By Paul Whippey (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It was a week after my brother died, we were in the Isle of Wight, where I was surveying strandline vegetation. I had gained access to a private wood, part of a monastery that had been refounded by french monks in the 19th century. It was a beautiful woodland, very unusual I guess because of it being on the Isle, and so close to the coastline. I had completed my survey work and was wandering back through the wood, in a sombre but contemplative mood, when I was lifted into consciousness by a scolding, churring noise. I looked up to see a rather annoyed red squirrel, clearly objecting to me being in his/her space. It was just ten feet above my head and paying me close attention. I was rapt, frozen, paralysed by the joy of the moment. It hopped about among the branches and ivy, not sure whether to attack or retreat. I took out my camera and tried to get a photo but the light was all wrong and it was moving much too fast, moving in and out of cover. I gave up with the camera and just watched. After a couple of minutes its tone changed and it had clearly decided I was not a threat. Then it just chatted to itself (or me?) for a good five minutes while I watched, enchanted.
Eventually it went off into the canopy and I walked on back to my car. I had been liberated from my personal tragedy for a brief moment, but that moment had stayed with me and remembering it lifts my mood.
Would it have been different if it had been a grey squirrel? Yes – the behaviour was quite different, though also knowing this little arboreal acrobat was now just a ghost in large parts of our mainland woodlands made the moment more poignant.