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Riding on the magic carpet

The lady who gave Zebe to us called early one afternoon. She said there was a baby we needed to pick up before 7 PM. Her tone was pragmatic. I wanted to know a little more. She said it was a baby boy who still had its eyes closed, which meant it was not yet five weeks old. Someone found him and gave him orange juice, which caused him to have a horrible diarrhea. My judgmental ego ruled the act as boorish without taking into consideration that was the reason why that baby was coming to me. The baby had also seen a vet and was taking medication; the word was it was going to make it. I felt sympathetic towards the diminutive creature though a tiny voice in my brain asked: “Another boy?” As Buddha explained, it was a drunken monkey of a thought.

We made a phone call and showed up as expected. We saw the minuscule critter and it did not look pretty hence it was visibly in pain. We were to feed him with diluted cat’s milk every three hours and to give a single, tiny drop of medication every twelve hours. The lady who was talking to us had a four year old girl and a two month old boy. Suddenly, she had to tend to her baby. My other party and the lady’s husband went to another room to talk about computers. I was left alone for a while and I saw a few boxes with baby squirrels in them. With the exception of one, they were all sleeping. The one that was awake was keenly aware of my presence. I got closer and gently caressed behind its right ear. It did not move as if waiting for more. Within a few minutes, it made a full circle with its body and attempted to cover it with its thin tail while still looking at me.

I looked around and decided to pick the baby up, gently placing it on top of my heart. I felt its warmth and a fusion sensation. The baby kept the donut shape and I kept petting it. The lady returned and said: “It seems she likes you.” She? I thought. I had not looked as I did not want to undo the donut. I asked the lady if I could adopt her. She replied: “Oh, no!” I felt a strange desire to vanish and could barely hear her saying: “You see that boy over there – the one that is sleeping? They bonded and I don’t have the heart to separate them. Whoever takes her, has to take him too.” Before I had the chance to formulate a thought in my mind, I heard my lips saying: “I will take both of them.” The lady said: “In that case, she is yours!” She seemed genuinely happy for the two finding a new home.

The ride back home was uneventful. I told my other party that I did not want to talk. I was driving and had precious passengers, therefore, I did not want to be distracted. The drunken monkeys thoughts were dying to chime in but I firmly held onto the feeling of exhilaration. I was in heaven, on cloud nine. I was riding on a magic carpet. Just like Scheherazade from the Thousand and One Nights, I also had a beautiful story to tell. I could hardly wait to share the news with Zebe, I wanted to know what he thought about his new friends and specially about the girl. Zebe was a teen then and the other ones were babies but I had hopes it should all work out fine. Again, it was not time to worry, it was time to savor the joy.

Appreciating and not meddling

On January 21st, I thought: what better way to celebrate the Squirrel Appreciation Day than to go to the park and be grateful for their existence? With a small bag of shelled, mixed nuts in hand, off I went. First, I visited the place where I normally see a bunch of them. There were none. Where had those squirrels gone? I looked all around. Did they know it was Squirrel Appreciation Day and were then having a party? I did not get an invitation….  I walked all over the places I knew they hung out but it seemed I was out of luck. I gave up and when I was ready to leave, on the top of a wall, there he was! I had seen him before and he recognized me too. When I offered him an almond, he was more interested in smelling the tips of my fingers. He was still plump from his winter weight, had a fluffy fur coat and a sweet expression. If I were a female squirrel, I would definitively bat my eye lashes for him.

However, something about him seemed all too familiar to me. He did not move fast – he wouldn’t let anyone catch him but he simply wasn’t as fast as the other squirrels. His eyes were not one hundred percent lit. I have seen him before and every time,  he has always buried the walnuts, pecans and almonds I had given him. In different occasions, I saw him eating the sun flower seeds someone else brought him and a piece of an apple. Once, I saw him diving into a trash can and coming out with a French fry; he ate the whole thing!  My imagination took flight. In this day and age of amazing breakthroughs in medicine, why couldn’t we use a nanoparticle based or blood cell treatments or a synthetic polymer microencapusulation technology or some peptide to save a mammal from one of its worse enemies: heart disease. I thought I could talk to the park manager, get a trap and take my little friend to…. and then I landed on the ground again.

Back to planet earth, even if all that was possible, I would not have the financial means to provide a squirrel with that type of care. Nonetheless, financial considerations aside, the squirrel might not even survive the trapping or the necessary handling. That little happy fur ball  is used to its freedom and it would not have any other way. Besides, why do I have to “save” the squirrel? Who is to say that my little critter friend was not having exactly the experience it set out to have when it transitioned into this physical world?  Not surprisingly, as it has always been the case, the squirrels are still guiding me and again they taught me another lesson: There is no need to protect myself, anyone or anything from life. It is a manifestation, an illusion.  It is not up to me to break the cosmic harmony. Appreciation is welcome but nature doesn’t need my interference; if it did, it would provide me with an easy flow.  I left the park feeling a little more enlightened. I knew then all was well with my little fuzzy friend;  everything is as it should be.

Hippocrates

In these times of intense political passions, when reading comments on news, more than once, I found commentators accusing people with different views from them of being Hippocrates. I cannot be more or less Hippocrates but I do aspire to be more like Hippocrates. Graduating doctors take the Hippocratic Oath. In summary, it says: “First, do no harm.” As if that was not good enough, Hippocrates left another valuable piece of advice: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Well, had it been easy, there would not be a multi-billion dollar diet industry.

Why is it difficult to take heed of Hippocrates advice? When we see food, whether it is good for our bodies, our brains command us to eat. It is true for humans and beasts. It is a known fact our ancestors went through many periods of starvation. Not too infrequently, we determine the nutritional value of what we eat after we do it. Next, guilt ensues along with weight gain and, in the long run, a plethora of unwanted diseases. Then comes the health care nightmare, trips to doctors and use of medication, the latter complicating matters even more.

When I told the few people who knew about him that Zebe was sick, I was accused of creating problems where there were none. Zebe had lost a considerable amount of weight, had been in a cranky mood, was less active and his fur had not gone through a full molt for the season. I knew I had to do something. I started to ask other people who had pet squirrels. They dissuaded me from seeing a veterinary; it would cost a lot of money and might not do Zebe any good. Zebe felt uneasy in the presence of strangers; he did not need the added stress.

I told Zebe I was aware he needed help and we were going to try the Hippocrates way. Every day, I offered Zebe different foods. I said he could have one nut a day, preferably the low in fat almond. The rest would be greens, fruits and vegetables except peanuts. Zebe understood the message and he seemed receptive to at least smell what I was offering. Slowly, he built his list of favorites but to my surprise, he took a liking to eating raw penne pasta. Not knowing then that white and whole wheat were just as bad, I gave him whole wheat. Still, his health improved. He regained the weight and had a better disposition but his fur had weird patterns. I was somewhat relieved but had that question in my mind: in Zebe’s situation, what would Hippocrates do next?

The official Squirrel Appreciation Day is January 21.

A certain blonde girl

One evening, the lady who gifted us with Zebe stopped for a visit. She said she had recently rescued a baby squirrel that she might give to me. She described it as a gorgeous looking blonde girl; adorable and sweet too. I had read about the wide variety of squirrel species including albinos and blacks but I had never heard of blond squirrels. I asked the lady if that was a different kind. She explained it was just as Zebe but lighter in color. I asked if Zebe was dark and she said he looked as someone with light brown hair. Funny, I had always seen Zebe as grayish. Actually, I never knew if he was a Fox or a Gray squirrel.

Back to my visitor, I listened intently! A baby? I should be able to bond with her from early on and she would always let me pet her? However, the lady said she was not making any promises; it depended on someone else. My mistreated and somewhat lonely heart did not hear that part. The baby gave wings to my imagination. With excitement, I daydreamed with the blonde girl and how Zebe played with her. I happily allowed myself to fall in love with the little critter. After two weeks on a limbo, the lady finally said the blonde girl had been given to someone else.

My questions to her were not provided with convincing answers. We go through life experiencing different situations with similar outcomes. We console ourselves with the “it wasn’t the right thing” or “it wasn’t meant to be.” My beef with the Universe is: I can take “no” for an answer but why the tease? The lady realized how badly I had taken the news and said it would be beneficial for both the new baby – she added eventually I was going to get one – and me, that I kept an open heart. A feat not easily attainable amidst high levels of frustration.

I couldn’t help thinking that if we were the creators of our own experience, I disliked myself quite a bit. The irony of it all was that I had not been looking for trouble. Due to what I perceived as my reality then, my actions were on the cautious side. I had been quiet, almost reclusive. Yet, new pain found me in hiding. And boy, didn’t it do a number on me! Somewhere in a location unbeknown to me and unaware of her powers, laid a certain blonde, baby squirrel girl. I could do nothing but desire her a happy, healthy, long life.

Trouble in paradise

We often hear about and many times experience a loss of someone or something that was far more important than we thought. When it came to Zebe, I was well aware he was a gift from the universe and I treasured every breath that my little happy bag of fur took. I was then shocked when he became aggressive without warning. Even more puzzling, his aggression was directed only at me; he gave me half a dozen of painful bites in a very short period of time. As much as I searched, I could not find an explanation. It all started when I shook a can of shelled nuts, something I usually did when it was time to feed him.

Besides Zebe’s sudden change in behavior, a lot was going wrong. My level of awareness then was in the negative territory. I was deeply wrapped in self-pity. I had been witnessing the death of my dreams, one after another. The feeling of isolation and the sensation of the walls closing in on me were overwhelming. I resented the fact that I had to be both the pallbearer and the gravedigger of those dreams. I wondered if I was not being as attentive as I should have been to Zebe. Due to his behavior, I was scared to be left alone with him. We kept him in his cage when the other party was not around. Zebe had always enjoyed total freedom. Neither him nor I was happy but I did not know what else to do. I got really upset at the suggestion that I had to give up on him.

There were occasions when Zebe escaped his cage and I had to call the other party. One afternoon though, the other party was not within reach and I had to do without him. Zebe managed to open his cage and I thought he was going to attack me. Instead, he climbed a shelf in the living room, all the way to a pot of a fern that hung from the ceiling. I asked him what had happened, why he was being mean to me. I added I loved him and I wanted my Zebe back. He turned around on the pot. With his hands, he dug some dirt and with his hind legs, he threw that on my hair and face. I thought he was being a brat. I had no idea he was just taking a dirt bath! Squirrels love their dirt bath. I kept on my monologue and asked: “Are you sick?” Zebe stared at the white wall. I felt a horrible feeling. I vowed we would come out of that one together. From that day on, there were no more bites or aggressiveness. I couldn’t help thinking that such a reminder that the happiness Zebe brought was finite was indeed utterly unfair.

Halloween party at the neighbors

When we returned home that evening, the Halloween party at our next-door neighbors had already started; it looked animated. At home, we had dinner at an appropriately decorated table. After watching a scary movie and eating a lot of candy, we went to sleep. I woke up around 3:15 AM to some terrifying screaming followed by one loud banging from the neighbor’s door. Eight seconds later, another bang followed. I jumped out of bed; my heart was racing.

We slowly walked to the front door and cautiously opened it. Outside, it was the perfect Halloween night. It was cold and somewhat foggy. Sparse clouds floated in the very dark sky while a cirrus cloud covered the moon like a thin veil. There wasn’t anyone out; it was eerily quiet. We noticed two empty lounge chairs left by our neighbors under their window. Somehow, it started to feel spooky. We closed the door without answers or explanations. Maybe we would find out the next day. Indeed, we did get one answer.

Our neighbors said that during their party, they drank beer and vodka and smoked cigarettes and weed. After their last guest left, the three of them decided to go for one last drink outside. Suddenly, the neighbor from the building across the garden turned his lights on and opened the blinds. He started running from one side of his living room to the other; he would occasionally jump on the couch. He repeatedly turned his lights on and off. He went to the kitchen and seemed to be pushing his fridge. The next-door neighbors concluded with their collective fuzzy thinking that the neighbor across the garden was under attack – but buy who?

One of them stated: it can only be… a ghost! That’s when two of them screamed and ran inside banging the door. The third one thought that was absurd until the night got hold of his imagination and he too ran inside causing the second bang. Still, what had caused the other neighbor to act so frantically? Well, a squirrel had invaded his apartment through the open vent in the kitchen. For three consecutive nights, that neighbor heard noises but could never find what caused them. On Halloween night, he said he had had enough. After identifying the intruder, the next morning, he left his door open while having breakfast and out the door the ghost, I mean, squirrel went. Along with Halloween, October is Squirrel Awareness Month…

You are so vain

We learned there are two baby squirrel  seasons in a year. They run from the end of February to the beginning of May and from the end of September to the beginning of December. We were in the middle of the year and there were no squirrels to be adopted. We let Zebe know we were looking to get him a friend, preferably a girlfriend, as he was then a teenager in squirrel years. We already knew squirrels do not reproduce in captivity so whatever the gender, they were to be best friends. I told Zebe he needed to wish harder for a squirrel buddy. I asked him if he knew how to meditate or how to materialize wishes. I got an inquisitive stare in response.

In the meantime, we had to keep it interesting by playing different games with him. Zebe  was mighty curious; he would inspect all the bags we brought from the grocery store and he would point out to what he wanted. When talking to us, we would stand on his two hind feet and he would walk like a human. We felt almost hypnotized by him; he was so cute to look at and so much fun to be with we had to remind ourselves we needed to earn a living. We conceded we had become members of the LWSEN (Lunatics Watching Squirrels Eating Nuts). If we got another squirrel just like Zebe, we knew we would be in serious trouble. One evening, we tried to play a little trick on him.

We got one of those long mirrors and placed it on the floor, against the back legs of a chair. When Zebe saw his reflection, he started the cautious dance: he lowered his body to the carpet and stretched his tail all the way to his head. He started taking short and fast steps, some towards his image, some to the sides and some going backwards. His all fluffed up tail kept changing sides as he moved. The “dance” went on for four minutes. When Zebe got his nose close to the glass, he smelled it. He quickly moved away from it and then proceeded with the cautious dance once again but this time, he moved a little faster. When he got close to his reflected image, instead of inspecting it, he walked around the chair to check what was behind that mirror. From that day on, Zebe seemed to prefer to groom himself in front of one.

The beginning of insanity

There was a time I used to write letters on paper using a pen. Sometimes, I had to use color pencils when doing homework from art classes. If for some reason I had to stop what I was doing, I would notice that either my pen or pencil had disappeared. Wait, there it was! Zebe had it in his teeth. To get them back, I had to go through an intense chase and had to roll on the carpet under the sofa or bed. Eventually, Zebe would drop the instrument. I would then be panting while Zebe would be high up somewhere out of reach, laughing.

When we returned home after being out for a few hours, we noticed Zebe wasn’t exactly thrilled to see us. Actually, he resented us for leaving him alone. We started to take turns so there would always be one of us with him. Or, if possible, we would take Zebe with us when we needed to be out for a few hours. That proved to be a little stressful as he would escape from his cage; he liked to ride in the car looking out the window and we knew it was not safe. We did not want anyone to see him; we did not want to lose him.

I don’t remember how, we ended up with a small aquarium. What started off as three fish, ended as one blue female Gourami. Once, we left the top open after cleaning it. Zebe jumped on the edge of the tank and started to touch the water. He lost his balance and fell into it. He came out within half a second; he was a little scared and soaked but that did not discourage him from to trying to “talk” to the fish. When playing with us, Zebe would make both of us tired long before he needed a break. We wondered if Zebe needed a permanent companion, a squirrel friend.

The next time we met with the lady who gave Zebe to us, we expressed our desire to have another squirrel. After she stopped laughing, she said: “I am sure you know that if you have ONE pet squirrel, you have too many.” We knew but we were ready to do anything to keep Zebe happy so we asked her, in case she found another one that needed a home…. and that was the beginning of many years of utter insanity.

Brain power

It was almost 3 PM and I had not yet eaten; I was starving. I hit the kitchen and prepared an aromatic spaghetti Bolognese. I sat on of the sofa holding the plate. Within three seconds, Zebe jumped on the sofa’s arm and asked me: “what you’re having?” I raised the plate and moved it towards him. From a short distance, Zebe decoded my food. He jumped off the sofa onto a chair. With an expression of profound disgust, he had another question: “how can you possibly eat that?” I tried to ignore him and thought it was all in my head but his eyes kept challenging me. To his contentment, I ended up having a banana and sharing an apple with him for lunch.

Since Zebe moved in with us, we made sure to always have fresh, filtered water available. We kept at least three different varieties of fruits and nuts handy that Zebe liked. I was going to bed earlier and waking up earlier too. I was more active and life felt more structured. It was nothing short than amazing that a furry being with a bushy tail; one that weighed about a pound and a half, had such a strong, positive influence. I had been eating red meat on and off since I was a child  – I never really felt good about eating it – but that day, I decided I was off of it for good.

That incident reminded me of a joke; it is meant to insult a certain nationality but I will leave that aside. Nationality “X” man was visiting a Seaquarium when he saw a man standing in front of a tank making weird movements with his head. As he approached that tank, nationality “X” man noticed it was a Japanese man. A fish inside the tank kept replicating the man’s moves. Nationality “X” man was intrigued and asked how the man did that. The Japanese man explained: “It is really easy. We are more intelligent than the fish. With my brain waves, I am controlling the fish’s brain and the fish does what I tell it to do. You can do it too,” he added as he walked away.

Thirty minutes later, the Japanese man was passing by that same spot. He saw that nationality “X” man was still in front of the tank but he looked immobile. As he got closer, he noticed the fish that played with him before was staring at nationality “X” man, who was then replicating that fish faces.

It is not what you think

It was Saturday early evening. The owner of the female squirrel had brought my new friend to visit Zebe. They were both in the living room in their cages enjoying each other’s company. The three of us were talking and not expecting anyone. Then, we heard a somewhat hard knock on the door. We looked through the peephole and we saw two young men standing there. They were nicely dressed but they did not look familiar.

When we adopted Zebe, we thought we were doing something nice. We soon discovered that there were laws. The owner of the female squirrel tried to release her pet in her backyard but her pet kept coming back. We accidentally left the entrance door open quite a few times. There was a palm tree in front of our balcony. Other than smelling the air a little, Zebe couldn’t care less about that tree.

When talking about the laws, we felt it would be inhumane to force the squirrels to live where they did not want to live. Both had been raised by humans and apparently, they felt comfortable and happy where they were. Being thrown into the “doing what is morally right versus what is legally right” conundrum felt like a cruel joke. We knew we couldn’t talk about or show our new family members to anyone.

Back to the knock on our door, we quickly hid both cages. We opened the door and one of the young man asked: “Can I see the squirrel?” We froze! We might have had a puzzled look on our faces as the young man explained he was in the other building when he saw a squirrel in our bedroom window….  Zebe! One of us picked up the stuffed squirrel we had given Zebe as a toy and handed it to the guy. It was his turn to look puzzled. There were two other guys waiting for them downstairs and they started to make jokes. The one who had seen the squirrel said: “…it looked so real…” They soon left and we felt bad but in order to protect the squirrels we had to play the “it is not what you think” game.