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The Squirrel Whisperer

In the grand scheme of life, does one tiny creature really matter? One woman’s answer: Yes

I’m not afraid of heights. But one hot August morning, I knew that even the tallest ladder couldn’t reach the tiny orphan that huddled high within the huge live oak that shades our front yard. Frustrated, I murmured a quick prayer as I circled the tree, trying to figure out what to do. From the dire look of things, only a miracle could save that baby. And quite honestly, I doubted that would happen.

Just the day before, I’d heard an unfamiliar, high-pitched shriek coming from somewhere up in the old oak. A rat snake must have gotten a baby bird, I thought sadly. That evening, as my husband, James, and I strolled across the yard, I described what I’d heard earlier in the day. Suddenly, the same screech sounded. This time, though, it came from a different oak.

Anxiously, James and I hurried over to the tree and scanned the outer branches. Way above us, clinging to a clump of ball moss, we spotted the tiniest Eastern fox squirrel I’d ever seen. Still screeching, the baby awkwardly clambered farther down the branch. Now and then, it’d lose its footing. “It’s going to fall!” I exclaimed.

Meanwhile, another scream sounded from the old oak. Sure enough, two more babies clumsily climbed among the high branches. Where was the mother squirrel? Should we try and rescue them? But how? I was clueless.

“Let’s let nature take its course,” I suggested reluctantly. James nodded. After all, they were just squirrels. Goodness knew we had enough of those. Nonetheless, we kept watch from lawn chairs set on the front porch. Minutes later, a movement off in the grass caught my eye. I stood up for a better view.

“It’s a baby, James! It did fall!” I rushed inside the house for a towel while James kept vigil. Back outside, I carefully wrapped the baby snugly within the towel’s soft folds. “Look, another one fell,” James said, pointing to a second squirrel on the ground. Gently, we tucked it inside the towel, too.

“I wasn’t going to tell you, but …” James looked at me, sheepishly. “Their mother must have been run over. Because earlier this week, I did see a dead squirrel in the street.” That explained why the trio had left their nest.

We took the two orphans to Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, a nonprofit facility near Kendalia, not too far away. “Yes, it’s a good thing you brought them because they’re not weaned yet,” the young volunteer told us after examining the pair. “Girls,” she added, smiling. “Both of them.”

So we’d rescued two. But a third baby—alone, hungry and vulnerable to predators—remained high in the oak. I worried all night.

The next morning, I hurried outside and scanned the oak limbs. I listened, too. No baby squirrel. Where was it? Had it survived the night? Every half hour or so, I peeked at the oak through our bedroom blinds. I’d also go back outside and check. Still no sign. Until …

“I see it, I see it!” I squealed as I flew down the hallway and out our front door. Finally, I’d spotted a tiny silhouette, huddled atop a large horizontal limb. It was still alive! But now what? As I circled the tree’s base, I craned back my neck and looked straight up some 30 feet to where the baby perched. You can’t reach that squirrel, Sheryl! Forget it.

But I couldn’t forget it. “C’mon, baby!” I cooed. It eyed me curiously but didn’t move. “C’mon down!” Over and over again, I called as I circled the tree, always keeping the squirrel within view.

To my dismay, it just climbed higher on wobbly legs. Thinking it might fall, I cupped my hands, ready—but uncertain—whether I could even catch it. Somehow, though, the little thing hung on. What’s the point? It’s just a squirrel. Give up, Sheryl.

But I just couldn’t. Then it turned and began to inch its way gingerly down the oak! “C’mon, baby, c’mon,” I coaxed as I stretched my hands toward it and patted the rough bark reassuringly. Halfway down, though, it stopped and peered at me from a thick V in the tree’s trunk.

Maybe a ladder would reach now? But before I left to fetch one, I decided to try once more. “C’mon, baby! Oh, please, come down,” I called quietly. To my surprise, it started toward me! Slowly, headfirst, that tiny squirrel edged down the oak to where I stood on tiptoes, leaning against the tree, still patting the bark. “C’mon, baby! C’mon!”

Stunned and awed, I waited as it continued downward. Would it really come to me? Tears pricked my eyes. With all my might, I stretched my fingertips a tad higher, just enough to touch its itty-bitty black nose and wispy whiskers. Its round brown eyes stared at me.

“It’s OK, baby,” I whispered. I stepped higher on the oak’s base and quickly clasped my hand around its frail, furry body. It struggled some, but I hung on tight. In a few seconds, I nuzzled the squirrel baby against my neck. Inside a plastic box, I placed it in the same towel that had covered its sisters.

Back at the rehab center, a volunteer—who said our brave survivor was a boy—said, no, it’s not unusual for orphaned squirrels to seek humans. Maybe so. But this I know: I saw trust in the eyes of a tiny creature that I thought didn’t matter, and that was a miracle to me.

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, frequent contributor