As you’ve been driving, I’m sure you’ve noticed--in between the texts, sexts, and podcasts that reaffirm your worldview--the countless massacred squirrels that stain the ever-under-construction asphalt in New Hampshire. Kathunk! ‘What was that?’ It was a squirrel. Why are these cute forest rodents interrupting your daily commute? Are they trying to ruin your day? Make you late? Does it involve a conspiracy? I know that’s how it feels, as if some overarching conglomerate super-structure were controlling these squirrels. No. Snap out of it. Breathe.
I encounter a squirrel on my way to class so I decide to ask him a question. Silence. Evasion. He walks up to me and then scurries up some tree where I can’t ask him questions. I encounter another squirrel, this time female. I receive the same response. What are these squirrels hiding? Nuts? Yes and maybe, just maybe, something else. Something dark and sinister that goes all the way to the top. To the top of the tree! I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. What if it isn’t the squirrels that are behind this, but it’s the trees? As they say, you can’t see the forest for the trees... How could I have been so blind? I spoke to Dr. Leslie Curren, a Senior Lecturer in the biological department at UNH. Dr. Curren was kind enough to let me interrupt her lunch to talk to me about squirrels and answer the question of why this is happening.
“Last year was a mast year which is when trees flood the market with their seeds. Beech nuts, hickory nuts, acorns. There was tons of food so squirrels did great,” she says. The answer lies with the trees after all. How deep do these roots really go? Don’t squirrels understand that I’m in a hurry and their bodies are in my way? I decide to join an exercise cult to get my head on straight. When my keto levels are perfect the answer will become apparent. This is what Brock tells me, anyway. Brock is my Guru (or, as I like to call him, “dude-ru,” a nickname he came up with). The mountains speak through him because he’s one with everything. You should really hear Brock explain it, he’s very cool and down to Earth. Earth reminds me of trees and throws me back to my crisis with the squirrels. I don’t have time to reach ketosis while our furry brethren are in the grips this epidemic, so I cut my 96-mile run short, head back to campus, and return my thoughts to my conversation with Dr. Curren.
Curren mentioned that the squirrels didn’t actually have a choice in this matter of life and death. “[The overpopulation] means they have to take a lot of chances…Go places they might not otherwise go. If they were normally scared to cross the road, they can’t afford to be scared because they’re starving,” Curren explains. There are more squirrels than there is food.
How do we figure out who is really behind this needless death? I know, we’ll have a squirrel bucket challenge! If we get enough likes, we’ll definitely save the little creatures. Or is that not how ‘likes’ work? Does someone liking my post not have any consequence besides perceived social influence?
As these thoughts bounce in my head, I hear the distinct rumble of a mob trudging through Main Street. They appear to be carrying a man accused of running over at least five squirrels. The numbers vary, as well as the accounts of the events. I approach several individuals with pitchforks and torches. People shouting “justice” appear to have taken it into their own hands. The more virtuous of the bunch point out the moral shortcomings and perceived slights of their own crew. Their voices grow louder, protesting just the right amount by not trying to drown out guilt with anger. I want to ask about the role that our cars, roads, and general lack of respect for nature may contribute in this current climate, but as the weapons and tongues start to veer in my direction, I point the mob towards Dimond Library. There, they can check out a guillotine or some comparable device for about 4 hours, as long as they have one of their student ID’s as collateral.
To my surprise, they release their first prisoner as they encounter a new suspect. A woman walks out of a red Toyota Corolla, and does nothing to prove she’s innocent. Also, as she wasn’t with the horde to begin with, she must be against the squirrels. They disappear over the hill past the Dairy Bar, chasing her down to the stables. All of this excitement makes me skip lunch, and I finally reach ketosis. A god-like clarity surges forth in my mind. Could this be the end of squirrels as we know it? No. I pull my notebook out of my pocket and look back on my notes on the conversation with Dr. Curren.
She told me that squirrels do that double-back move where they retreat in the same direction they came from because it’s how they’ve evolved to evade snakes and fisher cats. Science is cool.
It’s easy, and a lot of fun, to get swept up into hysterics. We all want someone to blame. Some perceived other, evil and dumb, entirely different from ourselves, and most likely wearing a red hat. We have control over our own actions, even if we didn’t cause this situation directly, the fact that we are here now means that we can help. We have agency, autonomy, and opposable thumbs. If instead of finding scapegoats we try to look at where we enter the equation we can change that variable. Stop and take a look around. Well, if you’re driving, don’t stop. You’re not a snake and you’ll just confuse the squirrel. The squirrel is on a mission. In this jeweled web of Indra where every action reverberates within and without, your drive is not just a trip and your actions have consequences. Our squirrel friends, as RuPaul would say, need us to look out for them. The main point I want to make, and what you should take away from this article is that… wait, I just got a text. Hold on, this is really important. Just one second. This won’t happen again, I promise. What was I talking about? Maybe it’s on my Instagram.