Squirrel Highway

I don’t understand why, but I love the sound. It’s a BLUNK….kathunk, kathunk, kathunk, kathunk. Or from the other direction, it’s a [thunk]….kathunk, kathunk, kathUNK, KATHUNK! You can listen to the sounds from almost anywhere in the house, but my favorite place is lying in bed just after waking up. In the morning, the sounds can come from both directions, and just keep coming. I think of it as rush hour on the squirrel highway.

I don’t know the whole extent of the highway, but the roof of the house is an integral part. In one direction, it starts with a leap from the blackgum tree just outside the corner window of the bedroom. That’s the window I look out each morning to see what kind of a day it’s going to be. The most common exit from the roof is the tulip poplar just off the living room. It’s an easy hop to the trunk of this very tall tree next to other very tall trees. I gather this is an important avenue up for a squirrel. A somewhat less popular but still used route is a seemingly perilous lunge into the cherry tree in the front yard. This is only for the true arial artists of the group. If a squirrel can acquire these mad skills, the cherry tree offers tasty rewards for the effort every Spring.

I remind myself that the house is a relatively new addition to the area, and that the squirrels were getting from the back of what I call my property to the front long before I claimed it as “my property.” In this context, it makes me happy to provide the roof as surface for easy and apparently rapid travel. Listening to the “traffic” makes me happy. It’s a sound of nature that isn’t mentioned as far as I can tell. It doesn’t garner the sort of praise one hears for rain on the roof, or birds chirping in spring, or babbling brooks.

BLUNK….kathunk, kathunk, kathunk, kathunk. [thunk]….kathunk, kathunk, kathUNK, KATHUNK! [thunk]….kathunk, kathunk, kathUNK, KATHUNK! BLUNK….kathunk, kathunk, kathunk, kathunk. Back and forth, forth and back. It’s a percussive sort of music.

One morning, the music changed. It was only the beginning note. Just BLUNK! And then again. BLUNK! blunk! And eventually…BLUNK! Always from the starting point at the bedroom corner. I stayed in bed longer than usual that morning. I couldn’t pull myself away until I saw the whole thing.

Three squirrels, a normal sized adult squirrel and two smaller squirrels all occupied the tree trunk when I first looked out. I have no idea what the relationship of these three might have been. Perhaps mother and children, but perhaps not. I don’t know who teaches unskilled squirrels. After watching the older squirrel repeat, over and over, what seemed like an exasperating loop of a lesson, I’m thinking mother or junior high teacher to the younger two. I’m thinking the younger two were tweens. If I’m wrong, don’t correct me. I think there’s an example or lesson or something in here for me too. Don’t take that away by insisting I be right about these squirrels.

Anyway, back to what was going on. With a BLUNK, the bigger squirrel jumps from the tree to the roof. I can’t see the bigger squirrel on the roof, but I imagine she (let’s call this squirrel she) turns around and looks at the smaller squirrels and says, “Now one of you try!” A smaller squirrel scampers from the trunk out onto a branch, hesitates out of fear (I imagine), then takes a tentative jump… and falls from the tree to the ground. (Don’t worry, it’s a one-story house. It’s not that far to fall.) Next, momma (OK, let’s call her momma) jumps back to the tree, scurries down the trunk, nudges or even picks up by the scruff the smaller squirrel, and back up the trunk they go. This process is repeated over and over and over.

The younger ones go too far out on the branch. The branch starts bending down, and the leap that has to be made to achieve roof success is too far. If they would just stay on the more stable part of the branch, closer to the trunk, they would be able to make the leap. Over and over and over. Sometimes, one of the youngsters makes it. But, squirrels at this age, let’s say the equivalent of 12 or 13, apparently can’t be trusted alone on the roof. So when momma has to go back to pick up the second one, she carries the first one with her. Family success is dependent on everyone making it. (I told you there were lessons!)

Eventually, they do all make it to the roof, and a trio of “kathunks” skitters across the roof. The leap from the roof to the poplar is much easier. No repeats are required. In the course of this arduous lesson, however, I swear I saw all of them sigh…saw the young ones body language droop…saw momma roll her eyes in exasperation. It took upwards of a dozen tries for this threesome to negotiate this tiny part of the squirrel highway. Others just passed them by like nothing in particular was going on while these three were stranded at the on-ramp to the roof. Is there roadside assistance for squirrels? What was the alternative if persistence didn’t result in roof success?

I was so caught up in the drama that morning that I was a little late getting to work. I don’t care. I like knowing that we humans aren’t the only ones that have to be taught how to drive down life’s highway. I like knowing that even squirrels sometimes need patience and perseverance to get through the day. It’s nice to be reminded of this in the morning just as I’m waking up.

BLUNK……kathunk, kathunk, kathunk, kathunk.


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