Close Encounters of the Squirrel Kind

Michelle Staloff

© Copyright 2018 by Michelle Staloff

Photo of a squirrel eating a french fry.

Nature has always been an important part of my life, but I have mostly experienced it at a distance. I am pleased to share this story of an encounter I had with a wild animal.

I am not the type of person who likes to swim in the ocean, but I do love the beach: the feel of cool sand under my feet smoothed flat by the ebb and flow of the waves, white breakers kicking up foam, and most of all the majesty of the ocean. The expanse of water flowing to infinity, powerful and peaceful, soothes me with every salty whiff. I could stand for hours just breathing it in. However, this is not a story about the ocean, but rather something that happened fifty feet away, my view of it blocked by trees.

My mother and I decided it would be fun to pay a visit to the ocean, accompanied by our mutual friend, Cindy. This particular beach (there were so many options) was suggested by our friend. A place frequented by locals in central Florida. Cindy had lived in Florida most of her life, and we had moved there less than two years before. Suggestions were very welcome.

Just outside the beach area was a small casual restaurant. More of a shack really, where orders were placed at a large window adjacent to the cramped cooking area. This and a few picnic tables, were on a wooden deck next to the parking lot. On the other side lay a thick layer of trees and bushes, and down a dozen or so steps was the white sandy beach. The effect was casual, and very Florida.

Before heading down to the beach, we decided to eat. We had brought a picnic of sandwiches and agreed to share an order of large fries, purchased from said restaurant. Fortunately, there was a free table and we settled in. Next to us was a boisterous family with kids, lobbing french fries at a squirrel. There were other squirrels scampering around grabbing scraps, and a few birds.

We had finished our sandwiches and were halfway through the fries when Cindy pointed out another squirrel. She was perched on the wooden rail edging the deck, which protected the vegetation and wildlife from errant feet. “See her belly? She's pregnant.”

The rodent in question was nearest to us, keeping well away from the other table and watching us cautiously. Whether she was frightened by the humans or their aggressive squirrel I didn't know. Her puffy stomach told me that she was definitely pregnant, or stuffed with french fries. Either was a possibility based on what was going on around us. I decided to test it out.

“Maybe she's hungry.” I tossed a morsel. It landed on the ground between us and her vantage point. She scampered down and grabbed it in her mouth, then returned to the rail to eat. She held the fry between her paws as she chowed down. It was gone in seconds.

“Wow. Definitely hungry.” I tossed her another. It was the least I could do for a hungry momma and her little babies. She grabbed that one and stayed where it had landed. The second was gobbled as fast as the first, so I fed her a few more.

The four of us shared the fries, humans, and animal. Mom tossed a few fries to the squirrel, along with some crusts of bread, quickly jerking her hand back each time. Did she think a squirrel six feet away could hurt her? Cindy watched us, an amused smile on her lips. After a while, Mom stopped.

“You do it,” she told me, “You're enjoying it more.”

Mom slid down the table so that she was across from Cindy and further from our visitor.

I started tossing fries near the edge of the table. Soon the squirrel was comfortable enough to eat there. It became a game as I placed them progressively closer to me, and she slowly advanced on my position. Scampering back to the edge of the table to munch.

Emboldened, I held the next fry in my fingers. It was purposely the longest remaining in the paper bowl. I was a little nervous about being bitten, but wouldn't it be cool if she would take it from me? After some hesitation, she hopped toward me and leaned forward. She grabbed the very tip of the french fry in her teeth and pulled it out of my fingers, then scampered back to the edge of the table to consume it, watching me the whole time.

It was amazing! I had never fed a wild animal from my hand before. There were satisfaction and joy, to be sure, but also this feeling of deep responsibility. She trusted me enough to place herself in possible danger. I was humbled, even as I was elated.

From that point on, I held the fries, even though they were getting rather short. Each time she ate closer to me until we were comfortable. By the end, she was sliding them out of my fingers and munching away, four inches from my hand. Clearly in the danger zone. We had built a contented trust. Her belly had gotten noticeably bigger, swollen by the food.

After the potatoes were gone, the squirrel climbed into a tree and we walked down to the beach.

I watched the hypnotic motion of the waves and breathed in the fresh salty air. Peace didn't settle over me as it usually did, I was too excited. The ocean was wonderful as ever, but its majesty couldn't equal what I had just experienced. Standing on the shore I was an observer to the grandeur of nature, but that one simple, minor encounter had its own special power. I had never before been close to nature in quite that way. Nor have I since. I will always remember that day.

Michelle Staloff's father, a former Biology teacher, instilled a love and respect for nature in her from an early age. Like most girls, she is especially fond of furry animals. She is an avid life-long reader but has only recently started submitting her work. This will be the first time one of her stories has been published.

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