I took it as a sign from God, ’cause sometimes I’m just weird like that. Standing there in my backyard at the old house, talking to Dom, I happened to glance down and saw what immediately struck me as a fetus. Small, pink, squirmy, with a big head and obviously large, closed eyes. And then, thankfully, a tail.
“What in the hell is THAT?” I asked Dom.
“I don’t know. Leave it there.”
“I don’t think I can…”
“You’re not serious…” [resigned sigh]
I grabbed a hand towel and scooped the squirmy fleshy thing up to examine him. (He was quite obviously male.) We determined that he was a squirrel, and we proceeded to look for a nest in the tree limbs that hung overhead. No dice.
I would later discover that the squirrel was probably about 24 hours old at that point, He had suffered some ant bites and had welts on his tiny body. His eyes and ears had not opened yet. He had good toenails on long toes already. Aaron said he looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. I had to agree.
Victoria and I decided to name him Isaac, after the Tropical Storm/Hurricane that had blazed through Louisiana in the previous week. We lined a small box with the hand towel and placed a bottle of hot water inside the towel to keep him warm. Ever supportive of my whims, Dom drove me to the pet store where I spent $7 on a pet nursing bottle and a small box of puppy milk. The staff inside the pet store cooed and smiled at Isaac, but remained unwilling to take him off my hands.
That was Sunday of Labor Day weekend. I spent that evening and all of Labor Day talking with people who had raised baby squirrels. The advice was as varied as the people I spoke to. I just wanted Isaac to live long enough to open his eyes, grow some fur, look like a “real” squirrel and be able to run so that I could release him into the woods around our new house. I admit that I envisioned Isaac visiting us on the back patio a year from now, recognizing our scent and squeaking his thanks for our care. We would know it was Isaac, of course. We would just know.
Not everyone bought into my “sign from God” theory on Isaac. Our parents all thought I was out of my tree. Isaac was not welcome in Bossier where we are temporarily living with my parents. My father-in-law grumbled every time I mentioned the word “squirrel.” I can only imagine what Mabel would have thought if she had known of his existence. Co-workers curiously examined the bed-box that sat on my desk all day. I thought Isaac and I both would be thrown back into the parking lot by our Facilities Director. As I sputtered shaky defenses (“But we’re PRO-LIFE!” and “What would St. Francis say?!!”) he responded by shaking his head and rolling his eyes as he half-promised that he wouldn’t evict us… today. (Once again…me…men…exasperated sighs and eye rolls…we’re a package deal.)
Over the course of the early week, I cared for Isaac during the day, administering feedings every two to three hours, and then would stay as late in Shreveport as possible before tucking Isaac in at the old house, where we would have to leave him until early the next morning when we would return to pick him up before school. We half expected him to be deceased each morning, and Victoria and I prepared ourselves during the half-hour drive for all possibilities. We decided together that if Isaac lived, it was our job to help him. And if he did not survive, then it was our job to be grateful for the time we had with him and for the lessons we had learned about caring for a helpless creature.
Convinced that Isaac deserved better care than I could give him, I visited local veterinarian offices hoping to find him a new home. My vet’s office had no advice for me, but another client in the waiting room gave me a lady’s phone number who was known to raise orphaned squirrels. I called the number, but it had been disconnected. The next vet’s receptionist said a fellow co-worker really wanted a baby squirrel for a pet, but she was in Vegas and not answering her phone. I left my number and said if the co-worker didn’t call me by day’s end, I was going to find Isaac another home. In keeping with my streak of luck, Squirrel Mama Wannabe never called.
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed in my mission as surrogate parent to Isaac. He wasn’t eating all that well for me, at least in my opinion. But I was growing attached to him. When I returned to the office on Wednesday after lunch, I was emotionally taxed from the stress of not feeling like I was doing enough for Isaac. It was right then that I noticed something on the floor under my desk…a small, round something that surely needed to be tossed into the trash can. When I reached for it and identified it, I froze. There in my hand – out of the blue – was a teeny, tiny acorn. Just the perfect accompaniment to my teeny, tiny squirrel. Since I look for symbolism in all situations, I felt like this was God reminding me that he provides for everything. Everything for the tiny squirrel, everything for me. How could I ever doubt that everything will work out just as it is supposed to??
I decided to Google the symbolism of squirrels. Apparently, it’s not a good thing if you dream about squirrels, but thankfully Isaac was no dream. In life the squirrel represents karma, preparedness and adaptability. Pretty fitting and a good reminder, if you ask me.
On Thursday as I tried to feed Isaac lunch he squirmed and squeaked. I searched the Internet for advice on how to get him to eat easier. The pet nurser never worked, and the medicine dropper was successful only in small spurts. The first site I came to filled me with fear that I was doing it all wrong and probably making him suffer. I decided then that I had to find a place where Isaac could thrive. And I had to find it before the weekend. Three phone calls later I was leaving a message with the Cypress Zoo, whose voice mail greeting assured me that they take in “all injured and orphaned wildlife” and ended by wishing me “a wild day!” The zoo called me back within five minutes, and half an hour later Isaac and I were traveling north to Cypress Black Bayou Recreation Area. We found a small red building where an employee willingly took Isaac from his box.
“Oh, wow, he IS just a baby!” she said as she scooped him up. “What time did he eat last?”
“11:00,” I replied. “But he didn’t eat very much. I’m not sure I was doing it right.”
“He looks very healthy. You’ve done a fine job!”
I thought of all his healed ant bites and the fading bruise on his leg and felt an odd pang of separation anxiety coming on. Great! I’m not gonna cry, am I? I found myself wanting to hug him goodbye. Would that be too weird? Considering that Isaac could nap in the hollow of my hand, I would definitely look goofy nuzzling him in public. So I refrained.
While I put my contact information on a form, The Zoo Lady opened up a small cage and pulled open a towel revealing another baby squirrel asleep on a heating pad. This squirrel was twice Isaac’s size and much darker, probably with more fur/fuzz. Zoo Lady set Isaac next to the other squirrel and explained that they would comfort each other and snuggle. She covered them both up with the towel and closed the cage door.
With that, my mission was over.
Admittedly, I feel a little sad that I won’t see Isaac again. But I am grateful for having known him. I am grateful that there is a place where he can safely grow and thrive. And I am grateful that the Man Upstairs trusted me with getting him there.