I live in a neighborhood of squirrels. It is the squirrels’ neighborhood, and I and all my human neighbors are mere aliens, landed in our houses like spaceships, separate from the world as if the very outside air is hostile to us. I think I live in a neighborhood of humans, but that’s an act of simple human prejudice. I look around and see house after house, I see cars, I see roads and sidewalks and all creations of people, and of course I think it’s a neighborhood of humans. But I don’t actually see many people. I see squirrels.
There in the trees and the grass, on the roads and the roofs and the high wires and fences. There is a squirrel sleeping on a branch and one coming out from under a shed. Any objective count will tell you it is the home of squirrels. The squirrels, who are far better at being objective than people, would also tell you that it is the home of squirrels, if they could talk, which maybe they can and maybe they can’t. A census taker too would tell you it is the home of squirrels, but only if they deigned to count squirrels, which is really the key here.
Through the windows of houses I can see a few sad dogs looking longingly on. A cat or two wanders a porch. Rarely I pass a neighbor by, or see one sliding past me in the glassed in bubble of a car. Perhaps flesh to flesh contact with Squirrel Neighborhood would pollute that delicate driver. The squirrels wind under the wheels of the speeding car, only rarely making a tragic mistake. We won’t count the squirrels that made a tragic mistake. Birds come in waves. Sometimes there is a storm of crows, sometimes a bucketful of thrushes on a single tree, but go ahead and add up all the numbers, count up all the creatures. We will count that guy we can just barely see through a window, making pancakes in his little kitchen. We will count this stoned looking raccoon, perched over a storm drain in the middle of the day, worrying us. We will count the bunny meditating in the grass ignoring the wind. We will count me and that cat and that old man and the weird thing he has at the end of his leash. We will count everyone.
It is a lot of counting.
And every time it’s the squirrels that come out on top. The squirrels predominate no matter how we add it up, no matter how we stack or divide. They win even when we figure that we might have counted the same squirrel three or four times, which is easy to do. This is the world of the squirrel.
And so it’s a good thing they don’t much seem to mind us.
I saw this fascinating short video on YouTube and it is entirely appropriate for this space. I can, apparently, watch mushrooms grow for minutes!
Feeling the blues, ragged, beset by too many things to do, I had no ambitions for last night, Thursday. Thursday is a common day for escapades for my wife and I in these twin cities. But it was enough, worn down as we were already, that we had to drop our car off at our mechanic, two or three miles away, and find our way home. And so that was the whole of the plan for the evening; deliver our car and find our way home. There were storms rolling through, construction everywhere, and we were running late, racing the darkness.
So we drove our car over and parked at our excellent mechanic’s place. I shoved an envelope with our key through a slot in the garage wall as per arrangement. Then we came back over the half closed bridge, over the Interstate and down into the St. Paul neighborhoods.
And there was a rainbow.
Oh sneer all you want at stories that end in puppies and flowers and sunshine. In tales that conclude with ponies and rainbows. I saw a graph the other day that showed the emotional trajectory of all stories, collectively and individually, and it turns out that even the happy ones, like Pride and Prejudice, don’t end in rainbows, but rather in a subtle downbeat. No one is going to read blog post number 1,239 and say “Yes! Yes! This one! The one that ends in a rainbow” because how is that supposed to blow your mind, or speak the secret unvoiced murmurs of your heart? That sort of thing is all too complicated for rainbows.
But it was fabulous, the stream of bewildering light. On one side of all the colors, opposite the yellow, was a violet that disappeared when one looked right at it, but when one looked away it came screaming back until it was the most brilliant color in the whole dazzling array.
And then the rainbow grew brighter.
After Death, a Little Beauty
I was on my walking commute to work. I had hit the river path and was, predictably, late. So when I saw two arborists cutting down a pine tree in the front yard of a river road home I knew that I should just keep going. But they were so close. One man had a rope tied halfway up the tree and angled to pull along the path the pine could safely fall. The other man was holding a chainsaw and scrutinizing the thick trunk. The crown of the tree had been cut off already so that the remainder would safely fit on the ground. There was still roughly 30 feet left to come down. The tree did not look sick, but it had been planted so close to the house that it was leaning awkwardly away from it. Maybe it was starting to cause structural problems for the lovely old house. Maybe they were both causing structural problems for each other.
I knew I should walk on, but I was almost there. I wanted to see the big tree fall. So I stood where I was, a couple hundred feet away, and watched. A notch was cut out of the to-be-falling side of the pine. Then mysterious slices were cut in the back side. Every time a cut was made the man with the saw would look and assess and make a plan. Finally enough was done for his satisfaction. He called to the rope man to apply the tension. He went in, all tenativity gone, and with his chainsaw he cut, and cut deeper. Slowly, slowly the tree started to spill, at first barely, then, compellingly, with the rate of its falling doubling in every tenth of a second.
It wumphed into the ground, softly and yet with strength and weight and power and the chorus sound of the splintering of hundreds of small branches. And it was over.
The big tree lay there, dead. I stood looking on for a few seconds longer, a length of time at the speed of scent. And then I was flooded with the deep, clean, beautiful smell of pine.
On the Coming of Summer
When the time comes, regardless of date, Fall is frozen out and becomes Winter. Spring on the other hand gets burned out to become Summer. And so it has. Temperatures in the eighties over the weekend and pushing towards the nineties tomorrow does something to the world. A burst of hard sun makes all the gentle niceties of Spring clear out and toughen up. The bugs are released from some secret nefarious bunker of God. The cute crinkles of nascent leaves unfurl and sprawl like we’re in an age of dinosaurs. And no more the gentle wafting of the scent of blossoms, rather the air is heavy with the smell of flowers and the gutters run with heaps of bruised and swollen petals. Hot storms come streaming in. Lightning cracks and the playful squirrels start interspersing swear words into their vocabulary. Rabbit sweat. Ducks wrestle in the vast hard grass that has alarmingly grown a shade too green. The gentle and profuse dandelions throw off their innocence and initiate their secret plan to poison all their neighbors. Look at them now, ringed in death! Great flocks of birds heading north for the Summer like locusts devour what they can and continue on, figuring surely they have not come far enough. Pine trees sag and weep acid before bursting into flames, songbirds fleeing them and throwing themselves into drying patches of mud, panting. We, who thought we could spend all our free time in our new, posh, patio setup, watch ants trudging over our tabletop and say “Maybe we’ll just go inside for a bit.” And we do, leaving the drapes closed, the house dark, and sipping cold water as we listen to jets roaring overhead to other places.
I thought it was all horrible, but writing you I suddenly understood. No, it’s all fantastic.