BlogU was a great experience in many ways—meeting wonderful people, learning lots of things, generally having a good time—and although I managed to embarrass myself (it was pretty much inevitable), overall it was a great experience.
Except for one thing.
I killed a squirrel.
Everyone says it’s not my fault, and I know they’re right, but Skippy’s death still weighs on me. (He was a squirrel--of course his name wasn't really Skippy. I just decided it was an OK squirrel name, and since I killed him, I owe it to him to at least give him an identity beyond just “that squirrel I killed.”)
This is what happened: I had dropped a couple of friends off at the dining hall (I don’t think I clarified that BlogU is held on a college campus with the attendees having the option to stay in the dorms; meals are served in the dining hall), and was going to get myself a bottle of water. I was driving along the road back out of campus at a measured pace—there was nothing reckless or imprudent in my speed. As I passed under a large oak tree, I heard a horrible, loud WHUMP on the roof of my rental car. I slammed on the breaks, and just as I was wondering, "...the fuck...??" what looked like a fur-covered burrito rolled down my windshield and off the hood of the car.
I threw the car in park and jumped out. There on the pavement lay Skippy. The worst thing was he was still twitching. He wasn’t dead, but in another five minutes he was going to be. That squirrel was a goner. I covered my mouth in horror and stared at him. Two other conference attendees passing on the sidewalk stopped and stared with me. They told me there were actually two squirrels up in the tree, and they’d heard them chattering, and seen them chasing each other. I started to wonder if this really was an accident. It was starting to look like maybe Humpty Dumpty was pushed, if you know what I mean.
The thing is, wildlife would do well to steer clear of me. There seems to be a trend in negative survival outcome with undomesticated creatures that fate casts into my path. Cats and dogs do fine, but squirrels and birds not so much.
The first time this happened I was about nine. We found a baby bird, and did the whole shoe box house-cotton ball bed thing. I don’t remember what we fed it, nor how long it took to get to a point where we could release it, but the day surely came. A deceptively beautiful early summer day, a day which doubtless this innocent creature in no way suspected would be his last.
I’d been told I could release him. I took the box with the bird outside and sat down on the bench on the front porch. The sky was a perfect cloudless blue, a slight breeze whispering through the trees. I spent a minute just savoring the moment. (I was kind of a weird kid. I know. Shocker.) I opened the box, and the bird hopped up to edge of the box, then down onto the bench next to me. I could practically see him take a deep breath before spreading his wings and soaring off to land in the grass of my neighbor’s front lawn.
At which point our cat lunged out from under a juniper bush and killed him, because I’d forgotten to make sure she was inside before I set the bird free.
There followed a few more birds and a baby squirrel named Davey who didn't make it, and bunch of box turtles who, to be fair, did not perish in my care and were actually saved from fairly horrible deaths to be set free in our back yard, although not before peeing all over the floor of my mother’s car. I don’t get it—every damned one. We’d pull over, pluck the thing from almost certain annihilation under the wheel of some other car, and put it on the floor of the passenger side, where it would show its gratitude by instantly peeing all over the floorboard in terror. Or something. Assholes. Fortunately we didn’t have carpet floor mats.
Since this whole thing makes me sound like a really horrible wildlife ambassador and possibly some distant cousin of Josef Mengele, I’ll leave you with a happy story about me and an animal I rescued.
One evening when I was about 24, I was watching TV with my dad. We heard a sort of scratching noise at the metal screen door of the house. My dad was passing the front door when we heard it, so he opened it and almost immediately slammed it shut again.
“It’s a skunk!” he insisted.
Not beyond the realm of possibility, because at one point there was a skunk living under our front porch, but there was something wrong with the idea of a skunk scratching at the door. I opened the door slowly and looked out. What I saw on the porch was not a skunk, but a ferret. At the time I worked for a veterinarian, so I had some familiarity with them. I brought it in the house, gave it some of the cat’s food, and let it spend the night in the garage with a litter pan. We put up signs, but after two days there was no response to them. I didn’t want a ferret (they’re a weasel—they have a funny musky scent to them) so I took it to the vet’s office and one of the staffers adopted it.
So there, you see? I didn’t kill every wild thing that was placed in my hands by the universe.
Except now that I think about it, ferrets are considered domesticated animals. Poop.