Animals define us and mark the changing season

March 26, 2021

Have you ever watched a squirrel run halfway across a street, stop, turn around, run halfway back again, only to stop, turn and make one more mad dash back the other way?

And so we have a name for people who sometimes have a hard time making up their minds.

The man finding himself bouncing back and forth on the horns of a dilemma might say: “I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand ...”

Another, listening, might say: “He’s squirrely.”

Right there, in little more than a handful of words, animal features figure into two references to human characteristics. And the list goes on:

Sly like a fox.

Eyes like a hawk.

Sneaky as a snake.

Timid as a mouse.

Heart of a lion.

Stubborn as a mule.

Quick as a wink. (What’s a wink?)

Crafty as a raccoon.

Sleek as an otter.

Feathering our nests.

This all arises out of the increased animal activity that comes with spring, glorious spring.

Bird choruses rising, Delmarva’s Canada geese along with ospreys obeying the cues of St. Patrick’s Day, the bellies of does swelling toward birth after late fall’s mating season.

Along our waterways, ospreys back from the south carry sticks, strips of marsh grass and other debris to repair old nests and build new ones.

Canadas, having fattened themselves for the long flight north to their nesting grounds, sense the increasing intensity of southerly winds. On what Andy calls Flying Out Day, they all get the memo that it’s time to leave their wintering grounds and head back north to nest.

Reversing their pattern of catching northerly winds along cold fronts that bring them south in the fall, great echelons of geese – seen by keen observers – ride rising warm currents aloft to catch steady south winds a thousand feet up, and off they go. Snow geese and swans are not far behind. Here one day, gone the next.

Grayson’s tennis shows

Journalist and erstwhile fishing charter captain and mate Grayson Smith – dearly departed – sported long, curly hair and a Pancho Villa moustache. In reporter mode, Grayson donned a khaki suit as rumpled as his hair with a white shirt to match and a food-stained tie to comport with the company’s dress code.

Completing his trademark ensemble was a pair of white tennis shoes that he wore ceremonially, in honor of Princess Winterspringsummerfall. In other words, all the time.

By spring, winter’s slush, hard wear and the unique contours of his feet had shaped and discolored the white canvas of the shoes to shades more appropriate to marsh and beach. Crunched heels, holes outside the little toes.

Grayson would quote old fishing captains when proclaiming that not until we had three straight days of south winds could we confidently declare winter broken.

When consecutive Xs on Grayson’s mental calendar marked three days of southerlies, he would climb into the used, dark-blue, Crown Vic Interceptor he bought at the annual Rehoboth Beach police auction. Then he would rumble off to the shoe store, buy a shining new pair of white tennies, and carry the old ones home in the new ones’ cardboard coffin straight to the rusted metal burn barrel behind his house for his version of a pagan ritual.

What animal to use to characterize Grayson? Maybe a duck-billed platypus. Appropriate, I think, for a man who declared Church of the Latter-Day Frisbee as his religious denomination. “My soul is like a Frisbee that has landed on the roof. I’m one of those congregants standing on the ground, scratching their heads, wondering how they’re going to get it back.”

Don’t even try to figure it out. Kind of like infinity. Or try watching Disney’s “Soul.”

Back to squirrels and a practical observation.

Like a lot of people who feed and watch birds, I struggle with squirrels. Relentless.

I heard they don’t like red pepper, so one morning this week I spiced the feeder food with a healthy dose of dried cayenne powder. It looked alive with chiggers.

When I came home that evening, guess what? When a squirrel jumped out of the feeder, I saw all the food was gone.

So much for red pepper. They really appreciated me spicing up their meal.


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