“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.”
Some years are just harder than others. As I sit here this dark early winter evening waiting for the clock to chime midnight and usher in the new year on the calendar I can’t help but look back on 2010 and weep.
The year began with the passing of one of my long-time educational animals; a little black squirrel named Johnny. Hit by a car and permanently disabled at 8 months old, what started out as quite a determined, single-minded effort on his part to see how many times he could bite me in short order ended up becoming a truly delightful relationship that lasted almost 9 years before bladder cancer brought it to its inevitable end.
At the same time, another educational squirrel named Cleo came close to losing a leg and her life from what was apparently a spider bite. Months of ’round-the-clock care combined with her cooperative nature and will to live saved her. For the third time.
There were other losses as well; each the unfortunate normal reality of working with wildlife. Then came the midterm elections and I took on the assignment of campaign photographer for one of our Congressional candidates but come the closing of the polls on November 2nd, there was yet another loss.
But through all of this there was the bright spot of a squirrel at the kitchen window almost every day. The inimitable Eleanor continued to visit regularly, as she had been doing for almost 9 years. Every visit warmed my heart and, realizing how long she’d been coming around, I had begun watching her closely for the signs of her advancing age were beginning to show. As November rolled in, bringing its chilling portents of winter, it seemed that my beloved Eleanor wasn’t putting on weight as were the other backyard visitors who seemed to have sucked the air hose overnight. So I kept an eye out for her, offering those things she loved the most and encouraging her to stay and eat her fill; shooing away the others who observantly would learn to follow her lead and steal her goodies off the windowsill.
The middle weekend of November was insanely busy; I was working long hours for a fundraiser that started late each afternoon and as I rushed around each day getting ready, I noticed that Eleanor had begun to show up in the middle of the afternoon instead of first thing in the morning. Hearing the little scratching sound as she jumped onto the windowsill or the more determined sound of her climbing the screen to better peer inside to see if I was sitting here, I would promptly grab her goodies and fling open the window, watching with amusement as she poked her head inside and stamped her little hind feet as if to demonstrate her impatience with having had to wait to eat.
The following week I noticed Eleanor was coming neither in the morning nor in the midde of the afternoon. It is not unusual for a regular to go MIA for a few days so I tried not to worry but the days became weeks and now the weeks have become months and I must acknowledge the cold, hard truth that my beloved friend, the last of my original “porch pals” and the last reminder of my starting down this road filled with furballs isn’t coming back. For a while and still occasionally when feeding out back I call her but the silence continues to mock. Eleanor was very old for a city squirrel; certainly testament to her savviness but heartbreaking for the human who had come to cherish our unusual little rituals and her unique little habits.
I still start at the sound of scratching on the kitchen windowsill. I probably always will.