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November 12, 2002
Squirrel City

One could really think there were birds somewhere in the distance. The song seemed a bit monotonous and simple, but I could imagine a tiny little bird, maybe in a scarf making them. The sound seemed to come from the tree right next to the path though and with the leaves of this particular tree almost gone, chances were good to see the little guy. The “little guy” was bigger than I thought. And what sounded like a lovely song now looked like an angry spoken curse, when matched to the furry body. It was a squirrel holding on firmly to one of the branches, squeezing the bird like sound every few seconds or so. There are so many sounds that go unnoticed, our hearing can be so selective. Once I tried listening to this guy on the branch, about 5 feet from me, I heard replies, from other squirrels, the same sound. Over and over again. There was a second, a third one, a fourth a fifth. All making the same sound in a monotone succession. One after the other. They might have been marking the territory? It is a trap of our minds to give human interpretations to animal behaviour. It is just so tempting to say that there is a crisis in the trees, that there is a war of the nut collectors going on above our heads. The reason for their shrieking might have been something completely different. It could have been the bonding of a group? (I had my doubts.)
Not far from the first group, a completely different sound. This one sounded even more like a bird. It was high pitched, had a variety in it that really made it sound like a slow motion Philip Glass piece. And again, squirrels. A group of them, tuning in on this completely different song. What seemed like a warning signal just a few minutes before now really seemed like the choir for a group. I do not know too much about squirrels, but they seem to be individualists, and fighters and some of the the smartest kids around.
There are some clearly defined populations. The ones in upper Manhattan, seemed to be shy and wild. There are some pretty interesting looking ones not far from here in Riverside Park. (Some call them Sqrats, as there is an urban legend of some of the New York squirrels having parents from two different species, this being New York, the melting pot, and all.)
The squirrels in seem pretty cultivated. They are at harmony with others and the human kind.
The most forward squirrels seem to live in Union Square. Across the street from ToysRUs seems to be a little Squirrel university. These buddies will do anything to grab just any food from humans in their park. It could have something to do with the park being tiny and the squirrel population being high. And this is also student area and lovers area on the benches, so there is high traffic of feeding humans all the time. Who knows, the squirrels in Union square might have similar calls to those in Fort Washington, by the cloisters. It is just that we humans make our silly calls so much louder than theirs. “Hey, look a squirrel.” as an out of towner would say. “Don’t touch that thing.” as some New Yorkers say. Maybe the bird call was just a warning that there was a human. Or maybe it was a hello. I’m getting out of hand.
Bruce Henderson, an amazing songwriter and singer and writer (you should definitely get a copy of Wheels Roll, it is a very nice record), sent me this photograph of a squirrel lest week. He took the picture downtown and I think the picture says it all. Look at this little guy. What a true New Yorker. I think we should be glad that squirrels are not 6 feet tall.

P.S. My service provider somehow broke my directory structure, which makes it difficult for me to upload images to this blog easily at this time. This is why the picture of the squirrel is actually hosted by Chris DiClerico. A funny thing this internet.


over on the other side of brooklyn, in a co-op apt. complex known as concord village, we've got squirrels galore there. they are cute yes, but can there be such a thing as too MUCH cuteness when you start seeing a LOT of squirrels around? i'm tempted to let them come up and take peanuts out of my hand as i've seen others do..would this be crazy?

Posted by: Farid on November 12, 2002 12:22 PM

Wow, Farid, it might be fine to give some peanuts to our furry friends. One might want to wear one of the oyster gloves however, just in case the squirrel feels like having a finger, not just the peanuts. I am also a bit worried that it could be a trap. One squirrel gets the nut, the others jump all over me and soon there is a hostage situation with me being the hostage of a wild squirrel gang. I have the feeling that these guys are quite well organized. There is a huge population of them in New York.

Posted by: Witold on November 12, 2002 03:08 PM

hehe. that squirrel really does have a "are you talking to me?" sort of expression. i had no idea that there were so many squirrels just running riot in the city. interesting... we just have kangaroos on every corner here ;)

Posted by: shauna on November 12, 2002 04:06 PM

One time at the U.N. this squirrel started following renee and I. Every time we turned around, he would go flat on the ground and stare at us. Odd, commando squirrel.

Posted by: Jon on November 12, 2002 04:14 PM

Shauny, I can not even start to imagine what New York would be like if there were large amounts of Kangaroo here. I think we would go completely insane. There are many more mammals here in the city than just squirrels, of course, but that might be the theme of a completely different post.

Jon, maybe this was one of the new Squirrels hired by the Department of Homeland Security. It is quite possible that there are several of them patrolling the “neutral” grounds of the U.N. Tell me more about your recent travels. ; )

Squirrels are much smarter than we often think we are. How many of us humans have figured out how to spend their entire lifes as a walk in the park, all bright eyed and bushy tailed?

Posted by: Witold on November 12, 2002 04:34 PM

this gives new meaning to "squirrel hostage situation"

Posted by: joergen on November 13, 2002 10:00 AM

what caliber do you suppose that is?

Posted by: em!ly on November 13, 2002 10:29 PM

Pretty nutty.

Posted by: Witold on November 13, 2002 10:40 PM
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