…in which I nearly wear a squirrel.

It all began, as have so many of history’s most momentous events, with a tree. Specifically, one of the half-dozen elderly oaks that range awkwardly–Embarrassedly? Is that possible?–around the main library. I was elbow deep in a reverie on the epistimological ramifications of a Jungian collective unconscious–or perhaps I was surveying the trio of miniskirt-clad coed posteriors jaunting along just ahead of me; the details of those early moments are even now growing faint–when I heard what, given a different set of life experiences, I’m sure I’d have had no choice but to classify as the sound of a VCR into which had been shoved three dessert spoons and a medium-sized hamster. Fortunately, given my rural background and close, almost reverent ties with Mother Nature–which is to say that I live in the woods in the precise mathematical center of nowhere; almost always have–I knew this cacophony for what it was: nothing other than the sound of mad, passionate squirrel lovin’. Naturally, my boyish curiosity and wonderment at the glorious majesty of nature and the miracle that is self-propagating life lasted approxiamtely three nanoseconds. After all, even on a good day, rampant squirrel boinking is only half as captivating as C-SPAN after a double helping of Quaaludes, and my mind was on other matters, as I’ve already mentioned. So I walked on without so much as a glance upward. Then, just as I’d nearly come even with the trunk of the tree alluded to above, there comes a frantic, outraged sort of skittering, and then, down from the upper branches, first sliding, then tumbling, and, finally, plummeting outright, come the amorous Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel. Bound by the cold iron manacles of gravity and abject terror, the two are locked into a furious, whirling, hissing juggernaut of reeking rodent fur.

It’s times like this that you really find out who you are, of what stuff you’re ultimately made.  Sensing impending catastrophe through a deeply submerged inner faculty which borders on the uncanny, I hadn’t time to spare a single thought to my saftey.  I simply fell back on the unflinching, utterly infallible instincts which have carried me with such state and grace through life, and, without so much as an instant’s hesitation, I froze solid and stood staring up into the branches, mouth slightly ajar.

Don’t ask me to recount the precise nature of those next few fractions of a second.  For the remainder of the ordeal I was transported into that blissful, clear-sighted thoughtlessness which is the final refuge of the feckless and the foolish and all those who are about to receive the gift of cosmic irony.  (Had I mentioned that I’d just been wondering whether I ought to buy a hat?)  All I have left are a series of images, indelible, a bright visual tattoo etched forever on my awareness:  tiny, furry limbs, twined, clutching at each other, at the tree, the very air itself; one rolling eye, lost in an ecstasy of terror; the expression–so tiny, yet so perfect–of dismayed comprehension on one minuscule squirrel face as his partner caught purchase on the bark and ended her flight.  I would that I could say that felt a certain kinship with the animal at this moment; I would say this, and have it so, for after all, were we not, then, united in that greatest fraternity, the common lot of all those made unwilling and unwitting playthings of a mercurial Universe?

What I felt, in that final, pivotal instant, was not brotherhood, not unity or even existential camraderie, but instead the excruciating, micron-precise awareness of what it would feel like when, half a nothingth of a second later, this angry, terrified, and quite likely smelly animal, having plunged some thirty feet, landed directly on my upturned face.

Perhaps whatever force it is which has the unenviable lot of governing our meager existences decided that our paths were not meant to cross; perhaps it is that squirrels make but weak and imperfect vessels for karma and destiny; perhaps the groundskeeper was hung over on the last pruning run;  For whatever reason, there was a branch directly over my head, in the path of the falling squirrel.  A small one, true, but my would-be brother in fate bulleted into it and clung on with hellish fervor; this, the final stop on a one-way express to whatever awaits the unlucky squirrels of the world.

For an instant–maybe less than an instant–our eyes met.  What passed between us can no more be expressed than mortality itself may be.  It was a look which spoke of life, of the Universe.   Of everything.  I felt a little smaller at that moment for having touched so profound a chord within the universality of existence.  Then, with a furious chitter, the squirrel darted back up the trunk and was gone.  The biological imperative, after all, is a compelling one.  As I walked on, thoughtful, a man appeared at my elbow.  He pointed back, up into the tree.

“Did you see that?” he asked.  “That squirrel almost fell out of the tree!”

“Yeah.  It did.”

I couldn’t think of anything else to say.


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