Outside Looking In
When I was eight years old, my mother tamed a squirrel that had been living in a tree in our back yard in Tracy where I grew up.
Over the spring and summer, she patiently tried coaxing the squirrel to take a peanut from her hand.
She would kneel in the back yard, holding a peanut in her fingertips whenever the squirrel was visible. She would then get up and set the peanut in the spot she had been kneeling before going in the house.
I, along with most of my friends, thought my mother was nuttier than the peanut. The squirrel would later take the peanut once the coast was clear.
Near the end of summer, the squirrel suddenly became braver and would inch its way toward my mother's kneeling place but was always reluctant about getting too close. It moved a little closer each day until it felt no threat.
We all watched one day as the squirrel took the nut that my mother had set only a few feet away while she was still kneeling in the grass. And each day, it would draw closer and closer until it finally took the nut from her hand.
From then on, it became a daily ritual. The squirrel would only take nuts or marshmallows, though. After a week or so, it was taking food from my hand, too. My father and sister decided against feeding it by hand. When I think about it now, it probably wasn't the best idea in the world to let an 8-year-old boy feed a squirrel living in the wild.
If someone wasn't outside to feed the squirrel when it was hungry, it would jump up and cling to the screen on our back door until we came out with food. We named the squirrel "Screen".
The following spring, we found out Screen was a female because she had three babies that would follow her around but would stay clear of any people even if the mother was eating out of our hand.
The next spring, an F5 tornado ravaged our town on June 13, 1968. Although the giant oak tree that was home to Screen and her babies survived the tornado, the nest was nowhere to be found. We never saw Screen or the babies again.
This summer, I decided to duplicate my mother's feat and tame a squirrel that had a nest in a large elm tree in my front yard.
I worked at it persistently the same way she had done. I would hold the peanut in the air, then set it on the ground where I had been kneeling.
I could almost hear my young neighbor kids saying, "Look mommy, that man is kneeling praying to that tree in his front yard."
The peanuts were always gone the next day, but I never saw the squirrel take them.
Now I have all these extra peanuts in my house that I bought. Guess what those nosy neighbor kids are getting from me for Halloween this year?