In the back of our office building at work is a mesquite grove that shades a lot of gravel and a small colony of ground squirrels. The kitchen windows overlook this space, and for that, it is my favorite place in the building, and I am not alone. It’s not uncommon to walk into the room and come upon a coworker, or a few of them, watching the wildlife in the back yard. In addition to the wee ground squirrels, I’ve also seen a coyote, javelinas, and a bobcat, not to mention birds of all kinds. The fact that our office fronts one of the busiest streets in the city makes this collection of critter visitors even more surprising.
Last Friday, my attention was drawn by my fellow observers to a little ground squirrel who didn’t look like the others. Mostly, they’re a sandy brown, perfectly birthday-suited to blend in with the desert dust and gravel that allows them some protection from various raptors that call the Sonoran desert home.
But this little guy was very dark from armpits to his tail, as if someone had dunked him in charcoal. (Sure they have armpits; ground squirrels spend as much time standing straight up as they do scampering on all fours.) And his tail, instead of being lightly furred, was naked, like a rat’s.
When I finally spied him in the brush, he was being somewhat mercilessly and ostentatiously attacked by a more garden-variety ground squirrel whose fur was all on end and its back arched as it jumped on the little oddling, until regular squirrel gave up his harassment and ran away. And so the two-tone ground squirrel went about his squirrelly agenda alone, nibbling on plants and wandering the grove, never straying too far from a burrow entrance.
Often in the spring, the baby ground squirrels play together, but no one played with this unusual-looking squirrel as those of us inside speculated on both his ancestry and his health as possible reasons as to why his back-end looked so very un-ground-squirrel-like.
I felt bad for him. Or her. I don’t know. No one worries about a lone eagle, or even a lone wolf; they are meant to go out on their own. But when you see a quail, you always look for its partner, and like people, ground squirrels operate in a society of their peers. And when you live in society, your well-being is dependent upon the interdependence of all the members. Why was that other squirrel attacking the little rat-tailed one? Was it ostracized? Were they trying to run it off? Was the smaller, strange-looking squirrel actually sick, and the attack of the bigger squirrel an attempt to protect the rest of the group?
Maybe, but it didn’t look sick. Just odd. And for that, its life would necessarily be harder, and quite probably shorter.
I walked away from the window, musing on how every one of us had felt that; had been jumped on for being different in one way or another. Kind of disappointing that for all our big brains and advancement as a species, we’re no kinder to each other than a bunch of rodents destined to be lunch for other animals. And yet I hoped that it’d beat the odds, and have whatever constitutes a happy ground squirrel life. Fight the power, little squirrel. You’re all right, just as you are.