Anna McLoud Gibbs

My life as a new squirrel mom – Part 3

Tonight I went in the sunroom to give ten-week-old Hazelnut some food (sweet potato, peanuts, and snap peas). I opened the door to his cage to place the plate inside, and I noticed a large white mound in the corner. I picked it up, confused. My first thought was leftover corn husk; my second was a deformed onion. It had a squish to it, but it didn’t seem rotten. In hopes of identifying, I lifted it to my nose to sniff it – my animal instinct, perhaps? After a beat, I realized it was chicken. White meat from last night’s dinner. How on earth..?! I looked around and spotted the compost bin nearby, quite tall and mostly empty. Hazelnut, you sly dog.

But I should back up. It’s been another two weeks since my last squirrel-related post, and Hazelnut’s rehabbing needs have changed a great deal. When I last wrote, Hazelnut was nearly eight weeks old, and I was feeding him roughly every eight hours. Also two weeks ago, I started working at my local coffee shop every week day from 1 to 6 pm. A normal eight-hour feeding schedule might have looked something like: 8 am, 4 pm, 12 am. But because I had work in the afternoon, our schedule was not as optimal: 12 pm, 8 pm, 4 am. Still, I was grateful that the feedings were happening less frequently so I didn’t have to rush home every few hours to feed him. It was also nice not having to feed him at 4 am and then again at 8 am. When that was happening, I was out of commission for the rest of the morning (did I mention I’m a sleepy person?).

Especially in the mornings, when the night feedings were but hazy dreams, I had trouble remembering when I had and hadn’t fed Hazelnut. So I kept a journal that looked something like this:

                                      

And then, seemingly all at once, Hazelnut grew up. After such a long time of gradually decreasing feeding frequencies, the actual growing up happened practically overnight. On October 1st, I took the train into Boston to have dinner with a former professor and then sleep over at my cousin’s apartment. I was trying to arrange a babysitter (aka, Vicki my squirrel guru) to feed Hazelnut for the night so I could take the night off. “I might not be able to come,” I texted my cousin like the responsible parent I have become. “It depends on if I can get a sitter.”

The night before, I had let Hazelnut run all around the top floor of the house while I followed him around bemused. His mode of transporting involves a sort of hop-hiccup-skip movement, as if someone has scared him and his reaction accidentally teleported him a foot forward. Occasionally, he’ll engage in impressive parkour, bouncing off bookshelf walls and real walls, testing their scale-ability. When I managed to carrel him back into his cage, he was annoyed. He chirped at me – more of a wheeze than a threat – and started thumping his back feet on the bottom of his cage.

 

In the background, you can see Hazelnut’s own personal pumpkin. He’s been carving it  with his teeth so it’ll be ready for Halloween!

When I reported this behavior to Vicki, she told me that Hazelnut had become territorial. He was turning into a little adult. Because of this, Vicki thought it wasn’t a good idea to move his cage to her house, or probably for her to even handle him. So instead, we decided to put him on a quick fasting diet – 24 hours without formula would be okay. I left him with his water bottle and some grapes and peanuts, and my dad keeping a watchful eye.

That was the beginning of the end. After that, I started feeding him every 12 hours, and I got my mind back once I was sleeping through the night again. Hazelnut was less interested in the formula – a form of protest for the forced fast, I wondered? I had to stick the nipple into his nest to wake him up, and he’d groggily drink half of what he used to. One afternoon a couple days later, he wouldn’t take it all. I sat on the floor with the warm syringe in my hand as he ran across my shoulders, uninterested. There was a feeling that he didn’t need me anymore. I hadn’t expected the tender moments to slip away so quickly; I thought I would have known and been able to recognize when I would last hold in my hands while he ate. Things happen slow but change fast. And I realized that what I had needed from those moments outlived what Hazelnut needed.

Hazelnut looking at me and, no doubt, thinking about jumping on my head, which he likes to do.

These days, Hazelnut has been living full time in his big cage in our sunroom, our main entrance walkway which is about the size of a shed jutting out from the side of our house. Three of its walls are sliding glass doors, all except the entrance door with screens behind them; the fourth is a swinging glass door to our house. On the ceiling is a painting of the sky: eggshell blue and white puffy clouds, and the crepuscular rays of sun poking out from one of them. The sunroom isn’t the great outdoors, but it’s a good transition spot. Because the space is small and enclosed, I open the cage door in the evenings and let Hazelnut run around the room like a madman for a few hours.

   

These photos were all taken in the span of about 2 seconds.

He eats most things, though he, like most young ones, dislikes his vegetables. He still loves green grapes, and we’ve added corn, pumpkin, and acorns to that list. Hopefully he will like sweet potato and snap peas.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the sun room, clear skies above me and pouring rain outside. It is midnight, and dark, and windy. Bud is sitting at the door mournfully, with an occasional low meow. He wishes he was outside, but, even though I frequently feel like he’s better acquainted with the universe than I (something my grandmother might say), I know in this instance that I know better than him. Hazelnut is curled up in a canvas bag hanging from our coat rack that he’s taken a liking to. When I check on him, I peer into the bag, and his little face pops up out of a mishmash of other bags inside. Much like me, he enjoys his sleep. I’ll have to wake him up soon and put him back into the cage so he can hunker into his nest box, presumably not as warm, or cozy, but hopefully still a place of comfort. But for now, I’ll let him sleep and listen to the yellow leaves of the red-bud tree lashing into the glass windows and the loud grumblings of autumn rain.

Hazelnut is nearly ready for release – so grown up! Stay tuned for reflections on this next journey very soon.