Saturday Single No. 242

Sometimes nature takes over, and there’s nothing we can do.

About ten days ago, I was puttering in my study when the Texas Gal called to me from outside. Could I come out and bring the bread crusts we routinely throw to the squirrels and birds? There was an injured squirrel in the yard.

I went outside and followed her down toward the garden as she briefed me: She’d been heading to the garden when she saw the squirrel crossing the yard from the direction of Lincoln Avenue. His right rear leg didn’t seem to be working for him, and when she got closer, the squirrel tried to climb a tree between the garden and the lilac grove. When he tried to use that right hind leg, he’d fallen. Now he was lying at the base of the tree.

When he saw us, he tried to move, but his leg dragged on the ground, and all he could do was crawl. We backed away, and the Texas Gal tore off some small pieces of bread and tossed them gently toward him. “He probably won’t eat it,” she said, “but he might. And a little bread might give him a chance, if the problem with his leg is temporary.”

I don’t think either one of us really believed his leg would get better. And as we watched, he crawled away from the tree and the bread, heading across the lawn to the nearby lilac grove. We split up, the Texas Gal heading to the garden and I to the house to begin thinking about dinner.

About ten minutes later, with nothing about dinner decided, I wandered back toward the garden, troubled by the squirrel’s plight. Whatever had happened to him – and I lean now toward his having been sideswiped by a car on Lincoln Avenue – I knew his chances of survival were probably nil. And I kept wondering if there were anything at all I could do.

I found him about ten feet from the lilac grove, lying with his rear legs splayed, his breathing rapid and shallow. I made a wide detour, trying not to scare him too much. Still, as I walked past about ten feet away, his head jerked and his front legs scrabbled at the ground. But the weight of the rest of his body kept him in place.

The Texas Gal was, I think, planting peas. “Did you see him? How is he?”

“Yeah,” I said, and I shook my head. “He’s dying.”

She nodded and went back to her peas. And I tried to think of something I could do. I’ve had pets all my adult life, and in almost every case – many cats, three rats, three hamsters – when things got this bad, I could take my pets to the veterinarian and ease their ways out of their lives. But the squirrel . . . He was a wild animal, and there was no way I could safely get him to a vet’s office.

I thought about doing something myself. I guess if I’d owned a firearm of some sort, I would have used it, but I’ve never owned a gun of any kind and I likely never will. I thought vaguely of hitting the poor squirrel with something, and I suppose that if I’d had an axe at hand, I might have used that. But I didn’t have one, and I feared that my using the implements I did have available would cause him greater fear and pain before I accomplished anything with them.

I felt helpless, and the thought came to me that if I felt this frustrated and sorrowful at not being able to ease the pain and impending death of a simple squirrel, life someday might present me – or the Texas Gal – with greater sorrows in another death watch. I didn’t want to think about that, so I watched the Texas Gal plant peas for another moment and then turned to go back to the house to do something else.

I walked toward the squirrel, and he stirred and looked up at me. As he did, I thought about how all living beings have a life force in them – call it a soul, if you want to – and when that life force leaves our bodies, there is a bright light that beckons us down what looks like a long corridor. I’ve seen that corridor and that light. And I sometimes think that the most frightening and difficult thing all living beings must learn is how to let go of life and head down that corridor.

So I leaned over the squirrel and I murmured, “Go toward the light, little guy. Go to the light.” And I walked up to the house without looking back.

Ten minutes later, as I headed to the garden to help the Texas Gal carry her tools to the garage, he was gone. We buried his body in the lilac grove.

Here’s the only song I can think of that fits here this morning: “The Art of Dying” from George Harrison’s 1970 masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

(Edited slightly since first posting.)


3 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 242”

  1. Alex says:

    Sad, tragic, and beautiful.


  2. jb says:

    Reading this while I’m on the radio. Good thing I don’t have to talk for a few minutes. Truly a beautiful essay. Thank you, sir.

  3. Paco Malo says:

    That is a beautiful piece of writing, whiteray. Engaging, poignant — and at the same time realistic. I doubt a squirrel ever got a better obituary.

    And thanks for bringing that classic old song into my head. I love hearing the heart of Derek and the Dominoes start to beat on George’s masterwork.

    Thanks for flood of emotion, of life and death. “All Things Must Pass” indeed.

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