One of my favorite things about sitting in the park last week was my chance to participate in squirrel watching in addition to people watching. Back at my old apartment I had a feeder right outside the window of my office where I wrote and I spent many hours watching the antics of the squirrels, as well as the birds. I even wrote a few blog posts about some of them, immortalizing them in print. Alas, since I have moved way out to the country and am, indeed, surrounded by trees, I have yet to see a squirrel. I’m told that it might be because there are so many predators around. I have seen for myself the hawks that make their rounds twice a day right over the fields that surround where I live, not to mention the parade of barn cats, plus the eagles that hang out just down the hill from me. So it does my heart good to be able to spend some time in their presence by watching them in the park when I go to town. They are industrious little creatures, very focused and determined as anyone who has ever watched one at a bird feeder can attest to. They are also awesome to watch at play, with such abandon and joy.
On the day that I was last there (the day of the famous adventure of the girl, the guy, the tree and the note from last week’s post) it was apparent as I watched my little furry friends at work and play that they are quite used to having humans around. With the courthouse right there and all those benches to sit on, I can imagine people feeding them, or dropping food for them to find. One squirrel in particular was sitting very quietly a short distance from me chewing on what looked like a branch. It certainly looked like he was watching me as intently as I was watching him even though I had long finished my lunch. So I started a conversation with him. I told him I was sorry to bother him while he was having his lunch, but I was wondering if squirrels had a way of contacting relatives who lived in other towns, sort of like squirrel tweeting or something. I told him how I missed my squirrels back home and that I wanted them to know that I thought about them often and hoped they were well.
I looked around to make sure no one had actually heard that exchange and thought security should be called. It’s just that, being a very creative and whimsical kind of girl, in addition to all of my Native American studies, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t communicate with my relatives in the animal kingdom. So I just did.
I took out my phone to check the time and when I looked up, that very same squirrel had come right over to me and was sitting in front of me, as if it wanted to continue the conversation. Suddenly I felt all Dr. Doolittle, as if I could actually talk to an animal – well, besides my cats who are way too human, if you know what I mean. So I continued, and the squirrel moved closer.
He sat looking at me for a few more moments as I shared this and that with him. When I was done he ran around behind the bench I was sitting on and scurried up the nearest tree where he sat at a junction of branches and continued to simply keep me company for the duration of my visit.
How many times in our day-to-day lives do we not allow ourselves to communicate with someone because we believe they are different from us? How often do we tell ourselves that someone’s race/religion/ethnic origin/gender/politics puts them in one half of the “them or us” equation and ourselves in the other, thus making us unwilling to overlook the differences and, instead, look for common ground with which to get the conversation started? We make assumptions about people based on these categories, or hold on to long held beliefs about “those people” that probably weren’t even ours to begin with but were passed down by family and culture. Why don’t we take the time to actually test the waters with a moment of kindness and attention? Even a simple thing like, “Good Morning,” or, “Nice weather, isn’t it?” can begin to open doors to new and myth-changing conversations. Kindness and compassion, together with a willingness to simply be open to listen, doesn’t cost us anything but can reward us many times over with new friends, new ideas and beliefs that are our own creation and not someone else’s.
As for my belief that I can actually talk to animals, I had another occasion to test that the other day when a very short and very fat robin landed on the branch of a tree in the garden. I was out for my morning stroll where it is my custom to greet the day and say good morning to the birds, the cows and anyone else who is within ear shot. I told the robin that he looked very much like a character in a story that I am working on. I invited him to come and visit me often so that I could learn all about robins from him as part of my research. He sang the prettiest song for me before he took off. He’s been back every day since. Communication is a beautiful thing.
And so it is.