When People Behave Like Squirrels

With fall pause just around the corner, I took the time this afternoon to sit with my sugar maple for about half an hour, so that we might be able to relax and de-stress together. While I walked towards my tree, I couldn’t help but notice that the very tips of the upper leaves had been tinged with a deep red color.

The tree’s neighbors had all begun to change much earlier—as evidenced by the crisp reddish brown leaves strewn all over the ground and pathways that had clearly not come from my specific sugar maple—but my tree was taking its time. There was no rush; when you’re planted in one spot for years and years, time seems to slow down. There is no need to hurry, no need to race the other trees to see who can change colors the quickest. Compared to the other sparse trees around, my tree’s leaves still looked full. The green stood out against the sky full of bare, brown branches.

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The bright green leaves seemed out of place among the neighboring trees’ bright oranges and reds.

Like the leaves on the ground, the air was also crisp. There was a slight chill, but when the sun was shining directly on you, the temperature wasn’t overall unpleasant. It was common hour as a sat with my tree, meaning that the academic quad was abuzz with life. Students were rushing to and from classes, broad smiles on their faces reflecting their excitement about the coming fall pause. Professors, too, seemed to be in exceptionally good moods. Even the squirrels, who hopped around through the lush green grass looked to be in good spirits.

The squirrels, with the beginnings of their thick winter coats starting to show, are looking chunkier as they hurry to and from making last minute preparations for their coming hibernations. Every now and then, a cool wind would blow, and a shower of red would fall upon me as leaves from the nearby trees drifted toward the earth. Though I would shiver in response and pull my sweatshirt a little tighter, the squirrels seemed oblivious. Students would shuffle through the fallen leaves, some seeming to admire the splash of color on the pathways, while others seemed to not notice the forgotten leaves. The sound hurried feet shuffling through the fallen leaves was soothing-almost hypnotic in a way.

Modern society has a rhythm that nothing can derail, not even nature. People had places to be; they had no time to stop and admire their natural surroundings literally changing before their eyes. In a way, this realization made me feel a tinge of sadness, perhaps even guilt. I know that I, like the other students around me, definitely become too preoccupied with school work and other worries sometimes that I forget to appreciate my surroundings. Dickinson has a beautiful campus, dotted with many many different species and variations of trees and other foliage. The diverse landscapes never fail to provide visual stimulation as long as one allows them to be noticed.

As a sat on the weathered bench by my tree, I watched from afar as two squirrels foraged in the coarse mulch around my tree’s base.

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The smaller squirrel contemplated where he might have left his belongings.

Perhaps the squirrels were looking for something they had buried there before. The smaller of the two squirrels seemed determined to find what it was he was looking for; his eyes were glued to the ground as he scurried a few steps in one direction, scratched at the mulch to no avail, and then repeated the cycle again a few steps to the left. The larger of the two squirrels seemed to have given up on the hunt for his lost treasure; he seemed bored, distracted. It was as if the smaller squirrel had asked to be accompanied on the forage, and the larger squirrel begrudgingly agreed.

It was only a few minutes before the large squirrel could no longer withstand his ennui, and had begun inching his way closer and closer to the smaller squirrel, as if to get a rise out of him. The smaller squirrel, fed up with the larger squirrel’s insolence, chased the larger squirrel up the trunk of my sugar maple. The bark emitted harsh scraping noises in complaint as the squirrels’ small but sharp claws hurriedly gouged their way up the length of the trunk and into the tangles of leafy branches.

The squirrels, who were now angrily chirping at one another, their tails twitching in annoyance, seemed oblivious to the fact that the tree was its own entity; the squirrels saw the tree as merely a fixture that could be climbed, scratched, hidden in, or ignored as need be. The squirrels were too caught up in their own politics to stop and give thanks to the tree for housing them. In a way, perhaps the squirrels’ way of thinking is not that different from many peoples’ ways of thinking. How unfortunate it is that some people see nature as only something to be used, rather than something to be appreciated and marveled at. Perhaps if more people took the time to relax by a tree and watch the squirrels, they could see the flaws in their own logic.

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