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Have the squirrels gone nuts?

October 11, 2018

Between Sills and Searles, there exists an exceedingly large population of squirrels. They hang on tree branches and scurry in bushes, but largely, they romp around freely in the open grass. While the squirrels most frequently travel alone, they occasionally appear en masse and sometimes are seen in hot pursuit of other fellow squirrels. I can only imagine the fierce territory-or-property-driven quarrels and steamy squirrel romances that cause such an extreme form of racing. All may be fair in squirrel anarchy, including retribution.

The territorial reign of squirrels does not end at the boundaries of the quad. No, the squirrels are everywhere: they follow me to the track, through the Commons and into town. Nowhere is safe from the fluffy nut cases. Luckily, however, our species seem to largely coexist peaceably, as the squirrels tend to ignore the humans, and we tend to ignore the squirrels. Or perhaps terror by size difference has kept the squirrels at bay. Difficult to tell.

Recently, however, the distance between squirrels and humans—or, at the very least, between squirrels and me—has pointedly decreased. Specifically, I keep encountering them directly in front of me, usually when I’m moving quickly—running, biking or penny boarding. At first, I just shook my head at the blatant disregard for safety, but then it happened again. And again. What is up with these squirrels? How did one get an entire muffin up a tree by Adams?

I have had three close incidents in the Appleton-Moulton area on my bicycle and many more across campus that were less memorable. Each time, I was riding my bike or board (perhaps a little too quickly) and then, whoosh! A single squirrel darts across the ground a few feet in front of me. So far, between my instinct to brake or stop and the agility of the squirrel, no one has gotten hurt. Perhaps some of these incidents are like those in action movies when the leading car speeds over railroad tracks just in time to force the chasing car to stop, else feel the indifferent wrath of train; but I have never seen a tailing squirrel, and most of these incidents occur in the day and in open spaces.

Once, while I was running through the Commons, I saw something dark fall in front of my face and then promptly felt something considerably larger and heavier than a leaf or twig land on my shoe. What I initially thought was some stray piece of bark was in fact a squirrel who had jumped some considerable height to chance injury or death with my foot. This was actually pretty terrifying on my end, though I can only imagine the confidence and daring or extreme terror that squirrel must have experienced to go through with the jump.

Have the squirrels become suicidal? My experience and understanding of biology says no, but surely such coincidences merit some further investigation; “nobody’s perfect” and “everybody has those days” probably applies to squirrels too, but this is getting extreme and probably statistically unlikely. Shouldn’t such risky behavior have been weeded out in squirrels long ago?

As I have pondered the motivations of squirrels, it has occurred to me that these might be the acts of a single squirrel who has some vendetta against me or a death wish. I don’t think this is especially likely, but as I really can’t tell squirrels apart unless they’re right next to each other (and even then, I’m probably not so good). I can’t discount this theory entirely.

In any case, whether it be just one of you or your entire population, please be careful, squirrels, and consider taking a brief detour or simply waiting a few seconds for me and others to pass by you.

Sara Nichols is a member of the Class of 2019.

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