For the Birds Radio Program: Sammy the Squirrel

Original Air Date: Nov. 11, 1996

What happened to the baby squirrel Laura was raising this fall? (3:58) (Date Verified)

Audio missing


This summer I raised a baby squirrel whose nest tree had been chopped down. Sammy was one of those late summer baby squirrels—the ones mother squirrels bear simply to appease the hawk gods so they and their more precious spring babies can improve their chances of surviving migration. Sammy was the runt of his litter—still sort of a larval squirrel, his eyes sealed shut and no trace of fur when he arrived—and I didn’t think he was going to make it. But I’m blessed—or cursed, depending on how you look at it—with high estrogen levels, and even a larval squirrel can arouse my maternal instincts. So every day for a month I dragged my weary bones out of bed at two in the morning to feed him, and tended him almost hourly from five every morning until ten or eleven every night, even bringing him when I counted raptors at Hawk Ridge. When Sammy’s eyes opened, I was the first thing he focused on. When I drove nine hours to Milwaukee to do a naturalists’ workshop, he was at my side, enjoying every rest stop as a place to eat and play. When I drove to Ely to teach an Elderhostel class, Sammy came with. Oscar Hammerstein’s song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” could well have been about Sammy and me.

Sammy’s moved clumsily at first, but steadily developed agility and speed. His tail started out a scrawny, mousy spike, but one day it unfurled, and voila! Sammy was a real squirrel. Being his adopted mommy, 1 celebrated these changes. As he grew in size and strength, I grew in confidence that he would survive. Eventually he, and I, could sleep through the night without a feeding. His developing skills made him more fun to play with.

Buddhist monks also celebrate growth, knowing that change is the way of the world. And Buddhists know that attempts to grasp and hold onto earthly possessions and loves are ultimately doomed to failure because of the nature of change. When a loved one inevitably goes away or dies, sadness follows. A Buddhist monk meditates to transcend earthly attachments, his inner peace deriving from the ability to look down upon the ever-changing world with detachment.

If a Buddhist monk raised a baby bird or squirrel, he would surely celebrate the baby’s growing skills, and celebrate the inevitable day when Sammy decided it was time to break his attachment to humans. He still comes by and looks down at me from the box elder branches with apparent recognition, but he no longer needs, or wants, to snuggle against me. He has mastered the art of the Buddhist monk, rising above dependence and attachment. Me, I’m neither a squirrel nor a Buddhist. Even as I rejoice to know Sammy is free and safe, I grieve for the empty space he’s left in my life, and in my heart.

Robert Frost was no Buddhist monk, either. In his poem, “Reluctance,” he wrote:

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?