Squirrel. Words & picture by Nick Small.
I’d seen his footprints in the sand at the lake’s edge before and assumed the slender toes to belong to a bank vole or rat. The lapping waves undercut the bank adjacent to our little beach, and I had guessed there to be small mammals enjoying the prime waterfront location, sifting through the flotsam, like furry little beachcombers, for titbits of food…fresh water mussels, remnants of pike lunch and sundry vegetation washed from the opposite shore. Certainly they would be in good company, as the bank also seems to provide nest sites for various little waders…you know the type, the ones that all look alike.
What I didn’t anticipate, certainly not at 6 am as I watched my float bobbing amongst the reeds, was to find myself in the company of a Red Squirrel. I heard him first (I’m guessing it’s a man squirrel on the grounds that he appears free from self-doubt). It was a barely audible scuff of shingly sand. I looked down and was astonished to find him at my feet, staring straight back up at me. I forgot about the fish completely. I was transfixed.
As a boy I used to visit a popular local park in Middlesbrough: Stewart Park. It was a regular turn on a Sunday afternoon: arrive in the car park, have a look at the highland cattle in the paddock, run about a bit, watch my Dad show off his side-step, fly a kite, go to the monkey house (a large glass house, ironically free from monkeys but with a talkative Minah Bird). There were various small animal enclosures with Golden Pheasants, chipmunks, guinea pigs and stuff. Centrally placed, and clearly a focal point with paths radiating from its orbit, was an oak tree. The bottom portion of this oak was clad in a cage. This was the Red Squirrel enclosure. It might as well have been the Snow Leopard enclosure, so slim was the chance that you might catch a glimpse of its occupant. Some naysayers would even venture to suggest that there was no Red Squirrel in that cage at all. For me then, seeing a Red Squirrel acquired some serious nature-spotter points.
So on the shore of Järvträsk, there I was being eyeballed by this little fella, seemingly as curious about my alien presence on his native turf as I was about him. He hopped around me a little, casting a glance in my direction from time to time. He wouldn’t see too many people, if any, on his daily rounds. He certainly hadn’t formed the opinion that I was in any way dangerous, as he seemed quite comfortable sharing an intimate moment with me. I was besotted and afraid to move, lest I spook him. Rather untypically, I wasn’t carrying a camera at the time, so once he had disappeared into the abundant Meadowsweet and Bog Myrtle between the beach and the forest edge, all I could do was treasure the memory.
I’ve seen the squirrel’s footprints time and again since, but our brief encounter has never been repeated, much to my disappointment. The only other time I’ve clapped eyes upon him, he was watching me from a perch some 15 feet up a pine tree. On that occasion I did have my camera, and he was good enough to adopt a first class squirrel pose for my benefit, and now yours. Wouldn’t it be great if this was a common sight in our (no longer to be privatised) woodlands?