Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Squirrel's Lament

Walking home from work today, I came upon a baby squirrel lying dead in a puddle beneath a tree. It wasn't a newborn--it had all its fur, but its tail wasn't bushy yet. It was still covered with short, fine hair, and curled up over the squirrel's head like it was asleep in the nest above. I thought, as I always do after seeing such things, "Why does nature have to be so pitiless? Is that really necessary? Does such harshness serve some purpose?"

The writer of the Book of Genesis wondered the same things, and tried for an answer. According to that account, humans are to blame for nature's harshness. It's our doing, and our punishment. "Cursed is the ground because of you", God declared, after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Thorns and thistles spread over the Earth, and death and toil appeared for the first time. Not just for the first couple, either, but for all their descendants as well. 

But still, why the animals? Even if you accept the Genesis account as truth or as justice (I cannot accept it as either) the question remains: why should animals have to suffer for what two humans did? With the notable exception of the serpent, they didn't do anything to deserve it. In fact, if God had really wanted to drive his point home, he could have left the animals to live the carefree lives they led before the Fall. Then they could serve as a perpetual reminders to humans of how good they had it before they got so inquisitive. In any case, what would be the point of punishing animals for our transgressions? They can't even understand the story, can they?

But then, as I kept walking home, I reflected that things aren't as bleak as all that. I see no reason to think the Genesis account is true, and I'm thrilled not to believe I live in a universe ruled by a God who thinks it just punish the entire world--in perpetuity, generation after generation--because a single couple wanted to gain a little knowledge. A world like that wouldn't just be uncaring--it would be outright cruel and vengeful. I can handle living in an uncaring universe, but I don't think I could bear living in a cruel one. 

So, I lightened up a little. And then I lightened up some more when I saw my dog and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk (the answer is always yes, in the universal waggle-dance language of bulldogs). So out we went.

But then, without even thinking about it, I walked him right back past the puddle where I had seen the baby squirrel. This time, the mother was there. She was on the edge of the puddle, staring across it like a fisherman's widow. I wouldn't have expected that from a squirrel, but there she was. When she saw us she ran part-way up the tree and stared. I stopped and looked for her baby, but someone or something had already taken it away.

What was going through her mind, I wondered, as she sat staring across that puddle? Do squirrels grieve for lost children? Is she capable of counting her young, and finding that one is missing? Does she have the slightest clue what death means? Do squirrels have the imagination to ask why the world is so callous, or do they just accept it as the way things are? I don't know.

I don't know any of these things. I'm convinced she was upset, but I don't know how long it will last, or how deep her grief might run. As I walked away, she started scolding me, the way squirrels will do. For a second I had the insane thought that she had heard the story of Adam and Eve too, and was blaming me and my kind for the world's ugliness (would she be entirely wrong?). Then I came back to reality, and just felt sorry for her. I've been scolded by squirrels many times before, and I've always thought it was hilarious. After all, there's something ridiculous about being verbally abused by a rodent. But now, watching her standing in the crook of that tree, her little body shaking as she barked at me, I thought about why the others might have been scolding me in the past; what the circumstances might have been. And I don't think I'll laugh at them anymore. 


  1. Nature isn't pitiless - it could be argued that nature doesn't know it's pitiless. Just like the time I saw Lake Superior in Michigan, knowing the ships that had gone down in that lake and lives it claimed, it doesn't know it is harsh. A combination of the weather, location, wind and the lake makes the seeming harsh conditions come alive. It doesn't know its own fierceness. Squirrels have to live in that fierce environment too. Then, you refer to the Bible. The Old Testament God was a creator and destroyer. It's good that you've seen these things - let's just say you've seen the "Sins of God". We, as human beings, can show more mercy on our fellow beings - animals included. We can do a better job than God (or should I say the Christian's God?) Let's be more merciful than He!

  2. Do I know you? I can't tell from your user name. Just curious.

  3. I am one of your members, but we don't know each other personally. I just use a pen name for a new age blog read in over 30 languages...