The squirrels are no longer afraid of us.
Maybe they never really were. But at least before all this, they kept their distance. There was a respect, an understanding that, if push came to shove, a war with humans was simply not something a bunch of furry-tailed rats could win. Yeah, the Ewoks defeated a battalion of Imperial stormtroopers on the forest moon of Endor. But, I mean, that was a limited skirmish on their home turf. A protracted conflict? No, sir.
Anyway, all that’s gone now.
I don’t know when it happened exactly. Sometime between today and March 13, when I officially started working from home due to the pandemic that now seems like mostly a U.S. pandemic and, on some days, largely a Texas pandemic.
In the beginning, of course, no one went anywhere. Maybe to the grocery store once a week. And so, over the next several weeks and months, photos began to emerge of pods of dolphins in canals where they hadn’t been seen in decades and herds of deer frolicking on city streets. “Nature is healing” became a meme on Twitter, but it started off as a very real thing.
During this time in isolation, I have ventured out—always safely—two or three times a day on meandering walks around my Far East Dallas neighborhood and the ones adjacent to it. Sometimes I’ll hit White Rock Lake. At some point, I started to notice something strange with the squirrels.
Now, I should note that I always pay attention to squirrels, because I don’t care for them. Once—and I’m not making this up—a family of squirrels made a nest in my Volkswagen GTI, chewing through the wires that made the transmission work. Around the same time, another or maybe the same family of squirrels—I don’t know if they’re nomadic by nature—ate all of the seeds I had carefully spread to regrow my lawn. Not long after, my son made me take him to Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel twice in 72 hours, and I know they aren’t the same species, and they’re animated, but close enough. So, yeah, I keep an eye on the suckers.
I should also note that I am somewhat of an expert in broken agreements between humans and members of the animal kingdom as, several years ago, for unknown reasons, an owl attacked me in my backyard. Five times.
OK, so: the squirrels. First, I saw that they had taken to staring me down from short distances, climbing up or down tree trunks so they could look me in the eye from a foot or two away. They weren’t skittish. They just perched on the bark, staring at me with their little, defiant dead-doll eyes. Then they dissolved the boundary entirely. Instead of scurrying off when I walked by, they’d dart toward me, sometimes even underfoot, like my cat does every morning as soon as I’m anywhere near the kitchen and her food.
Why? I hesitate to advance any theories, as I am still a few credits short of my zoology degree. But I’d suppose it’s because, after decades and decades of humans being in offices all day and only showing up a couple of times a day to walk to and from their cars, we are around all the time. Left with little else to do, people have at long last discovered the outdoors. Sometimes, when I’m walking, there are so many others out for a stroll that it’s like being at the mall. Maybe the squirrels have seen that humans—some extremely questionable summer fashion choices aside—aren’t that scary after all. Or maybe, after years of waiting, the opportunity to overpower our kind has finally presented itself.
At any rate, I expect, after I write this, that the situation will proceed to the next level and the squirrels will make first contact. If I don’t survive, avenge me.
Get the owls, too.
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