First natural observation of the New Year: a gray squirrel running through the branches of the five black walnut trees in the yard of my parent’s house. I’ve drunk my coffee, have gotten up to go back inside my own cottage (it’s 30 degrees F) and I notice the squirrel as I glance west, toward the sunlight seeping down Sapsucker Ridge and across the field. The walnut trees are still half in shadow, their crowns glow a rich gold. The squirrel – probably resident in the cavity of the largest tree – is racing up and down the sunlit limbs and flinging itself from tree to tree in a manner I can only describe as ecstatic. When it pauses, its tail vibrates spasmodically and it rubs both sides of its face and neck against the tree bark, left side then right.
I know this behavior from having observed it often among squirrels in the butternut tree that stood in my own front lawn until this past August, when it toppled over onto the porch one morning shortly after I’d gone inside. (Losing this butternut was almost as traumatic for me as the death of my grandfather the month before; both left a sizable hole.) I assume, based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve read in the scientific literature, that this behavior is associated with the onset of estrus. But something can have an “explanation,” be fairly familiar and still seem strange and wondrous. My only resolution for the New Year (and lord knows I could make many!) is to see the world more frequently in such a light.