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.
When my father died, in tragic circumstances in 1985, I found some solace in the time before the funeral in wandering in the small garden where I had spent so much of my youth. There in the garden I came across a rose bud and bought it inside into a bud vase. Over the next few days it slowly came into bloom and was in full flower on the day of the funeral. It seemed to be some beacon of hope, made all the more peculiar as this was at the end of January!
Thanks Colin for your very moving story. Solace is the word is was searching for while writing the piece.
From ‘On a Squirrel, Crossing the Road in Autumn, In New England’ by Richard Eberhart.
“He obeys the orders of nature
Without knowing them.
It is what he does not know
That makes him beautiful.
Such a knot of little purposeful nature!
I who can see him as he cannot see himself
Repose in the ignorance that is his blessing.”
I had a similar encounter about 30 years ago with a Red Squirrel in a Forest Park at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne. These things stick with you…
Thanks Dave – excellent poem.
Something about Red Squirrels I guess.