Okay, maybe I’m in one of my alarmist moods, but I saw my latest dead squirrel this morning.
I was dropping off my son for his Saturday soccer game and saw the brown furry thing (perhaps a Fox Squirrel). It was lying on its side, all glassy-eyed, in a driveway at my son’s elementary school. This is probably the fifth dead squirrel I’ve seen since this summer, not to mention the one that I accidentally hit and killed with my car.
What’s going on with squirrels around here? Is the world so off balance—with the economic crisis and the uncertainty over who will be America’s next president—that the squirrels have fallen prey to some disease or invisible force that it killing them or activating behavior that puts them in harm’s way?
As I said, it started this summer. My son was playing in an upper section of our backyard (our house backs up against a hill). He came down to the house to tell me there was a dead squirrel. He took me to where it had succumbed between two lavender plants. It was just—dead. Lying on its side. Stiff. No signs of injury. I could see one of its little black eyes staring blankly into space. Maybe, I thought, it had been electrocuted and fell off the electrical line. But there was no line running above the lavender plants.
Maybe it was infected with rabies, or some other mysterious invisible force. I didn’t want to get too close to it. I wondered if I should call animal services, but decided that would be too much trouble. So, I just took a shovel and threw some dirt on top of it.
(In looking for a photo for this blog, I came across the West Nile virus information page published by the State of California. It says, I could have called a hotline to have the squirel picked up and tested. But it also said it was acceptable for me to just bury it, like I did.)
Unfortunately, the summer heat picked up the squirrel's scent of death, even from beneath the dirt, and, for a few days, the back yard smelled like a rotting corpse. I’ve read a few stories and news articles about how dead bodies smell. Now, I know that smell, albeit, on a smaller dead-squirrel scale.
Two weeks or so ago, maybe on one of those days that the Dow plummeted several hundred points and prompted the executives at my company to gather for emergency budget meetings (and to see which employees would remain), I was driving home. Despite the tensions in my office, I don't think I was all that wound up.
I was driving on a back street, within the 25-mph speed limit, and I saw a squirrel dart in front of my car. I slowed a little bit, but didn’t stop, thinking squirrels, like cats and birds, have a remarkable ability for knowing how to veer away from cars just in time. But this one lacked that ability, or momentarily lost it, because I heard the thunk beneath my wheels.
I did a quick U-turn, and yes, there was the squirrel, lying in the road, blood on its mouth. No, I didn't stop to initiate a squirrel rescue. I figured it was already dead, or soon to be dead.
Suicidal squirrel? Why is this squirrel and others getting itself killed? Have squirrels locally or elsewhere picked up on our global anxieties? Or, are the squirrels, so much closer to the natural world than us humans, picking up on some other dimension of anxieties? And they just know it's not worth sticking around?
Okay, maybe it's a bit of a bore, and rather self-centered, for me to anthromorphize these poor, tragic squirrels. All, I know is that I've never seen so many dead squirrels around the neighborhood. I hope I don't see any more any time soon.