Thursday, September 27, 2012

Autumn Nature Study: Fostering Douglas Squirrels

"My brothers the birds, you should love your creator deeply and praise him always. He has given you feathers to w ear, wings to fly with, and w hat ever else you need. He has made you noble among his creatures and given you a dwelling in the pure air. You neither sow nor reap, yet he nevertheless protects and governs you without any anxiety on your part."  Life of St Francis of Assisi
A few weeks ago,  two of my teenagers were standing below our outdoor statue of St Francis practicing archery.   Unexpectedly  two very young squirrels scrambled down onto their shoulders.    The boys were charmed, of course (and when one of them posted on Facebook about it, his friend said "Sometimes I think you must be a Disney character").

But of course, the babies were not just being friendly.  It turned out that they were orphaned.   We put seeds and water out for them, but a couple of days went by and it was clear that they were not old enough to survive on solid foods.  One of them eventually fell from the tree and was too weak to go back up, and one of my sons climbed up to the tree and rescued the other one clinging there.

We have rescued infant squirrels before, so we already knew the basic protocol.  

These are Douglas squirrels; John Muir describes them this way:

Go where you will throughout the noble woods of the Sierra Nevada, among the giant pines and spruces of the lower zones, up through the towering Silver Firs to the storm-bent thickets of the summit peaks, you everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a few inches long, so intense is his fiery vigor and restlessness, he stirs every grove with wild life, and makes himself more important than even the huge bears that shuffle through the tangled underbrush beneath him. Every wind is fretted by his voice, almost every bole and branch feels the sting of his sharp feet. How much the growth of the trees is stimulated by this means it is not easy to learn, but his action in manipulating their seeds is more appreciable. Nature has made him master forester and committed most of her coniferous crops to his paws.

So I guess this is our nature project for this fall.  For the first couple of weeks, my second son Brendan was their primary caretaker.    We weren't even sure if they would survive after 3 days on their own without sustenance, dehydrated and shocky as they were, but they are resilient creatures and bounced back in a few days and have seemingly thrived.   They are already 1/3 bigger than when we first got them, and way more gymnastic.

Now Brendan is back in college up in Oregon so I am mostly feeding them, though usually at least one of the kids comes in to watch.

  Brendan decided to give them Norse names so they are called Harbinger and Skald.  I can't tell them apart, but he can.

How long the life of a Douglas Squirrel may be, I don’t know. The young seem to sprout from knot-holes, perfect from the first, and as enduring as their own trees. It is difficult, indeed, to realize that so condensed a piece of sun-fire should ever become dim or die at all.
The photos aren't the best, since I took them with my cell phone.

All the true squirrels are more or less birdlike in speech and movements; but the Douglas is preƫminently so, possessing, as he does, every attribute peculiarly squirrelish enthusiastically concentrated. He is the squirrel of squirrels, flashing from branch to branch of his favorite evergreens crisp and glossy and undiseased as a sunbeam.

While ascending trees all his claws come into play, but in descending the weight of his body is sustained chiefly by those of the hind feet; still in neither case do his movements suggest effort, though if you are near enough you may see the bulging strength of his short, bear-like arms, and note his sinewy fists clinched in the bark.
Whether going up or down, he carries his tail extended at full length in line with his body, unless it be required for gestures.

They are valiant, sharp, unsentimental little things.   I am looking forward to releasing them into their natural habitat, but in the meantime, caring for them gives me a chance to think of God's marvellous works, and be a tiny part of His care for the least of His creatures.  For some reason, seeing these little mammals, how much in common they have with us, yet how unreflective and confident they are, makes me more aware of God's mysterious grace and providence for all things, including me and mine. 

St Francis of Assisi, pray for us!


  1. So much to learn from these lovely creatures-"Nature has made him master forester".


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