Quite often when I’m browsing through my Facebook news feed I see various pictures of squirrels frozen in adorable poses (I’m assuming others must think they are adorable – I don’t) with text overlays that imply the squirrel is a sentient being capable of, say, dramatically dancing and singing the lyrics to “I Will Survive.”
You’re probably looking at this picture and laughing and thinking that this squirrel is so cute and you wish squirrels could be pets and other nonsense. When I see pictures like this, I shudder and keep scrolling to escape the gaze of that beady little black eye. Many have asked me why I am so distrustful of these furry rodents, so I’ve decided to explain the reasons behind my hate affair with squirrel.
It all began during my freshman year at DU, when I was making my way back to the freshman dorms via a tunnel walkway between the soccer field and lacrosse field. I was the only person in the tunnel that afternoon, so unfortunately there is no one else to corroborate the story of my horrific encounter. I was just about halfway through the tunnel when I heard a strange noise: a cross between the high-pitched whining of remote control helicopter rotors and the violent “CH-CH-CH” of a rotating sprinkler head, with some scratching thrown in for good measure. I spun around anxiously, seeking the source of the noise, which I finally located as coming from directly above me. There, jumping up and down on the top of the chain link fence separating the tunnel from the soccer field, was a very angry squirrel.
I could tell it was angry because its tail was completely rigid, its fur stood out in every direction, and it jumped stiff-legged along the top of the fence instead of calmly putting one paw in front of the other. Through all of this, it continued chattering and screeching while making DIRECT EYE CONTACT with me. My heart began to pound and I backed away towards the opposite tunnel wall, inching my way away from the little devil and towards safety, but I was unable to turn my gaze away. The squirrel sensed my terror and began to follow me, jumping sideways along the fence and gradually emitting louder and more frenzied noises. All of a sudden it froze and crouched down – limbs tense, tail trembling – and my throat tightened as I realized it was poised to jump. I had no doubt that it possessed the strength and energy to clear the distance between us, so I fell back on my survival instincts: I turned and ran. To this day, I have no idea what I did to threaten this squirrel’s territory.
Since then, the encounters have unfortunately increased in frequency, while also decreasing in distance between the squirrels and me. On five separate occasions, squirrels have darted kamikaze-style in front of my bike as I’m riding through campus, causing me to swerve frantically to avoid it and then swerve back to keep from crashing into one of our many lily-pad-filled Koi ponds; I then spend the rest of my ride gagging at the thought of the mess that would have been left on my bike tire had the squirrel succeeded in its suicide mission. Squirrels also have a way of sneaking up on me when I least expect it. I’ll be walking along a brick pathway, admiring the trees and breathing in the fresh air, when there is suddenly an explosion of noise next to me that sends a huge rush of fight-or-flight hormones surging through my system. Without fail, the source of the noise is always squirrels: two squirrels chasing each other across the path for no reason…one squirrel jumping out of a trash can and running away from nothing, in circles, at top speed…two squirrels leaping out of the bushes and clawing their way up a tree before scurrying back down and into the same bushes they just exited…
Along with giving me my daily dose of adrenaline, these encounters have allowed me to view these creatures up close, further reinforcing my repulsion. Their tails may look cute and furry and soft from a distance, but move closer and you will see that hiding beneath the fur, the actual tail is strangely thin and glistens in its inky blackness; in fact, if it weren’t for the fur, it would look alarmingly like a shiny black snake. Then there are those eyes… They are solid black orbs, lacking visible irises or pupils, and while they may have eyelids, I have never seen a squirrel blink.
It may sound like I’m pretty set in my beliefs about squirrels, but if I’m being honest, there was one encounter that almost made my change my mind about the creatures. Almost.
This time it was the end of my sophomore year, on a gorgeous spring day. I was in a fantastic mood, one of those moods that has you soaking in nature and really appreciating things like individual blades of grass and cloud shapes and tree scents (I can’t smell, but I’ve heard trees smell great). I was walking towards one of said trees with plans to sit on the ground beneath its branches, when I noticed a squirrel had already beaten me to the spot. Having a wealth of negative experiences with squirrels already under my belt, I stopped in my tracks and waited to see if the squirrel was as bad as all the others.
Something seemed different about this one: it stood there calmly, nose wriggling, head cocking towards me, but making no sudden movements or noises. I was in such a good mood that I decided to move closer. Rather than scurrying away, the squirrel sat back on its haunches and clasped its hands patiently, watching me. When I got to be several feet away, I crouched down to reach its eye-level. I admired its tiny, dexterous paws; I watched it how its whiskers moved with its quick breathing; I observed its twitching ears and flicking tail. I felt like the next Audubon or Thoreau, and I began to smile. In that moment, the squirrel decided I was too close. It bolted towards me and I fell backwards into the grass, scrambling to my feet to escape its unheralded fury. The illusion had been shattered. I ran all the way back to my dorm.
So you see, my fear of squirrels is perfectly rational. I’ve been shuddering as I write this, and I continue to shudder imagining what the creatures will do next; I can’t shake the feeling that they have something terrible in store for me…