When I was a child – probably 7 or 8, because we were living in St. Mary’s City at the time – my Dad had to cut a dead branch from a tree in our side yard. When the limb came down, out tumbled three baby squirrels from a nest in a part of the hollowed-out branch. With their home so disturbed – dare I say it, destroyed – there was no hope in Momma Squirrel coming back for her babies (though we did give her the chance). Instead, the Amber Family grew by three tiny tails overnight.
Like many childhood memories, I don’t remember much about the actual event of raising of these small, scampering creatures. I don’t recall waking up to bottle feed them throughout the night, or just where, exactly, we kept them. But I do remember that when they got old enough to live outside my Dad built them a squirrel house with wire mesh wrapped around the body, to help give their tiny feet purchase while they learned to climb in and out. We mounted the squirrel house high up on an oak tree, visible from the sliding glass door and porch off of my parent’s bedroom. Six feet up from the base of the tree, Dad also mounted a small platform which we used to place special treats such as cracked corn and sunflower seeds.
The squirrels not only stuck around and made use of both their new home and their feeding platform, but they quickly learned to cross the side yard, clamber up onto the porch and gorge themselves on the birdseed that was always abundantly supplied on the porch railings. My family (and our cats!) have always enjoyed bird-watching from bed. So the squirrel-kids survived… and then they multiplied, teaching each new generation the ways of the Amber woods and porch railings.
I’m grateful that I had parents with such big hearts, and that I was able to grow up with a respect for the effect that we, as humans, have on the world around us – especially the wild animals living so close to us. It was life lessons like this one that taught me to do my part to restore balance once I’d had a hand in tipping the scales, and to hold without holding on.
Finding these pictures sparked a memory – albeit a faint one – of prickly claws, soft fur and whispy and ticklish, flicking tails. A moment of the past where for a while the outside came in; where the wild was cared for, but never tamed.
Photos, clockwise from top left: Dad holds the three tiny squirrels in his giant hands after disrupting their home unintentionally. Old enough to bottle feed, we decided to save them after determining that the mother was not going to come back; One of the baby squirrels practicing its climbing technique on the rock wall planter that separates the living room from the solarium; Mom creates a gentle hold for two baby squirrels who are just about old enough to release back into the yard; I pose with one of the baby squirrels, who has just climbed up out of my relaxed grip to sit on my shoulder.