A Strange Tail

There is something magical about being somewhere for a period of time.  A long enough period of time to be able to know things about where you are.

I once had a job in my biology teacher’s lab.  I measured seaweed.  A certain kind of seaweed.

He was studying the effect on its growth by the warm waters being evacuated from the nuclear power plant on the coast.

And as the summer drew along, with only the company of the classical music station as company, I learned that observation was a process all its own.

The longer I looked at these pieces of seaweed, the more I understood them.

If one can actually understand seaweed.

I am going through a period like this now.

The trail behind the house that I walk changes every day.  And I find myself absolutely fascinated by these changes.

I thrill at the obstacles, like puddles and fallen branches, that I have to accomplish. 

Listening to the sounds of the little creeks and wandering waterways is akin to that classical music station long ago.  Changing, but familiar.

And now I have my backyard.  Where a few cups of strewn bird food and some cut-up vegetables and fruit have created an actual community.  

The members come and go.  Even changing their timing and how long they stay.

I’ve always been amazed by people who can identify individual animals that they encounter daily.  I’ve never really wanted to.  

I prefer to watch it as one looks at a tapestry hanging delicately.  Yes, I can recognize and remember bits and pieces.  But, over all, it’s a statement being made, not by the individual threads but how they have been woven together.

And the animals out back have found their own ability to weave in and out of each other.

Now I say I like seeing it as a picture, but I have begun to notice things about individual community members.

There are wooden fences on either side of the yard.  They are wide, being made up of two parts, one part for this yard, and the other for that yard.  Then joined.

So there’s quite a shelf for everyone to perch on or run along or even take their food to, dropping the peanut shells back to the ground when they’ve had their little picnic.

This has been going on since I’ve been here, it’s nothing new.

Except for the eating and dropping and stretching out when feeling full.

The food in the yard has changed the dynamic of the action on the fence tops.

There was an “older brother” squirrel, the first in the yard that day, having the most difficult time deciding whether or not to come down into the yard.  So he did a little pacing.  Did some little approaches down the fence, then back up again.

When, suddenly, a “little brother” squirrel came along and, like little brothers, he came up close to the older one.  So close that his nose touched the other’s, well, rump.  So the older one would move, and the younger one would shadow him.  It was quite a dance.  Or a game of tag.  Or whatever.  

Finally the first one grew so frustrated that he shot down into the yard and starting grazing.

The second followed, but because there were peanuts (THERE ARE PEANUTS!) he just sat alongside the other and chewed.  Perhaps in unison.  

Now it seems that squirrels have a way of living together.  A social set of behaviors.  

There is a pecking order (no offense to the birds).  One can chase another around the yard, or look sternly enough at another to let him know not to try to come on his claimed patch.

These squirrels also have a definite way of behaving: they root about with their noses, and when they are eating they sit up.  Their tails come up against their backs, then curl over. 

Quite a nice design to look at.

They are all the same.


I noticed one squirrel was not like the others.  He didn’t approach with ecstatic, hopeful short runs.  Or circle about the yard.  Or even sit contentedly and eat.

Sitting up straight with his tail curled over in the proper fashion.

The first thing I noticed was his calm walk along the top of the fence.  

The second was his tail.  His body was gray and the beginning of his tail was a little bulge of gray fur.  But the rest of it was red.  

He was a gray squirrel with a ginger tail.

That was long and thin.

I watched him and saw that when he ate, he stayed down on the ground.  He didn’t sit up.  And he curled his long tail around him, like a shawl.  

I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him.

He broke the social standards that had been established.

He went wherever he wanted and no one challenged him.  In fact, no one took any notice of him.

It is like he’s not even really there. 

I remember when I was growing up how nature was always presented as “perfect.”  It was ordered.  Animals, I was taught, were created to do what they do.  

Ants, especially, were given as the model of perfect behavior.

I spent a lot of time outside as a child and so was accustomed to coming across ants committing their acts of perfection.

And I can’t remember how many times I saw ants completed disorganized.  Completely failing at the task at hand.  

Completely confused and is disarray.

This is what the long, ginger-tailed squirrel reminded me of.

No matter how many people sing about nature’s uniformity and the animals’ innate knowing of what to do, there’s always exceptions.  

It’s like finding a tiny section of the tapestry with a slightly different background threadcolor than the rest of it. 

And it all just blends in together to make a picture.  

A picture that includes imperfection and even chaos.  

But it’s still perfect. 

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