My eldest son and his wife are having a baby this autumn. , Simon and I are beside ourselves with anticipation and joy. The newest family member (whom I refer to for the time being as our Grandfetus) is now big enough to startle his papa with kicks and bumps visible on the outside of his beautiful mother’s tum. Incidentally, the Grandfetus is a boy. When I was having babies, the sex of a child wasn’t necessarily something one found out ahead of time, unless some other potential problem necessitated a test that incidentally included that information.
Also male were the two baby squirrels who fell out of one of our huge old oak trees. Did they fall, or were they pushed? My theory, frankly, is that the same July heat that makes me cranky was affecting the mother squirrel similarly. She and I both had the urge to kick our offspring out of the nest. I went to bed with a book; she followed through.
The babies survived, and without apparent ill-effects. O’ lordy, are they cute! And snuggly…clinging to us with the faith of the defenseless, and willing to accept Woolie and me as surrogate mothers, even if we are large, hairless and have leaky rubber nipples.
I am, however, a law abiding citizen, one who works for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I can’t blithely pretend no to know that keeping wild animals as pets is illegal. I consulted several game wardens, hoping to find one who would say “Oh, it’s okay. Keep them! Being chaplain to the Maine Warden Service is ample qualification for rehabilitating wildlife!” None did.
“It’s really better if they go to someone who knows what she’s doing,” Warden Chris Dyer assured me. And, I have to admit, it is. Baby squirrels grow into bigger squirrels who need space to practice climbing and leaping: Real wildlife rehab folk have big cages which protect them from predators while they build these skills. When squirrels reach adolescence, they become moody and disagreeable. It’s an ideal moment to release them into the wild, but if you are ready to send your squirrel out to seek his fortune in, say, October, the squirrel may be eager to leave…but he’ll be facing the winter without the caches of nuts that his wild relations will have spent months setting aside.
The desire to help a stranded baby creature can so easily become a desire to own it. I had a warm, quivering little creature nestled in my hand, its little paws gripping onto my thumb. I admit it: I didn’t just want this baby to live and thrive, I wanted it to be MY baby. But if I really am called to love those squirrels—as themselves, that is, rather than as sweet objects of desire, or confirmation of my outdoorsy bona fides…if , as I have written, “love is the earnest desire for the achievement of wholeness by the beloved,” then I have to choose for them the path that is most likely not only to give them life, but to give them the most complete squirrel’s life they can have.
So Woolie and I drove them to Belfast Animal Hospital, where the veterinarians have a sideline taking care of wild things. I signed a form indicating that I understood that the squirrels would not be returned to me, and that if the veterinarian’s humane and expert judgement decreed, they could be euthanized. With a last, longing fingertip caress of their soft little heads, we reluctantly took our leave of them.
Your squirrels are not your squirrels…isn’t that what Kahlil Gibran wrote? “They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.” And I am….humbly…Granny Kate.