© 2012 Aaron Atkinson

The Squirrel Whisperer

While walking to my tree stand in the pre-dawn, moonless dark of morning a pack of coyotes began yipping and barking nearby. Once on my stand, 20 feet above the forest floor, the world went silent – save for the rustle of the leaves on the oak that I was perched against. My breath puffed in gentle clouds as my vision slowly adjusted to the inky purple of morning.

As the sun rose through the fog in the east, my favorite hour of the day unfolded – the hour in which the woods come to life. A hen mallard quacked and purred in the marsh. An old owl hooted in a brassy tenor tone. A small flock of dark wood ducks screeched as they flew overhead towards the river. Fifteen pigeons left the barn and whooshed overhead en route to their breakfast, and then trio of crows cawed as they welcomed Saturday morning in the December woods. With this wakeup call, the forest really came to life as a dozen squirrels simultaneously and raucously emerged from their bushy-tailed slumbers.

A sat perfectly motionless as an orange fox squirrel climbed down from his nest of old leaves and sticks. As he tightroped confidently from branch to branch, he’d occasionally stop to nibble on the bark and then rub his cheek on the rough spot he’d just created. As he continued his nibbling and scratching routine he closed the distance between us. I fought back a grin as he leaped onto the trunk of the tree that I was leaning against. I even managed to hold still while he climbed down the trunk towards my head. He wandered out onto the horizontal branch that I was leaning my arm against, and for the first time he caught my scent. Eighteen inches from my forearm he stopped and looked me in the face, gave me a confused look, and then must have figured I was no threat. As he started to turn away I made my move as I swatted him in the rear end. More from shock than from the force of my gentle blow he jumped out of his skin – and off the branch – falling to the ground with a thud.

When he hit the ground he looked straight at me, barked twice as a show of his displeasure, and then scampered off towards deeper timber.

It’s not every day a person gets to touch a squirrel, and I’ll not soon forget the experience. Based on the squirrel’s reaction, I bet the feeling is mutual.

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