Guest post by Alecca Jackson
We have a drey outside our bedroom window. It housed a small mother and her new baby squirrel when we first moved in. Each year more dreys appear (and the coir and hay in our hanging plants mysteriously disappear). What started as just “Mr. Squirrel” became “Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel” then “Mr. & Mrs. & Baby Squirrel”.
By the time we hit five squirrels at one time, all scrambling across the porch or outside the office window, things could get a little confusing. My better half wondered how I could tell when a new squirrel had joined the ruffians begging at the window, barking me awake at 6:45 am on the nose.
At first it was their size, then their behavior, but then it was how poorly life had treated them and the scars they carried as proof.
As I continued in this vein, I soon realized that I wasn’t looking at their unique personalities and positive (or, in the case of the male babies, negative) qualities, but by their scars. Some scars were obvious–chunks taken out of the back leg, or the neck, from a fight. Others were hidden and only when a squirrel fully extended (fun fact: their back legs are double-jointed) could I see a missing lump.
But Scarface, well, he was always the most easily identifiable.
Scarface broke my heart. He had missed a jump and smashed face-first into a tree. After some tears and research when his bloodied, shredded face appeared at our office window, I learned this was not uncommon, especially in younger squirrels. But you can’t put the cone of shame on squirrels. So we watched (and I screamed out the window in anguished frustration) as Scarface would scratch away the newly formed scabs. His swelling would worsen, blinding him, so other squirrels would fight him and he couldn’t get food. He couldn’t make the necessary jumps without both eyes, so he smashed into trees more often. It was Scarface that started the additional rounds of food throughout the day: I was reassured that leaving out food and water was all I could do from here, and the rest was up to him.
Almost a year went by without another sighting. New squirrels were born, left the drey, and tapped on our sliding glass doors. I was resigned to the fact that Scarface had not made it.
Nature was unforgiving.
We made it through the season, our garden overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, and squirrels. The squirrels grew to trust us, let us close to them. They wouldn’t run when we approached but rather, wait tentatively for more food. Not once did they eat any of our plants, a struggle my extended family and nearby neighbors had.
Fire season came and went with increasing voracity. Then, one cold October morning, there he was with a smile on his face: Scarface.
Giddy, I sent pictures to my best friend, informing him and anyone else who would pretend to listen that Scarface was alive and well! He had made it an entire year and his face was almost entirely healed.
But the scars remained. It seemed they always would. I still don’t know if he can see out of both eyes, as one is quite milky. His face has an odd slant to it because the fur has never grown back. His dark patch of skin tore at my heartstrings. It was such a relief to see him but pained me still. He was broken. He would never be the same.
My best friend remarked that Scarface was his favorite of all the squirrels because he was a “badass”. Oddly, this sophomoric attitude of his cast a new light on how I viewed the squirrels. I suddenly stopped identifying them by their scars and went back to appreciating them for who they were inside.
It was then I realized that Scarface was the kindest, friendliest of all the squirrels. He would stand at my window and tap on the glass, then remain on his hind legs, inquisitive. He didn’t flee to the edge of the porch or roof like the other squirrels. He waited, patiently. He would eat, then watch me work, and eventually hop back up a tree limb. But heaven help any youngster who tried to get in on his nuts and seeds; Scarface might be kinder and happier but he was also more defensive, and fast to protect what was his.
His behavior struck me. While squirrels are certainly no comparison to children or rearing a family, I certainly found parallels:
No matter how hard we try we cannot stop those we love, our family or friends, from being hurt by this world. It might not be in ways we expect (the small squirrel fights over food and territory was more common than face planting into an Oak) but everyone eventually deals with something. Many of those scars never leave. They have to be carried. And as the one watching a friend or family struggle with the scars they carry it is easy to be heartbroken, to only define them by what has happened to them. But in reality, those scars are what make us stronger, build our resilience, and in many ways, soften us. Instead of only feeling pain, we can marvel at just how much stronger, kinder, and happier our loved ones are because of the resilience they found.
Now, I admire the squirrels for how they have bounced back, how they don’t let gaping wounds stop them from playing, from splooting in the sun, or from being happy.