Friday morning I was leaving to take my son to school when we saw the neighbor’s year-old Lab sprinting around the yard in suspicious glee. I yelled at him to get home, and he dropped his parcel and ran. The parcel had a strange tail, so I went to check it out, thinking it might be a rat, which we never see around here. In fact, it was a slobbery but perfectly furred, warm, breathing gray squirrel so young its eyes were not even open yet. Since we had to leave for school, I took the squirrel to the neighbors’, where their visiting daughter accepted him. By the time I got back from the drive to school, she had found another baby lying in the snow, and had deposited both, securely swaddled in a floppy hat and a towel, at the foot of the ash tree where she had most recently seen some adult squirrels. We supposed that the parents had been moving the nest, had been surprised by the overenthused Labrador, and had dropped the kits and run. The parents were nowhere to be seen, having evidently gone down for their morning nap with whatever was left of their family. We have all had a lot of experience with lost baby wildlife, and therefore we were full of gloom.
At lunchtime my daughter and I went up to town to meet my husband. Phyllida was full of concern about the squirrels, who were still, in spite of being obsessively checked on every fifteen minutes all morning, in the hat under the tree. She wanted to collect them after lunch, buy some dog-milk-replacer, and nurse them to adulthood. I saw a number of problems with this plan, starting with the fact that Phyllida was going to her father’s house for four days—leaving me holding the bag of squirrel infants—and ending with the foreseen presence in my office of two adolescent squirrels with no sense of how to be a squirrel out in the world. Despair reigned.
When we got back from lunch we had a few minutes to stoke the fire and let the dogs out before we had to leave to collect my son from school, so I thought I would pop up the driveway and check the hat once again. Midway there, however, I saw a white rag hanging in the bush above the hat and towel. I saw a squirrel hanging upside down on the tree trunk, watching me. I went back inside.
When we left, we drove slowly past the tree. The rag was still there. The towel was flopped on the ground as before. The squirrel came down the trunk again, looked into the towel, hopped around the base of the tree a bit, evidently checking for more lost babies, then went up the trunk and disappeared into a knothole twenty feet up. We were too consumed with anxiety to leave without knowing: I snuck over, surreptitiously watching the knothole all the while, flicked back the towel's edge and beheld the floppy hat, perfectly empty. Joy erupted, and we departed singing.
Many thanks to audreyjm529 at Flickr for the loan of her image.