Thursday, January 6, 2011

Flying squirrels and the people who attract them

A friend of mine who lives on a small lake up north reports flying squirrels have discovered the bird feeder outside his living room windows. The squirrels are nocturnal, and I can imagine them gliding in—a squad of rodent paratroopers out there in the dark—their drop zone that pool of yellow light from the windows.

We found an old magazine article full of flying squirrel lore and little known facts about them the last time they showed up. But we’ve lost it now, and anything I told you about flying squirrels would be hearsay at best.

I have spent years observing the guy who owns the feeder, though. I consider myself an authority on the kind of human behavior it takes to attract flying squirrels.

You need what this guy calls, high appreciation—to be able to observe and take pleasure in nature’s small details. The wind in a white pine this time of year, for example. Or the way a coyote sneaks across the ice on the lake in the distance.

Content yourself with the small things and you will almost certainly acquire a contemplative frame of mind. With any luck, you will find yourself living in a stand of pine, ash, oak, maple, and ironwood a few miles outside of town.

And if you tend your feeders diligently, you may discover you have flying squirrels for neighbors—and that the neighbors don’t mind dropping in for a late evening snack, bringing an entirely new set of stuff to observe and appreciate.

High appreciation and simple observation can generate new questions too. Ever since the flying squirrels showed up, we’ve been going back and forth, wondering what a group of flying squirrels ought to be called. Is it a, squadron? A circus? Lately, I’ve been calling it an, “O’Hare of flying squirrels.”

We live in complex, noisy times. Often, Life seems to drive back and forth outside the house with the subwoofers thumping all night.

And it’s when Life is at its fractious, most distracting worst that you come to appreciate little things the most. Like a fire ticking and flickering in a north woods wood burner and flying squirrels gliding down to feed in the snow.