Nature. So wonderful, so marvelous, so inspiring. We’re lucky, here in central Ohio, to have 20 Metro Parks practically on our doorsteps. The parks are synonymous with nature, they’re a metaphoric breath of fresh air, an inspiration, a respite for the soul, filled with beauty, and jaw-dropping sights, and… and terror! Oh yeah, let’s not forget about the terror. Nature is full of terror. For some poor creatures.
Take squirrels, for instance. There are more than 28,000 acres in the Columbus & Franklin County Metro Parks. That’s 28,000 reasons to be cheerful, for us Bi-Peds, as the squirrels call us. But it’s 28,000 reasons to be terrified, if you’re a squirrel. Or is it? Nature imposes a hard life on them, but maybe it isn’t all doom and gloom for squirrels.
The Squirrelroy clan, which commands an area of prime woodland at Blendon Woods Metro Park, sat down for a family discussion ahead of a special nut and mushroom supper. They often discussed nature, life, and the squirrel mysteries before supper was served. But succession was also a big issue for the Squirrelroys. Logan Squirrelroy, a veteran of six summers, had quite an empire to bestow on one of his bairns, should any of them prove worthy: a series of excellent dens in dead trees and a full two-acre area of woods bereft of squirrel competitors and filled with mast-producing trees. A veritable squirrel heaven on earth.
Arya Squirrelroy, the matriarch of the clan, interrupted the discussion to make a point of her own. “Nature can be cruel, we all know this. But Nature don’t hold no terrors for me! I’ve been breathing air for five summers now. I’m blessed. And I don’t take no nonsense, not from nobody,” she declared feistily.
“Hah-hah, she used a duo of double negatives,” screeched Shiv Squirrelroy mercilessly.
“Means she’s scared nutless by nature and takes nonsense from everybody all the flippin’ time,” laughed her brother Roman.
Arya whacked Roman around the chops with a waft of her big bushy tail, in which she had hidden a big thick stick. She liked to think of her stick as a teaching implement, like Mrs Joe Gargery’s Tickler. Learning through pain. Roman had sense knocked into him as surely as he was knocked half-way into next week. After recovering, he sourly acknowledged the error of his ways.
“Like I was saying,” Arya resumed steelily, “I don’t take no nonsense! I have experience. Five summers’ worth! It’s a fact that most of us Squirrelroys don’t even reach a second summer before we go to a better place.”
“Better place? Do they go to Highbanks?” a reanimated Roman asked eagerly.
Arya was visibly annoyed, stark-raving-mad in fact. Her tail wagged menacingly, at the very peak of its educational power. “Highbanks? What nonsense are you spouting now?”
“Hey! The Bi-Peds said it! I heard two o’ them Bi-Peds talking as they walked past the tree half an hour ago,” Roman explained. “One said they liked it here. The other one said Highbanks is better.”
“Yeah, man, but like, didn’t they get into a barn burner fight about it right after that?” another sibling, Kendall Squirrelroy, bellowed raucously.
‘Bi-Peds never agree on anything!’ said Shiv smarmily. And Shiv had that right.
“Yeah, like, and they look ridiculous! They don’t even have tails! Pathetic creatures!” Kendall cackled.
“What’s all that walking on two legs, anyway?” Roman queried derisively. “Do they think they look cool, or summin’? It don’t look cool! No way it’s cool! It’s dumb!”
“They only have two legs,” Clever-Clogs Connoroy clarified, looking up from his book over in the corner of the den. “The other two appendages they call ‘arms’.”
“Yeah, man, legs, arms?” Kendall said dismissively. “Call ‘em what they will. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Never read Squirrelspeare, bro? Nature went and give ‘em four legs, whatever they wanna call ‘em. Use ‘em! Or lose ‘em! Roman’s right. Bi-Peds look stupid!”
“Enough!” Arya gave the group one of her faceless stares and it spooked the lot of them. “When I say we go to a better place I mean something different.” She hesitated, and looked up to the heavens, where a full moon at the apex of its rise illuminated the tree tops. “I mean… up there,” she whispered mysteriously. And then, as a mantra, but barely audible, she chanted a famous tenet of the squirrel mysteries, “Nature brings terror from the sky, and in its wake… salvation!”
“Gherkin-bell!” Logan Squirrelroy intervened heatedly. “Up there’s where a raft of Squirrelroys go right enough, and ain’t no better place they go to neither! Seen many a Squirrelroy I have, grabbed in the talons o’ one o’ them nasty wing-ed beak-bangin’ raptor critters and whoosh-a-doosh! Yeah! Up there us Squirrelroys go all right! Already with our heads ripped off!”
“Logan, you’ll frighten the bairns!” Arya screeched. “Too Stark! They’re too young for such things!”
“Young? Aye! And they won’t grow a day older if they don’t shape up and get real!” Logan banged his claw on the table. He turned his probing eyes on the three bairns, slavering at the mouth in irritation. “Look at you! Already nearing your second summers and you haven’t a clue! All this jocularity and nonsense about Highbanks, and double negatives, and Bi-Peds and legs! Get real now! It’s life and death out here! Capeesh? Every minute! Every day! Pay attention! Nature’s a curse!” He shook his big squirrelly head. “Death lurks in the shadows! In every shadow!”
“No lurkin’ grim reapers frighten me, dad!” Kendall argued boldly. He was a shoe-in for the succession, or so he thought.
“Don’t frighten you? That’s cos you’re too stupid, boy! Survival is everything! Fear! That’s what keeps us squirrels alive, fear of… what’s up there!” He threw a challenging stare at Arya — an unspoken critique of the squirrel mysteries — then cast his eyes skyward and saw a hawk circling. He smiled grimly. “Raptors! Fear the raptors, boy! All of you bairns! Get real and fear the raptors! You might live longer!”
The bairns trembled, but Arya was incensed. “That’s brutish and uncalled for, Logan!” she cried. “Listen, children. Don’t be afraid. The mysteries tell us there is more to life than squirrel flesh and blood. Up there…? Salvation calls. It’s not just raptors. The mysteries say that… high, very very high up there—”
“I’ve wet m’self!” old Grandpa Squirrelroy interrupted with a shriek.
Arya groaned and rolled her eyes, the celestial mood shattered.
“Life is so damp for me!’ Grandpa Squirrelroy continued bleakly. “It’s every day now! Ten summers and more I’ve been here, and let me tell you… it gets old! It gets old real fast! Incontinence! Brain fades! Mange! Arthritis!” He looked around the group and fixed everyone in turn with a pathetic and pleading expression. “I don’t know where I left my nuts,” he wailed.
“He’s a nut case!” Roman scolded.
“Nutty as a fruit cake,” Shiv added.
“A nut in a rut,” Kendall declared brutally.
Logan shook his big squirrelly head again. “Do you think you’ll ever see your second summer, any one of you! The way you behave, you’re nothing but raptor-fodder! How can any of you ever think you’ll succeed me as head of the Squirrelroy empire? You are not serious squirrels! I love you! But you are not serious squirrels!”
In Logan’s opinion, a serious squirrel would move heaven and earth to earn the right to power, not expect to be handed it on a plate. His kids were ditzy, their egos swollen by privilege. And Arya was unhappy with the kids too. She chastised the bairns for their cruelty to their grandpa and said, for the hundredth time in less than a week, that squirrel dementia was no laughing matter.
“ ‘Tis not indeed,” Clever-Clogs Connoroy agreed. “But gramps won’t mind. At least, he won’t remember it. Give it five seconds anyway. Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq…! Hey, gramps? You were saying something?”
“Was I?” Grandpa Squirrelroy queried. He tapped abstractedly on his big front teeth with one of his claws. “Hmm, maybe, urh… arghhhh! I’ve wet m’self!”
“And so it repeats,” said Clever-Clogs knowingly. “That’s nature in a nutshell, very appropriate for us squirrels, of course. Nature is cyclical. Life is cyclical. Everything repeats. We live—”
“In abject fear,” said Logan.
“Or in hope, pater, if you will. Then we die—”
“In horrifying pain and misery,” Logan expounded.
“As may or may not be the case, papa-progenitor. But then we live again… in glory!”
“As the mysteries truly tell us,” Arya posited, with a big smile for her clever, wise, pious Clever-Clogs.
“Amen,” said Roman, while Shiv and Kendall muttered darkly and conspiratorially beneath their breaths.
“Dimwits!” Logan sneered. “A bunch o’ squirrelly flippin’ dimwits!”
The arguments continued, as was normal around the Squirrelroy table come evening time. But then, the sauce was ready, and the nut and mushroom supper was served.
As for the hawk circling overhead, it saw seven tasty-looking squirrels with goodly layers of fat on their bones. “I’ll be back,” the hawk said, licking its beak with anticipatory relish.
Yeah! That’s life! That’s nature for you!