In a dangerous world prey animals have evolved to over-multiply. That’s clear from watching the gray squirrels from my office window. There’s a stand of maybe a dozen pine trees across the street, and some days it’s like the bark itself is crawling, there are so many squirrels chasing each other. Especially when mating season begins. Of course, squirrels get into everything. We have a problem with them in our improperly sealed garage. They have a biological need to gnaw and really animals don’t share the human concept of indoors versus outdoors. They don’t understand that we want them outside, not in. This leads to my love-hate relationship with squirrels. I’m usually on the side of the prey, but they can be a real nuisance. Still, they’re cute and furry and they take their chances going, well, outside.
So the other day there was a kind of love fest, a Woodstock of squirrels, if you will, in those pine trees. The sun was out and the hormones must’ve been raging like a high school Friday. A few minutes later I glanced outside and couldn’t see a single one. A blur of wings caught my eye as a red-tailed hawk landed on a branch. All the squirrel play had ceased. Where there had been dozens just moments ago, not a single individual could now be seen. The hawk seemed in no hurry, lazily flapping from branch to branch, swiveling its head around, watching. It might not’ve been in a squirrel mood that day, or the prey might’ve been too well hidden. Or maybe they knew if you play the game right, predators will just go away.
The squirrels’ conflicting urges both had to do with survival. In a way from which we could learn, they seem aware that the group outweighs the individual. Something about their level of consciousness gives them a deep wisdom. We tend to call flighty individuals among our own species squirrelly, or we can say that we’re feeling squirrelly about something. Rodents, however, are smart. In fact, they understand some things better than humans do. After all, there are so many of them because our species has killed off most of their predators, just as we’ve done for deer. There’s a reason there’s so much road kill. Watching the abundance of squirrels it becomes clear that they’re in tune with the ways of nature. They have to chew or their teeth will grow too long. And they definitively don’t know the differences between outdoors and in. Still, they deserve our respect, even if they’re occasional nuisances.