed acknowledgment and fled the scene, tails a blur. And as I passed the site of their hasty exit, I could see in my rear view mirror their heads peering furtively from behind a pine tree. My husband refers to all squirrels as tree rats. Yes, they are rodents. I prefer to describe them as rodents having better digs than their city or farm, slick-tailed cousins, the rats. They wear their expensive fur coats year round. And they all live in penthouses. On Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s trips to town, I again found the young friends performing acrobatic leaps and twists on the no-pass lines. This time, they scattered well ahead of my car’s arrival in center ring. However, on Thursday’s trip to town, a freshly squashed squirrel lay in the center of the road. Although the squirrel pair had learned of the danger of vehicles in general, nothing could prepare them for the few speeders I know to live on our country road. The small body reposed in perfect sleep while I passed respectfully around. In my rear view mirror I viewed a squirrel creep daringly out on the road to check the motionless body. Thoughts welled up in my mind of human loss in general and my own mortality. How would my dear husband or I react in a like situation? Did the squirrel left behind actually go to assess its partner’s well being as we humans do? Primates have the capacity to remain beside a dead partner or offspring for a period of time. Rodents, on the other hand, are not known to have that capacity. By Friday’s trip to town, I was prepared for the squirrel scene on the road. Two grackles were squabbling over the entrails of the dead squirrel; each bird leaping with wings spread as if to appear larger and intimidating to the other. My passing sent the grackles’ argument into the nearby trees. They would descend upon their found meal for the remainder of my working day. However, that afternoon I witnessed something I cannot explain. As I approached the place of death, a squirrel sat as squirrels do, apparently watching the remains of the body of its friend. Who can tell if the two were partners? Perhaps it was another squirrel from the nearby woods, or they were siblings. I prefer to think that the two were bound in some way to prompt repeated visits to that spot in the road. On two successive days the scene was the same: a seemingly tired squirrel visiting the death site of its partner.

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