As the weather near 70 degrees on Friday, I decided to go for a walk around a park instead of going to the gym. I put my earbuds in and listened to music as I walked down Carnation Avenue. I usually walk down to Raff Avenue, around the Centennial Gardens & Bird Sanctuary, up Floral Parkway, and turn back onto Carnation. When I got to Floral Parkway, I decided to turn right instead and go around the gardens the other way.
I walked on the brick walkway with the gardens and sanctuary on my left. As I approached the entrance, I noticed a woman walking along the path towards me. As we were passing, a number of birds eating at the bird feeders caught my eye, and I turned my head left to watch them. As I stood there, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I turned to see the woman pointing and looking towards the ground. Looking back up at us was a baby squirrel about a foot away. She looked like a much smaller version of a full grown squirrel.
As I aww’d over her, the baby squirrel reached out her right paw into the air towards the woman in a gesture that seemed to say, “Please help me.” That motion touched my heart. As we started discussing whether the mother was around or could we see a nest, the baby came over to my right sneaker. First, she sat on my foot. Then she stood on her hind legs and hugged my pant leg, while looking right up at me with her two big black eyes. I felt rooted to the spot. I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to finish my walk or do anything else other than try and rescue this baby.
You know when something is so heartbreakingly adorable that your heart feels like it’s being crushed and you want to cry? That’s how I felt. After fretting a bit about not having a box or a car, I called my sister M to ask her to help me figure out what to do or where I could bring the squirrel. She sister looked online and read me some information about orphaned baby squirrels.
As we talked, I noticed a box sitting under some bushes a few feet away from where the woman and I stood. It was a Nike shoe box with a Saltine cracker and one acorn inside. My sister read that putting food in a box with the baby squirrel was a way to tide it over until it could be reuinted with the mother. If the squirrel is young and approaching people, then it means that the mother or the nest has been unavailable for some time and that the baby is desperately seeking help. That did it for me.
I gave my fleece vest jacket to the woman and asked her to see if she could get the squirrel off my pant leg. I wasn’t afraid of being bitten, but I didn’t want to hold her, either. She was able to gently nudge the baby off my leg, and the little squirrel sat in my vest looking cozy. When she began to nuzzle the fleece, I took this as another sign that she needed nourishment. The lady was also able to get the squirrel into the Nike box, and I held her in there while I talked to my sister. We got off the phone so that Madeline could call Volunteers for Wildlife, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center on Long Island.
While I waited for her to call me back, two boys around 10 years old came over and asked me what was in the box, so I told them the story. The baby tried to poke her head through the holes at either end of the box, but she could only fit her nose, whiskers, and paws through the hole. Her claws looked like little razor blades. At first, she got angry at being held in the box. She also made some of the cutest noises – little growls, reassuring sounds in her belly, and high-pitched whistles that sounded like bird call. When she cried out for his mother, my heart broke all over again.
I was already walking home with box hands clutching the box when my sister called back. She caught a volunteer just as A, a volunteer, was about to leave for the day. However, A said I could bring the squirrel over to her house in Westbury that evening. Once I arrived home, I retrieved a sash from one of my robes and tied it around the box to secure it during the car ride. I picked up my bag and water bottle, and I drove to A’s house with the squirrel in the box on the passenger seat. I drove slowly, made sure to leave a lot of space between me and the next car, braked gently, and held my hand on the box. I gently shook the box a couple of times because the squirrel had stopped scrambling around and was very quiet.
An easy 20 minutes later, I pulled up in front of A’s house and texted her to let her know I was there. I handed over the baby squirrel and she gave me a piece of paper with the squirrel’s assigned number and the rescue group’s email address. She said they would take pictures and put it up on their website and that I could find the squirrel by her assigned number. When I left her house, I was high on the excitement and satisfaction of having helped a baby squirrel get the care she needed.
After I told my husband Mark about the rescue, I cried thinking about the way the baby squirrel reached out towards the other woman. This action in particular symbolizes the baby squirrel’s attempts to get help from the only adults it could find: us. That little thing prompted a thought flash to occur to me that hasn’t happened in a long time: What’s the difference between a squirrel I rescue and a chicken I eat? Maybe I should try to be vegetarian again.
In my 20’s, I was a vegetarian for about five years. When I went off the pill, my desire to eat meat returned so I began eating meat again. I have been mostly comfortable with that decision, but events sometimes make me question that. Studying Buddhism and wanting to follow the Five Precepts for Lay People was one reason. Still, I ate meat. I think that the difference this time is that I had an emotional experience in my interaction with the squirrel, whereas studying Buddhism was a more intellectual exercise.
When I stopped eating meat full stop in my 20’s, the transition was hard, and I am not sure I ate well enough. I still struggle with eating enough nutrients. Certainly, there were not as many vegetarian options or sources of vegetarian protein. I’m not sure I could go vegetarian all at once again, nor would I want to. I think some meal planning is in order to make sure I get enough nutrients. Maybe even a visit to a nutritionist. But I can start by striving to minimize the meat I eat to once a day while I do research and maybe even go to a nutritionist.
I think that’s a good place to start.