At the college where I worked in Boston, our second floor office had glass doors which opened onto the metal balcony/fire escape. In warm weather we'd often leave them open for fresh air, and would stand on the balcony during breaks enjoying the view of trees and brownstones. One day in 1991 as I stood out there, a grey squirrel leapt onto my thigh and clung there momentarily. I shook him off but he followed me back into the office where a clever coworker used a trail of pastry to get him back outside again.
The coworker was a great young woman from Italy with enormous integrity and one of the few people I'd socialize with outside of work, going out for small group dinners which continued as members of the group moved on to other employers. Occasionally I'd wish we were closer in age.
Many moves and jobs later, early on the morning of July 1, 2006, I walked outside and heard a clanking sound. Turning toward the noise, I saw a squirrel dragging a trap across the sidewalk as he ran under a car parked on the street and jumped up onto the rear axle. I grabbed a broom, towel, gloves, and box and tried to encourage him out in the open but he wouldn't budge. Although I could reach part of the trap, I didn't want to cause him more pain by using it to pull him out, or risk getting the trap hopelessly tangled with the car.
I called a wildlife rehabber who lived nearby and she quickly arrived. We made our plan to free the squirrel, then grab him to see what treatment was necessary. As I held onto the chain immobilizing the squirrel, she was able to scoot under the car, reach the trap and pry its jaws apart. As soon as he was free, the squirrel wanted nothing to do with our plan and quickly raced up the brick wall of my three story apartment building with his useless leg flopping behind him. We were disappointed that we hadn't caught him and expected that between his handicap and the possibility of infection he probably wouldn't live long. However, I was happy that he would at least die free without having to drag pounds of metal around after him.
This afternoon I looked outside and saw that squirrel, his leg now gone, eating from a loaf of French bread a neighbor had put out for the wildlife. I whooped in delight and quickly broke up a few slices of seedy whole grains bread and tossed them out. The squirrel, who had climbed a tree when I opened the window, quickly descended, his stump jerking as he moved or when it bumped the ground, and ate a few pieces of my bread before returning to the crusty loaf. This was the best thing that happened to me today, and I knew that we'd done a good deed on that morning almost two years ago.
Yesterday, I received an email telling me that Boston coworker has stage IV Hodgkins lymphoma, and among many other things, I thought of the squirrel on my thigh.
Tim Bob: Scientific Reticence
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