When I’m out in the countryside I continually have one ear and one eye open for anything of interest. Often a sound can alert me to something special, and the opposite is also true.
Recently my wife and I spent a few days in Shropshire. On the journey to our holiday venue, we saw a very big and noticeable hill. You couldn’t miss it, standing proud and tree capped. On arrival we settled in and then had a cuppa with our hosts. ‘What would you like to do’, they asked?
It turns out the Hill was called Pontesbury Hill and behind it is Earls Hill, which, whilst hidden from the road is higher and clear of trees, thus giving stunning views. The next day off we went and had a stunning day. A really interesting walk to the top and back, (video coming soon), bracket fungus and trees that show the way.
Eventually we returned to the car park somewhat exhausted from our exertions when movement caught my eye. Looking up there was the unmistakable character that entertains our countryside with good cheer and sheer exuberant energy and enthusiasm that seems forever unabating. Do you think a squirrel has any idea how entertain we humans find that long bushy tail?
I love watching them in the spring chasing each other up and down trees with a skill and ability that we can only wonder at, hanging on with claws that help to imply a stickiness worthy of spiderman and an energy that can only be matched by children. They are inquisitive too, often when I am sat quiet and calm in the woods they will come quite close and see what is this strange creature sitting in their home range, especially if I have my drum with me and I have been tapping out a rhythm for a while. They sit in a safe spot, rest on their hind legs and hold their shorter upper legs in front of them and move their head from position to position with attentive curiosity. Ready to flee at the slightest hint of danger.
For most of us the only squirrel we will see is the nowadays common grey squirrel, that ousted our native red squirrel many years ago. The red squirrel is prettier in colour, ear tufts and a bushier tail, but unfortunately not as good a competitor as the grey, brought in by the romans as a food source along with the rabbit. Generally, if you want to see a red squirrel then Scotland or Brownsea island in Poole harbour are your best bet. Mind, when I visited, I only saw red squirrel poo.
The squirrel we saw that day was a regular grey. So, as I said, grey squirrels are fairly common, but what happened that day wasn’t. For the one hundred yards or so of the car park the squirrel ran alongside us through the trees for the whole way to our car. Never much more than 4 or 5 m off the ground, keeping us in sight the whole way.
It was fascinating to watch him (or her) running along branches that looked too narrow to support his weight before launching himself effortlessly, momentum carry him through the air before landing in the branches of the next tree, a quick glance forward, whilst keeping us in plain sight, tail moving subconsciously to help him keep balance as he goes, after which he begins the cycle again. It was fabulous to see him stop and look at us, as we stopped, almost saying, ‘are you paying attention?’ Before taking off again.
Eventually, we reached our car, he then sat watching us the entire time whilst we took off our walking boots and sorted ourselves out before getting into our car and leaving. Not, of course, before saying goodbye to our whiskered friend. He looked at us, almost, quizzically and we shared a real feeling of connection.
When looking at the life around us and looking for the learning, it is noticing the behaviour that is not so normal that is important. Many are likely to just think ‘how cute’, however, for me, any behaviour that is not normal ‘peaks’ my attention and I immediately begin to think, ‘what’s going on here’. In this case in particular, what is squirrel trying to tell me?
I like to make notes of my experience as soon as possible, in my diary or maybe my journey journal, but anywhere really, its amazing how much of an experience you can loose really quickly. I then like to do some research as soon as possible. I only had access to the internet, my library being at home. I also have a little think about the behaviours of the messenger and see if any of that might be of use and if possible, journey to see if there is any clarification there.
Two messages became clear to me. Squirrel is always cheerful and enthusiastic about all tasks, and at this year is storing away nuts for the cold days to come in lots of different places.
That makes sense, I choose to be cheerful at all times and if I do feel down, make sure I go through the cycle as quickly as possible. That has been a very important behaviour the last couple of years, especially if money has been tight for example, or through isolation. It’s not easy, but removing the emotional attachment to an outcome makes life very much simpler. The emotions don’t change what happens, they just make you feel bad.
That would be message enough, but there is more.
The world is rapidly going into recession, prices are going up and hardship is expected. One way to counter that is source an income from as many different sources as possible, so that if one dries up, there is another one to take its place. If you can find three or four, or even more, an income and thus life becomes even safer.
I have been doing just that and will work even harder at it now that I am more aware of the need. After all that is what squirrel does. Preparation is everything, always.
No matter what comes, a helpful first thought is ‘how can I come out of this better?’ Awareness precedes change.
Thank you squirrel.