By Julie Buntjer for Area Voices

There never seemed to be a lot of squirrels around the family farm when I was growing up. I think they all knew the place was home to three boys who were always on the lookout for target practice. If it wasn’t the guys controlling the squirrel population, there was always a dog or two to chase them up a tree.

There is no shortage of squirrels in town, however. They can be found in all directions from my home, whether doing acrobatic acts from one limb to another in the backyard, chasing each other around the base of a tree along the boulevard, or sitting in my front lawn with their cheeks puffed out as they eat something they dug from underneath the crusted snow.

Squirrels. I used to think they were so cute — until one day when a friend said to me, “You do realize they’re a member of the rat family, don’t you?”

They just haven’t had the same appeal ever since. Now when I look at them I can see the rat-like nose, the rat-like ears, the rat-like feet. Their saving grace is that big, fluffy tail.

Back when I lived in Wabasso, I’d often sit on the front steps in the late summer, watching the squirrels as they gathered up the walnuts that fell from the three towering walnut trees in my yard. They’d peel off the thick green covering, the juices turning their pretty brown fur to a much darker shade, almost black, around their mouth.

I constantly found walnuts and walnut shells in my flower patch in the spring.

Now, as a Worthington resident, I’ll occasionally find a buried walnut in the flower bed and wonder where it came from. Those squirrels do their share of traveling.

This I know because I’m one of those crazy drivers who brakes for squirrels in the street. I should probably have a bumper sticker that cautions “I brake for squirrels,” but then, I’d also need one for the striped gophers, the deer, the rabbits, the skunks, the turkey vultures, the racoons, the cats and nearly every other critter that tries to play chicken with me on the road.

I will not brake for snakes. I just want to make that perfectly clear.

The squirrels, though, they’re kind of tricky. They’ll run out into the street, watch my car as it gets close and then they will dart one way before getting the sudden urge to come right back into my lane of travel.

I don’t know how they do it, but they always manage to miss my tires. I have yet to see a squished squirrel with its tail waving at me through my rearview mirror after such encounters.

I’ve come to believe these squirrels just like to play chicken with us — to see who flinches first.

I’m certainly not opposed to population control for our city’s squirrels, but death by car tire seems so cruel.

I just don’t want to hear that thud under my tire on the way to work some morning and have to think all day long about how I killed a squirrel on my morning commute.


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