“Love never reasons, but profusely gives; it gives like a thoughtless prodigal its all, and then trembles lest it has done too little.”
Growing up and staking your claim on the world is a process, yet as unique in its manifestation as the individuals who follow it. Sometimes short, other times interminably long and drawn-out, there is no timetable set in stone to complete it. Squirrels are no different. Some quickly glean what they need to know during their stint in a pre-release pen and hit the trees at a dead run, never looking back and never returning again.
Others take their time. The grandiose space in which to bounce, the square meals delivered regularly, the snug nest box to protect from inclement weather, the sights and sounds of the other visitors to the backyard here at the Peaceable Kingdom a form of Critter TV all make for a pleasant existence against which instinct is slow to rail.
Donny fell into the latter camp. Just being outside was good enough, though being older due to having to be “overwintered” before up for release it wasn’t really that long before he realized there was even more worth exploring and other things he should be doing if he was to really be a proper squirrel. And so the door of the pre-release pen was opened and after a brief stint in the mulberry tree to get his “sea legs” under him, Donny disappeared down the high-wire trail by which the ‘hood squirrels come and go.
He didn’t come home that first night. Not surprising, though it was a relief when he showed up the next day. It’s nice to know that those in whom we’ve invested so much time, energy, and heart are doing well, especially when the world into which they venture is so fraught with both cruelty and danger.
Donny was obviously tired and after briefly checking out the yard he made his way up onto the patio and flopped.
Come suppertime, he was only too happy to go back into his pre-release pen to eat, and as evening fell he returned to its nest box. As is standard practice, Donny was locked into the pre-release pen for the night to keep him safe from nocturnal visitors with less-than-honorable intentions. Early the next morning he was up and raring to go, and when the door was opened he promptly disappeared.
We didn’t see too much of him at all over the next week but the occasional glimpse showed he looked healthy enough. Sunday evening, however, the prodigal returned. Hungry. Thinner. Exhausted. I went and got him a good supper and he gratefully ate, drank water, ate, and drank a lot more water before climbing wearily into his nest box. As I walked over to the pre-release pen, he peered out of the nest box hole. When I reached the door of the pen I could hear him making the soft, chucking sound squirrels use as a warning. He obviously had no intentions of going anywhere so I closed the door and let him sleep in peace.
When morning came, I headed out back to fill the feeders early since squirrels doing their “come and go” are normally up at the crack of dawn wanting to be let out. Donny, however, was still sleeping in his nest box. I made sure he had food and it was more than an hour later before he roused himself and headed off to do whatever it is that squirrels do all day.
He showed up later that afternoon but wasn’t interested in eating. He spent considerable time looking around and finally decided to nap in the sunshine on top of one of the taller pre-release pens. I snapped some photographs of him then went about my business and eventually so did Donny.
As I went out back to feed last night, including some food for Donny just in case he showed up hungry again (also standard practice during the “come and go” period as a support for newly-released squirrels), to my surprise he appeared on top of one of the pre-release pens as if he’d been waiting for me to arrive. He promptly dropped the maple seeds with which he’d been marking time and eagerly followed me into his pre-release pen and to his food dish. He ate, he took long drinks of water, he ate some more. I went off to sit on the patio, both to enjoy the lovely evening and to watch and see whether or Donny would decide to “sleep in” or “sleep out”.
I sat relaxing, thoughts and eyes wandering, but my pleasant reverie was suddenly broken by a great commotion from the pre-release pen. Pipsqueak, a former rehab resident on her own for a year now and a new mother, had shown up on her evening rounds and, apparently having found the big feeder empty, had decided to check out Donny’s pre-release pen. Though they are quite tiny, pine squirrels more than make up for their size with attitude (combine the ultimate “Napoleon complex” with a cockroach with teeth) and in the space of three heartbeats her shrill, raucous kamikaze attack on Donny’s food dish sent him hiding inside his nest box.
I decided it was in everyone’s best interest to encourage Pipsqueak to leave Donny’s pen. It didn’t take much, but by then Donny had decided there was no way he was going to budge from his nest box. So the prodigal Donny spent another night snug, safe, and secure and after a good breakfast, with pride and confidence patched back together, headed out for another day in the trees.