The Squirrel in Winter

The squirrel busily collects the years’ bountiful harvest of acorns and places them in the cold ground, storage for the long winter ahead.

The squirrel realizes that the days grow shorter, darkness comes on sooner; nighttime stretches out longer and longer and longer.

Yet the familiarity of the earth’s rhythms are part of the squirrel. He doesn’t ponder or fret or wax poetic about the changing of the seasons.

“Oh my gosh. I hate winters. Icy roads and all those car accidents! The layers of clothes, the hats, mittens, the lacing up the snow boots just to go out and walk the dog. And don’t even get me started on those utility bills!”

No, you won’t hear that coming from the squirrel.

“Lovely wintertime! Snow settling on evergreen boughs, blanketing the ground. Snowflakes of intricate patterns, unique every one. Frozen river, hard as stone, silent as a rock. Leafless trees like silent sentinels, silhouetted against a cerulean sky.”

Of course, you won’t hear that coming the squirrel either.

For the squirrel, the onset of winter merely is. The squirrel only knows it will spend more time hunkered down in its treetop nest with its thickened winter fur. Maybe it will climb down through the treetop highway when the person refills the black seeds in the big plastic tube.

Greedy birds always try to get there first, naturally. And while we’re on the subject, the person could make it a little easier for the squirrel to get to (thinks the squirrel), but no matter. The squirrel just works through the challenges, accomplishes the objective. Food is food.

Then the big drooling dog comes dashing outside at a full run. Back up the tree again for the umpteenth time. How long will it have to keep repeating this irrational display? Even that dumb mutt knows it can’t climb trees. But keep repeating it will. It always has.

And the river! Where the river is concerned, the squirrel truly appreciates the onset of winter. Any other time of year crossing the water to get to the other side means going far downriver to where the treetop highway connects the banks together. Or it means travelling up and down, searching for another fallen tree stretching between the banks.

In winter the river inexplicably turns to stone, passable anywhere (if a squirrel is careful)!  The winter makes it easy to roam, to travel and gather acorns, nuts and any other stuff from the distant and far better forest on the other side.

“The holidays” mean nothing to the squirrel. There will be no reunions of the squirrel family for the holiday season.

There will be no gifts to buy for their children, for their mom and dad squirrels, for their aunt squirrels and uncle squirrels and second cousin squirrels. The squirrel’s children left the nest many seasons ago not to return, and he doesn’t even know what a second cousin is.

There will be no feasting, at least none that’s not part of his normal feasting. As long as he can get to his acorns and the person keeps the plastic tube full.

Yes, for the squirrel, “the holidays” are just another season, another change, another rhythmic pattern with different challenges to react to. Different things to be aware of. Different stuff to do.

It’s no different than when it came around the last cycle. The same stuff, same challenges as the last time when the nights got longer and days grew colder.

The squirrel will notice one thing though: He’ll notice when the nights, as if by magic, suddenly stop getting longer and the cycle begins to reverse. He’ll know that means that even though there’s more snow and cold to come, this little change portends even greater changes in store. And that makes him happy.

The subtle change to the lengthening of the days, barely noticeable to most people, reminds him of the season soon to return: springtime. And the squirrel will relax in that knowing, that confidence.

And a few days after the lengthening of the days begins, the squirrel will look from the treetops and see cars arriving. He’ll look in the windows and see the people gathering, wrapped boxes piling up, feasts being prepared. He’ll look on, wondering with wonder at the spectacle of it all. At what it accomplishes. He has no idea.

But honestly, while he may be a little curious, he only hopes they don’t forget to come out and refill the hanging plastic tube soon since that makes his life so much easier. Despite the annoying greedy birds and the running of the drooling dog.

Honestly, he’s happy and content just feeling the rhythm of the seasons. He’s experienced the return of the light. He’s confident in knowing that the harvest is in and he knows that things will hold the way they always have for all the seasons of his existence in this place. He knows he’ll be fine.

And that confidence, that living in harmony with the rhythm and pulse of nature is really all the squirrel needs to know.

The squirrel curls up in his nest with his warm winter coat, settles in and dozes off.

Dreaming of the inevitably of the season of springtime to come.

May you enjoy your holiday season at least as much as the squirrel.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, December 22, 2016, by Scott Hays

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