Bushy Tailed Creatures

There is a song that, I think, was originally played on Dr. Demento called “Squirrels.” As with all songs on Dr. Demento, it is a silly song: “Squirrels, all we really are is squirrels.” And it goes on to talk about how they are soft and furry and shouldn’t be getting shot.

I bring squirrels up because I once again recently found myself in Yosemite National Park. This happened by choice. I didn’t just wake up not knowing where I was or how I got there. I remember the drive. No one kidnapped me. My middle daughter’s boyfriend’s family invited us to go with them to a Thousand Trail’s camp just outside the national park. Thus, it cost us next to nothing to make the trip. This is an important consideration given the cutbacks in my wife’s paycheck thanks to the status of California’s education budget (my wife is a third grade public schoolteacher). This combines in a less than pleasant way with the unfortunate fact that I’m currently between book contracts and the indie publishing thing—while producing more money than the books were bringing me just sitting on my hard drive—is far from bringing me enough to buy a Tesla any time soon.

I enjoy camping out in tents. My wife enjoys camping in tents. My daughters, not so much. My daughter’s boyfriend’s parents have an RV and the children prefer staying in that. Assuming no five star hotels are available. But my wife and I prefer to be in a tent.

My enjoyment of camping goes back to my years of being in Boy Scouts. Thanks to the Boy Scouts I’m very comfortable out in the middle of nowhere. In a tent—or not. In the Order of the Arrow (a special group within the Boy Scouts) I slept under the stars, with no tent at all.

My wife prefers to have at least a tent. And she wants an air mattress. I’d be happy snoozing on the bare ground, even at my age. I have no back problems and I don’t mind bare dirt. Or grass. Preferably with a minimum of ants and other insects. But now I’m on an air mattress. It’s okay, but it seems like cheating.

Which brings me back to the squirrels.

I’ve been to Yosemite a few times now and the squirrels here are odd. Most squirrels are very skittish; they flick their tails; they scamper. They avoid people which they think are big and noisy and not good for their continued existence. The squirrel I saw in the seminary’s library a few years ago (which had eaten the philodendron in my office) ran away from me quite rapidly and had no interest in discussing Kierkegaard. But the squirrels in Yosemite are not like that. Instead, they are inordinately fond of human beings. They look at Yosemite visitors the way Congressmen look at taxpayers: pockets full of goodies. And while they might not discuss Kierkegaard, they’d be more than happy to discuss your willingness to make donations to their wilderness funds.

The first time I visited Yosemite I sat down once for a few moments in the middle of a twenty mile hike. Apparently I was a bit tuckered.

I soon discovered that I was not entirely alone—not that I was hiking alone—but generally, when one sits down on a rock, one is not sitting on top of someone else, and even if one is sharing the rock, the other folk making the trek with you are generally not sticking their hands in your pockets.

In other words, people who are not Congressmen do not behave in any way like the squirrels in Yosemite. Within moments of sitting, I felt something fiddling in my pocket. I turned and looked. A squirrel looked back at me; there was some disappointment in its eyes. It had failed to find anything that it would classify as a goodie in my pocket. It then turned its attention to my backpack and started fiddling with the zippers. It was about then that I decided I was done sitting.

Everywhere I went on the trails, everywhere I went in camp, from then on I saw squirrels. Squirrels looking at me with large brown eyes. Begging. Pawing at me. It would not have shocked me to see them holding small cups or hats out to me.

This year, the squirrels were much the same. I sat down on the top of Sentinel Dome and almost immediately, there was a squirrel sizing me up. It twitched its nose in my direction. It scampered around me. It patted my knee. My wife commented, “The other squirrels have been talking. They’ve told this one all about you.”

It wouldn’t surprise me.

There’s probably a prophecy: “One day the gray-bearded man will return. His pockets will be full.” I did return, but my pockets still do not have goodies in them. Not for squirrels. Not for congress critters.

I wonder. Are congressmen just large squirrels?

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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