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Fox Squirrel Rescue III: But Wait! There's More!

Thursday, April 30, 2015


I watched Angel feeding the orphaned fox squirrels, and even tried it myself. It's harder than it looks. They wiggle a LOT, and chew the nipple, and choke, and aspirate milk so it comes out their nose, and it's just hard to get it right. I flashed back to learning to nurse Phoebe, how much there was to know about this thing that instinct tells you should come naturally. I mean, if I were dropped 9 months pregnant on a desert island with enough pork chops and ice cream, I would certainly be able to deliver myself of a baby and figure out how to nurse her, but it sure helps to have a midwife right there talking you through it.

  Angel explained that you can't push the rubber nipple directly against their young developing teeth or you could damage them so they wouldn't come in right. "Hard experience," she said, and I could hear in her voice that lessons learned the hard way take a toll on the heart. Angel explained that you always insert the nipple from the side, where rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits) have no teeth, then let the baby orient straight on to the nipple once it's in his mouth. Oh. It makes so much sense when she says it, but who'd know that without being told?


The little hands, gripping and re-gripping the bottle, just killed me. 

I asked lots of questions. How long do you think they've been without food? 

"If something happens to their mother, it takes three to four days before they'll leave the nest."

Three to four DAYS?? These little things have been starving that long?? It's amazing they're still alive. I had guessed correctly that they were driven out of the nest by hunger, but I'd never imagined they'd been in trouble that long. Man. A bird would have been dead within 24 hours.

How many babies in a typical litter?

"Four. There should be two more there." 

A chill went down my legs to my feet. Oh no. Nonono. I packed up my stuff, thanked Angel, and headed out. It was getting dark, and I could only think about the other two squirrellets, sure to be there somewhere.

I raced back to the site. It was really raining now. I listened from up on the road, not wanting to go back down that awful hill when it was slippery and getting dark. All was silent. When I found the two crying babies this afternoon, I had listened, but hadn't hear any more.

Reluctantly, I went home. But the thought that there were more squirrels chased me to bed, and woke me up the next morning.

I had a busy morning which segued into noon and suddenly I looked up and ran to the closet to suit up for a run. I looked at the sky. Pregnant again, and threatening a downpour. I didn't pack a raincoat. It was warm. Chet and I headed out, toward the cowpasture and the steep hill.

And upon getting near, my unbelieving ears picked up a weak peeping from way down in the woods. From the same spot. Another night and half a day had passed. And there were more. 


It began to rain, then to pour. I picked my way over the fence and down the slope again and started searching beneath the nest tree.

I was too late for this little boy. Thinking perhaps he was just torpid (as well as soaking wet and cold), I picked him up to warm him. But something, probably a shrew, had come up from beneath and, well, his underside wasn't pretty. I feel sure he was gone before that happened, though. 

The forest floor is a hard place to be a baby.


Still there was a peeping. I looked up and saw a tiny squirrel wobbling around atop the nest in the now-pouring rain. Unbelievable. It was agitated, its tail up, moving jerkily. 

I called to it as Angel had told me to, sucking my cheek in against my teeth, making a loud squirrelly smacking sound. It became even more agitated, and suddenly leapt into space and landed at my feet. 

All the air went out of me, and I stood there, my head ringing with the wonder and disbelief of it all.


It had landed well, on soft leaf litter, as well as you can land, falling 40 feet. 
And it was as if that tiny animal knew that the only way it was getting out of this predicament was to leap practically into the arms of a most unlikely savior. 

Suddenly I realized that it was no accident that the second squirrel had also jumped from the nest at the moment had I arrived yesterday. They'd heard me crunching around in the leaves far below, and hoped against hope that it was help they'd heard.

My eyes filled with tears at the realization that they were like people jumping from a burning building, hoping someone might be down there to catch them. 
Well, I was. Again.

I picked the dear little thing up and again, there was blood at the nose, and it didn't look great, but it  was better than being stuck in the nest in the pouring rain. 

Another male. All four had been males. 

It was getting on to time for Liam to come home, and it was pouring hard, so I stuffed the little thing into my sports bra and, one hand to my chest, ran for home. I felt fleas leave the cold little animal and riffle against my skin. The rain had picked up, and Chet was doing his hanging-back thing again, only moreso this time. He had started for home, wanting no part of this pouring rain, another squirrel rescue, or the temptation that went with it. I called to him to wait for me and he stood, one paw up, his ears pasted back, his back hunched, the picture of impatience.

He led me all the way home, and was so glad to finally make the front porch. Mether. Open this door. I am soaked! I have to scrubble around on the carpet and dry myself, snort like a pig and kick my arms and legs straight up! Now! NOW!


I peeled off my soaked clothes and quickly dressed, keeping the squirrel swaddled in down the whole time.

I called Bill and he was just coming from out of town, picking Liam up at the evening bus on the way. I told them to wait at the corner and I'd meet them and show them something they'd never seen. 

Liam's eyes got big as saucers when I got out of my car, reached into my bra and pulled this little squirrel out.
Bill took our picture. It was a moment.


I drove to Angel's house again, and held the squirrel while she mixed up another bottle of formula.


Another day out in the cold and rain, and this last one was somehow still alive. Angel told me that the big male, the one with the bloody nose, had died around dawn. The fall had been too much for him. She had buried him out back, and wept. After all these years of helping animals, her heart is just as tender as ever. She still had one left, the smaller male from that first batch--the baby I told you to remember. This would be the third I'd brought. The fourth was dead on the ground. At least I had accounted for all four of them. Two down, two still with us.


Famished, the new refugee lit into the bottle like a little fiend.






15 comments:

This entire experience that you all shared bespeaks that there is magic all around us... a force that will help us, whether we are human, bird, or squirrel. Some may call it "God", or "Collective Consciousness", our "higher self", or our "spirit guide". But I think there is some source energy that guides us, helps us, and that we can tap into, if we just get out of our own way. I think that that is what all of you tapped into, and I thank you so much for sharing this with us!

I truly love everything you write; all the way down to the disclaimer at the bottom of your blog page!

Mimimanderly says it all for me. Amazing graces.

Next book Squirrlets?

Julie: you amaze and inspire me. One more thing: I think it's safe to say that if I'd had a wet baby squirrel in my bodice and felt fleas jumping off him onto me, that would have become the entire focus of my story. At the end, I might have said, "And the little guy is doing great."

In the last 12 hours: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Then Bernie Sanders. Now you. This week is brightening up.

My dad had a knack for finding baby squirrels and bringing them home to nurse back to health. He always let them go in the woods beside near our house, and when he would go out on the porch and whistle or "click," they would come get some peanuts from him, climb all over him, snuggle in his neck and fall asleep. I believe his connection with them kept him going on days when his body just wanted to give up. He loved the little creatures, and they seemed to know they had a human friend in him.

This series of posts gives me the shivers and brings tears to my eyes.

I got a message that this had posted while I was in a meeting at work. I read it anyway and then, had to explain why I was crying. Thank you and thank Angel.

Great series Julie, you old softy.
Is there more to come?

So. Cute.
Good saves!

So. Cute.
Good saves!

I'm wondering what the future holds for the two squirtle brother babies. Will they find a nice home on the Zickefoose-Thompson land? Will they visit regularly for snacks and snuggles? Or will they go back to a truly wild life?
It's funny, because at times I consider squirrels, particularly when I see one squashed (frequent occurrence) on a neighborhood road. I think to myself that one's lot in life is so often determined by the simple accident of birth. You could be a squirrel in a deep wood who will live out your wild life without ever seeing or smelling blacktop. Or you could be a squirrel born in someone's backyard, your life spent dashing across streets and dodging traffic. Just a little squirrelly philosphy.

Posted by Gail Spratley April 30, 2015 at 5:19 PM

p.s. I notice you changed your "About Me". :)

Posted by Gail Spratley April 30, 2015 at 5:28 PM

Your a good woman and so is Angel!

Posted by Anonymous April 30, 2015 at 6:16 PM

What a wonderful, awe-inspiring rescue. You and Angel are truly kindness personified. Thank you.

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