Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thinking about that squirrel

While everyone else is anticipating President Obama's second State of the Union Address, I'm thinking about a squirrel I recently saw race across the street.

Last week, as I was walking for exercise, I couldn't help but notice one of the neighborhood squirrels scamper across a side street like a bat out of hell. This was not a special side street, but one like many in America with kamakaze drivers chasing each other back and forth at all hours of the day and night.

Likewise, it is not unusual to see squirrels climbing up and down the trees competing for nuts, and whatever else it is that squirrels like to eat. Often, I confess, I enjoy sharing my trail mix with them. For the most part, they are a pretty laid back bunch, the squirrels in my neighborhood.

But, this particular squirrel was unlike any I'd ever seen. It was like he was on steroids or something. As I walked farther up the street, and approached a stop sign, it was clear why the little fellow was running as if he was scared to death. The carcass of one of one of his comrades had evidently been run over by a speeding vehicle, and lay splattered between potholes on the pavement. And, about a half mile in the other direction, I could see the remains of yet another flattened squirrel who clearly got in the way of oncoming traffic.

Something about the way that squirrel sped wildly across the road made me flinch and, for a moment, feel ashamed to be part of the human race.

I stood wondering what it is that makes us feel so damn special that we continue to do these drive-bys on nature, and think we can get away with it as I watched a twenty-something student take a blind curve at about 15 mph over the posted speed limit. Can we be that oblivious to the consequences of driving fast on a residential street? How can we not think about being faced with having to hit an unsuspecting pet, or worse in order to avoid a larger collision?

This is not just about squirrels, I thought, but about a world view. The same world view that leads us to buy the biggest sports utility vehicles we can find, so we can bully each other on the highway. This is the same world view that leads us to think it's okay to invade sovereign countries, topple their governments, and plunder them for their natural resources.

In the end, it is not just that squirrel that runs in fear for his life. It is the bluebirds whose hysterical chirp grows more coarse with every ounce of carbon monoxide we unload in the air. It is the depraved way we treat horses for our amusement, and the roar of the lions that have outgrown our mastery.

And, with our insistence upon dominance over each other, as well as all other forms of life, we have made petrified carcasses out of whole continents.

This evening, on the way back from Whole Foods, there was yet another poor squirrel splattered across the pavement in a driveway. He could well be the same squirrel from last week who looked like he knew he was in danger just trying to get from one side of the road to the other.

Maybe someday when we look to our own children the way we must look to that squirrel, we'll slow down just long enough to show a living creature a little respect.