I’ve never doubted that squirrels are highly intelligent, especially when compared to people. Every day squirrels routinely outsmart people who are dumb enough to believe they are smart enough to match wits with these extraordinary creatures. You know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to keep a squirrel out of a bird feeder or flower planter – or any place that the squirrel imagines might contain something edible. Squirrels have been known to outdo some pretty ingenious, smart-thinking people. Nearly everyone who has had dealings with squirrels remembers some incident or event that stands out from the rest and makes some unforgettable point about them. This tale is about a particular squirrel, and I believe he takes the cake as the wittiest, most intelligent one I’ve had the pleasure to know. You might say that he knows how to walk the walk; maybe he can even talk the talk. I was afraid at first to write down my episode because I thought I would be accused of being crazy. But that thought didn’t bother me for long, and here’s what happened.
It started with Hurricane Floyd, which during a few day in September, dumped an enormous amount of rain on southeast Virginia where I live. A fair amount of that water found its way – through a leak in the roof of my townhouse – into the attic above the bedroom where I normally sleep. The water saturated and water-logged a portion of insulation, causing a section of sheet rock to fall from the ceiling into the bedroom. Squirrels had used my townhouse attic for the last few years as a place to conceive and raise their families. And with a section of floor missing from their home, I was not surprised when I got up one morning to find a squirrel in my bedroom. I later gave this squirrel the name, Lefty, for reasons which you will come to understand. Lefty was nervous and his fidgeting rippled the drapes behind which he had taken cover. The movement caught my eye, giving away his hiding place. I carefully opened a section of the sliding patio door and quietly tiptoed backward toward the other door which was located on the opposite side of the room. My object was to convince Lefty to leave the room through the open patio door; this I had to do while preventing him from making his exit through the other door, which would give him access to the remainder of the house. That was my strategy, but I needed a tactical plan.
First, I had to get Lefty into the open. This I accomplished by lobbing my wallet, which was the only object handy, in the direction of Lefty’s hiding place. The wallet landed within a few inches of him and got his attention; he bolted from behind the drapes and pounced on the wallet. He grasped the wallet in his front paws like a sandwich and took a bite. I discovered later that he had punctured the few one-dollar bills inside, mostly right through the left eye of George Washington. Lefty stuck out his tongue to show his distaste for the artificial leather and the currency, then opened the wallet and thumbed through the bills. He showed his disgust for the few small bills inside by casting the wallet aside. He turned his attention to me, remaining upright on his hind legs. At that point, I found a large peanut in my pajama top which had been left there the night before when I was watching a late movie. With the discovery of the peanut, I could finalize my tactical plan. I would toss the peanut over Lefty’s head – through the open patio door – and onto the sun deck, where I anticipated he would run to get the prize. I took the peanut from the pajama pocket, held it over my head for Lefty to get a good look, then shuffled it back and forth between my hands a few times. Just as I expected, his eyes lit up and he followed the movement of the peanut with incremental rotations of his head, keeping is body very rigid and still. I cocked my arm and made my throw, but a weak arm in combination with a misjudgment of the distance produced a low arcing trajectory. Lefty timed it perfectly and stretched his body and legs to full extension to intercept the pass in mid air.
Lefty put the peanut in his mouth and took a moment to get it positioned firmly. He turned to face me and went down on his all fours, and I could see the fire of determination in his eyes. He meant to carry the peanut by me and through the door behind me. He shook his tail a couple of times, wrinkled his nose, head faked to his left, and darted to his right. As I turned to protect my left flank, Lefty stopped suddenly, reversed his direction and darted back to his left. When he reached the spot where he’d made the interception, he stopped and wheeled around to face me again. I anticipated that Lefty would run to his right again, but instead he gave a head fake to his left and scampered straight between my legs. Out through the door and into the hallway he galloped with his tail high in the air. When he reached a spot about three feet beyond the door, he stopped, stood up, and extended his arms – straight up and parallel, over his head. The signal was unmistakable. Lefty took the peanut from his mouth with his left hand, raised it above his head, and slammed it to the artificial turf. He then turned toward me and began a slow rotational motion of his hips, sort of like a hula dancer, at the same time bobbing his head up and down in exact rhythm with that motion. There was no hint of taunting in his behavior; he was simply celebrating a mental and athletic feat. He stopped his gyrations after about ten seconds and proceeded to bow gracefully at the waist – to the fans in each quadrant of the stadium – sort of like John Riggins. Finally, he saluted me, went down on his all fours and scampered through my legs and out onto the patio, where he bounced up on the railing. Lefty then did something that you don’t see done much at football games. He began to eat the game ball.
I see Lefty around my place from time to time, but he’s always wary and keeps his distance. He never lets on that he recalls that episode in my bedroom. He wouldn’t even let me get close enough to take a good photo for this story. I toss a peanut Lefty’s way once in awhile, and he simply retrieves it and either climbs up on a tree branch to eat it or scurries off to hide it for later. And sometimes, before I toss a peanut, I find myself rolling it around in my hand – trying to locate and feel the stitches.