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The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Posted Sunday, September 7, 2008, at 8:56 PM

One day in the cold spring of 2000, one of the grounds keepers at SEMO came to the door of my daughter's biology class with three tiny grey squirrel babies, who had been orphaned when their tree was cut down. They were tiny and hairless, and their eyes weren't open yet.

Since Kristin had raised a couple of rabbits before, she persuaded her professor to let her take one of the squirrels back to her dorm room to raise.

We named her Squirrel Nutkin, after a Beatrix Potter story. Kristin kept her in a box with a heating pad in her room at Dearmont. When Nutkin was tiny, she had to be fed every two hours, so Kristin took her to class in a gerbil cage with a hot water bottle in the bottom, and I gave her a laundry bag, which the cage fit into. Several of her professors would let her feed the little squirrel after class.

It seemed as if it took forever for the tiny grey squirrel to open her eyes, but one day she appeared on top of the box and promptly jumped up on Kristin's desk, falling into a fish bowl. After that, she stayed at least part of the time in a metal gerbil cage and only got out when Kristin could watch her.

She was the most fascinating little animal we had ever seen, and everyone else who saw her felt the same way. People would say, "I didn't realize their FEET looked like that!"

When Kristin got an internship at Duck Creek, she left the squirrel with me, so I took her to school for the ACT class I had to teach at the end of the school year. I would let her out to roam the room when the kids weren't there, and she would jump and swing from chair back to chair back. (I had those old-fashioned wooden chairs)

When the kids were there, I would let her out occasionally, and she loved to run round and round on their shoulders. She also liked to run up our legs as if we were trees - and that caused some consternation when she ran up Tyler Cookson's leg - right into his baggy basketball shorts!

She liked to sit on our shoulders and nibble our earrings. And when I typed at the computer, she just went wild, trying to nibble at my fingers!

One hot day, I needed something from Lowe's, so Kristin had to stop there on the way home, and she didn't want to leave Nutkin in the car, so she just put her on her shoulder. It caused a good deal of consternation as she went through the checkout. That was when Nutkin was younger; as she got older, she became more daring, and we never knew when she would jump off our shoulders and get into big trouble!

When she came to live in my house, I let her have one of the spare bedrooms, ironically nicknamed "the rat room," because my kids used to keep gerbils who ran in their exercise wheels all night. Nutkin lived up on the top of the curtains, and one night we couldn't find her. We tore the room apart, looking everywhere. No squirrel. I went to bed, worrying about it, only to be awakened by my daughter, who said, "Mom, I found Nutkin." When I went in, there she was up inside one of my son's ball caps, which was hanging from a chain suspended from the ceiling!

I'll change the photo on this page, so if you check in a day or so, I'll have the cap photo on here. Oh, my gosh, it's so cute!

We realized we had to release Nutkin when she began to tear the walls up and eat the window sills... So my son Matthew built her a wooden house and put it HIGH in one of the trees at the edge of our woods a short ways out back. I saw her come to the bird feeder many times.

From a distance it's easy to tell the difference between a gray squirrel and the bigger red fox squirrels: The grays are smaller and faster - and when they leap from branch to branch, they "fly" vertically, with both feet hitting the tree trunk at the same time. I saw Squirrel Nutkin from my bow window the first time she came to the feeder from on high, so as to avoid the dogs.

I spent many an evening, too, watching her as she stayed at the feeder until dark, long after the red squirrels had gone to bed. I've noticed that grays do that. You won't catch a red squirrel out at dusk. I worried that an owl would get Nutkin.

She must have survived and done well, because for the first time in 32 years, we have both red squirrels and grays.

I don't know that I would ever want to raise another squirrel, but I have to admit that she was absolutely the most adorable little animal I ever saw - cuter even than a baby goat - and that's saying a lot!

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

My mother once observed that the little grey squirrels were more aggressive than the reds and would chase them out of the territory of her birdfeeders, but I've never noticed that tendancy. I have heard that the two species won't innerbreed.

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Sep 8, 2008, at 6:55 AM

Separate species can't interbreed. If they do get together, there either is no offspring or the offspring are sterile. That's why they're classified as different species rather than just variations of the same species.

-- Posted by Youngest Child on Mon, Sep 8, 2008, at 8:46 AM

Sorry to hear about nutkin. Those dang squirrels just always seem to run the wrong way.

-- Posted by shannonhoon on Mon, Sep 8, 2008, at 9:52 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Nice try, hoonie-baby, but that poor, innocent little squirrel that you smashed into a gruesome pancake was NOT - I repeat - NOT my precious Squirrel Nutkin. Would you like to know why? I'll tell you: I live on the other side of the MOON and there's no way you could even drive your vehicle over my roads, much less get up enough speed to squash a squirrel!

What an adorable story. It doesn't make me want to go find a baby squirrel, but now I wouldn't be scared to be an adoptive squirrel momma if the need arose. What a cutie. I can see why you were so taken with her. How neat that her progeny still live on.

-- Posted by Ducky on Mon, Sep 8, 2008, at 1:32 PM

Just wishful thinking on hoon's part.

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 7:06 AM

But Madeline:

When I turned around to check on the little thing, as it took its last breath, it said...."teeellll Maddie thank you for loving me so!" I thought for sure it was Nutkin.

-- Posted by shannonhoon on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 11:35 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Aha! Now I KNOW it wasn't Nutkin that you squashed, you cruel beast! How do I know? I'll tell you: Because Nutkin called me "Mama," not "Maddie!"

Nice story Madeline. I recently read about a study of crows that proves they recognize individual people and treat people friendly to them much differently than mean people (such as those who throw rocks at them, etc). Squirrels are the same, and they can not only recognize people, but even associate that person with the vehicle they drive. There is a squirrel that lives near a place I go, and I started tossing him bagel pieces. Now whenever I drive up he comes up to my door and gets on his hind legs waiting for his treat. What he can't eat he buries for a rainy day.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 12:39 PM

Don't trust that squirrel too much, FJ. They are deceptive: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...

-- Posted by Youngest Child on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 2:30 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
YC, how on EARTH did you find a squirrel-related story to post on here??? I think you may be taking lessons from FJGuy!

I throw rocks and when that doesn't work, I take aim, whisper "sing, birdie, sing", and then pull the trigger on my pink rifle. Makes good fertilizer.

-- Posted by shannonhoon on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 2:46 PM

And its bad, bad leroy hoon

The baddest man in the whole **** toon

Badder than old king kong

And meaner than a junkyard dog

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 6:48 PM

Youngest, now I know where Criss Angel gets some of his ideas -- watching squirrels pull slight of hand tricks on birds, people and other squirrels!

Wow GL! Who knew you were a world-class lyricist! You can be sure that crows have a world-wide alert to give Hoon lots of elbow room.

By the way, MD, Youngest's squirrel article is from England, so she was really searchin! This article explains why I've seen my squirrel friend dig lots of holes and then cover them up without putting anything in them, but I haven't seen him/her fake putting anything in ... but then, maybe a squirrel's hands are quicker than the human eye!?

-- Posted by FJGuy on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 7:24 PM

GOAT....that isn't how the song goes babe. And Jim Croce ain't zackly Rock N Roll.

I hate when those stupid things run right into your tire and then flip and flop on the road. Why don't they just run to the grass?

-- Posted by shannonhoon on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 9:49 PM

FJ...are you talking about the little squirrel from West City Park? If so, his name is Petey...he was born in that park. He's SO fat! Everyone feeds him, and he'll beg from young and old alike.

Now tell me HOON isn't a girl...of course I realize he/she could be pulling my leg...but he/she just mentioned his/her PINK rifle.

-- Posted by mrsdolphin on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 11:18 PM


What a heartwarming story...almost makes me want to go capture one of those annoying little creatures that dart in and out of my path when walking at the park...but, nah...think I'll stick with the ant farm. Still, loved the warmth! Only you!

Hoon....I recall hearing that "flip" and then the "flop" one warm night traveling on Grant Street...and in a moment came the scent. The "flop" seemed to have hit the bottom of my vehicle, sending the unrelenting scent of skunk not only spreading across the underside of my car, but across the rural neighborhood in which I dwelled.

As a result, I brake for anything furry that darts in my path. Pity the motorist behind me.


-- Posted by bringwine on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 11:24 PM

There's a town in southwest Missouri where they have WHITE squirrels! I gather that the town is quite protective of them, as well they should be! Not everyone has a heart of stone like hoonowski...!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Sep 10, 2008, at 7:29 AM

Pedal to the METAL. Heart of Stone, now there is a classic tune MaDdie. Drinkwine, I wasn't talking about the flip and flop you hear, I was talking about the flip and flop you have look at in the rearview when these stupid creatures make a UTurn and head straight for the rotating GoodYear.

-- Posted by shannonhoon on Wed, Sep 10, 2008, at 8:56 AM

MrsD, the squirrel isn't Petey, but it sounds like the little fella better start doing more running around and less eating!

-- Posted by FJGuy on Mon, Sep 15, 2008, at 8:42 PM

I ran over a squirrel one time and felt real bad about it. Then I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a pick up truck stop, pick it up, and throw it in the back of the truck. Supper!

-- Posted by ct on Thu, Sep 18, 2008, at 5:53 PM

Ct, did you make that up??

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Sep 18, 2008, at 9:43 PM

No, it's a true story. It happened out on Three Mile Rd by Ecology Acres. I did feel bad about running over the squirrel, though.

-- Posted by ct on Wed, Sep 24, 2008, at 3:06 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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