Somehow, it’s so appropriate that today is squirrel appreciation day. I’m not sure why, but it is. This is a holiday I can wrap my brain around!
For the first time since I started the feature in the Fall of 2012, my weekly Saturday Squirrel post coincides with the biggest sciurine holiday of them all, National Squirrel Appreciation Day! Celebrated every January 21st since 2001, it is a time for reflecting on the many positive qualities squirrels bring to our lives. It is a time to love the species rather than curse its existence. It is a time to celebrate the happiness and joy that we humans can get from these very special arboreal critters that can be found almost everywhere on earth!
The Nest will honor this most glorious occasion by recalling some of our favorite Saturday Squirrels from the past, so you can get to appreciate their beauty and humor one more time! And we may as well start with the squirrel who appears in every Saturday post…
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Despite all evidence to the contrary, I continue to hope that we will come to our senses and save our wild creatures. That being said, I have serious doubts that anything larger than a squirrel will survive in the wild.
I believe that all Earth’s large animals are doomed in their native habitats. Some will be gone soon. We will see the last of them in our lifetime. The remaining species will succumb eventually. Tigers, wolves, lions, jaguars — all the big cats — as well as other large land animals, like elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, apes and most monkeys and many more will no longer have a home on this planet.
There will be no wild places.
Humans will, for a while, maintain controlled populations of various species in zoos and special habitats, as if that could make up for their disappearance. As if warehousing is the same as having a wild kingdom. We’ll see the end of tigers and elephants in less than a decade. It’s possible the rhinoceroses are already gone. If wolves are removed from endangered species status, they will be hunted to extinction in no time flat.
Want to know why? Really? It isn’t the long complicated explanation you will get from environmentalists or public talking heads. Let’s skip past statistical analyses and the convoluted nonsense spouted by government officials and corporate stooges.
It’s simpler than that.
The animals will disappear because they are in our way. Animals don’t fit with human civilization. They are untidy. They eat cattle, goats, chickens, sheep. They trample fields, demolish gardens. They take up space that could be more profitably used for shopping malls and suburban subdivisions. They are more valuable dead than alive — and ever so much fun to kill.
Predators and large animals are inconvenient.
When humans finds something — anything — inconvenient, we eliminate it. Kill it. Demolish it. Whether it’s a species, a river, or a mountain. If it’s in our way, we make it disappear.
There’s a moral to the story. We should all take care because we can be eliminated too. If we don’t watch our step, we will eliminate ourselves.
Lions and tigers and bears? Bye bye.
P.S. If you think I’m exaggerating, please check out the Durell Wildlife Foundation, which is one of many organizations desperately trying to save what is left of our wild creatures. Durrell is my favorite, probably because Gerald Durrell who founded it was the writer whose work first got me interested in wildlife and saving it.
I have no doubt my dogs think. They have a short-term version of planning and will work together to accomplish a goal. Like opening a gate — or dismembering a toy. Surely they would hunt together if they had something to hunt. Dogs are, after all, pack animals.
They communicate. We watch them. They sit silently staring into each other’s eyes. Then they get up, together, and go out to bark, or to the kitchen to remind us they need to eat, now please. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.
What forms do their thoughts take? They don’t use words. Even though they understand some words if we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must employ their other senses. How much is visual? Do they also think in sound and scent? It’s obvious they know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting it … but how can they plan with no words?
Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration, conversation, and a lot of subtext.
Dolphins and whales talk to each other in some version of language, but words used human-style is apparently species-specific. We can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use words, but it’s unnatural for them. Only people need words. It’s not only how we communicate, it’s inherent to our understanding of our world. It’s the way we categorize everything, remember anything.
Ideas and concepts can’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species that needs a spoken language and the only one that writes. Along with the opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.
If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think thumbs would save us.
Garry was working weekends that decade, so whatever stuff happened on Sunday was part of his beat. This particular Sunday, mass at the old catholic cathedral near our condo in Roxbury was being conducted by His Eminence Bernard Francis Law, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston and cardinal of the Roman Catholic church. It was a big deal for the neighborhood’s shrinking Catholic population.
It was a grand dame amongst local churches.You could see her former grandeur, though she was currently in desperate need of restoration and repairs to just about everything. When the Archbishop says Mass anywhere, it’s an event. We lived a short block away from the old cathedral. The neighborhood was buzzing.
Roxbury was an almost entirely Black neighborhood. It had previously been a Jewish neighborhood which was red-lined by real estate brigands in the 1960s. We were among the first two or three middle class mixed-race couples to move back to Roxbury. We hoped we’d be the start of an upward swing for the neighborhood, including how it would be perceived by media and Bostonians. We had chosen it less out of sentimentality than because it was a wonderful location. Convenient to everything with lots of green space, lovely neighbors, and affordable, a combination almost impossible to find in Boston or any major city.
Despite rumors to the contrary, it was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know because my neighbor tried desperately to have his cars stolen, going so far as to leave the keys in the ignition for weeks. Not a chance. People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors, or felt safer.
The morning on which Cardinal Law was due to visit, Garry called. “I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law) that you used to live in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”
“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”
“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”
BING BONG said the doorbell. I looked at me. At least I was not still in my nightgown. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime! And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing the red skull-cap and clothed in a long, black wool cloak. Impressive.
Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the smartest, sweetest, and gentlest — was our meeter and greeter.
I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope the old church could raise enough funds to repair and upgrade the facilities.
We talked about the neighborhood. A bit of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately blamed for the long-standing and terribly wrong policy of the Church in concealing the misdeeds of child-molesting priests, this was years before that story came to light. The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty, and a pleasure to spend time around. Which was probably why Garry was so fond of him and considered him a friend.
When it was time for the Cardinal to depart, he stood up. Big Guy left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the Archbishop. That was when I realized the Cardinal was coated in cat hair. Big Guy’s hair.
Exactly what does one say or do in this odd circumstance?
“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure the cloak needed more than a lint roller. It was going to need dry cleaning with muscles behind it.
So I shut up and we parted company. As he and his retinue swept out my door, I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists, and turns.
“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.
“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement. He fully understood the implications of Big Guy, cat hair, and black wool.
“Yup,” I said. I’d wrangled with Big Guy’s fur and knew how bad it could be.
Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong getting? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain.
“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.
“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”
“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”
“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.
When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.
“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”
But now … YOU know. The truth is finally revealed.
Our family consisted of two dogs and two humans. Then our 16-year-old dog, Lucky, died and we were down to three beings in the household. We had some anxieties about bringing another dog into our lives. We worried about finding the right dog. We feared the disruption and tension the wrong dog could cause.
Our worries are over. We lucked into the perfect dog to complete our foursome. The process was fairly smooth. Except for the fact that my husband wanted nothing to do with it! He hates the idea of choosing one dog out of the thousands of rescue dogs who desperately need homes. So I had to do all the ‘shopping’.
I zeroed in on local rescue groups because we needed to introduce our dog, Lexi, to any potential adoptee. We had to make sure two dogs got along. I chose to meet one dog, Remy, who was described as sweet and cuddly. That’s exactly what we need. We are couch potatoes and would be a bad fit for an athletic, highly energetic, outdoorsy dog.
We met Remy and she was very reserved. However, she went right over to Tom and sat down leaning up against him. That bonded Tom to her immediately. Then she said hello to me and lay down on a dog bed in the room. The dog trainer making the introduction said that Remy had never done that with anyone else. She said that meant that Remy was comfortable and relaxed with us. To Tom, that meant that she was choosing us as her new family.
I insisted on meeting another dog because I didn’t want to feel I had blindly gone with the first dog we met. The other dog was adorable but there was something about Remy.
So we arranged for the rescue people to bring Remy to the house to meet Lexi. At first it didn’t go very well. Remy was scared and overwhelmed in the new environment. She wanted nothing to do with the overly enthusiastic Lexi. The rescue trainer said that this might not be the right dog for us and we were heartbroken. But we decided to give Remy 48 hours to adjust and relax. The rescue trainer said that if things were still not going well, we could bring Remy back to the rescue shelter, no problem. He assured us that this happens all the time. However, for us, that would have been devastating. We were already invested in this delightful eight month old puppy.
Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the two dogs to decide they liked playing together. Within hours they were chasing each other around the back yard and wrestling like old pals. We were so relieved! We had been instantly smitten with this sweet and goofy pup.
Each day has brought new levels of comfort and accommodation. Now I can feed the two dogs next to one another instead of in separate rooms. They can now both be on the bed without growling or any other territorial conversations. They play together, rest together and share our attention amicably. We’ve even noticed that Lexi is more relaxed and less clingy to me. That is a bonus we hadn’t even hoped for! And it hasn’t been a full week yet!
We hadn’t fully realized how down we were after the death of our Lucky. We weren’t aware how empty the house had felt with only one, not very happy dog. We are suddenly so upbeat and joyful. We are reveling in our newfound enthusiasm for each new day with our wonderful Remy. We are laughing all the time at her antics and smiling over the connection the two dogs are forging with each other. We couldn’t have asked for a happier ending for all of us.
Last week, Topaz had a 1-day filter sale. “Simplify” was available for just $20, so I decided to give it a whirl and see what it can do. It was snowing pretty hard when I got up this morning. Bummer. It was predicted, but the last one missed us. I had hoped this would miss us too. So, if snow is going to fall, I might as well take some pictures.
It turns out, Simplify offers a good selection of ways to render a photograph as art. It includes many painting styles including, impressionist, oils, acrylics, watercolor and more. My favorites are sketch, pen-and-ink, and line art. If you have the right photograph — for line art of any kind, you need strong contrast– you can get some very interesting and fun results.
Here are two versions of the same picture. I’m loving the way they came out.