Anna McLoud Gibbs

Into the great unknown – Part 4 of the Squirrel Series

This past week, I’ve been preparing to release Hazelnut the squirrel. He is nearly eleven weeks old; according to the internet, baby squirrels can be released somewhere between 10 to 12 weeks. I could tell by his energy and spirit while dashing around the sunroom that Hazelnut was ready to explore bigger and better pastures, but I wanted to be sure he would be ready. I always knew Release Day would be hard. It’s hard to let go, especially when bonding has happened. I expected that. But what complicated the situation was knowing that once I released Hazelnut, he had no guarantee of survival. He could be killed by a car, bird, house cat, poisonous substance – within minutes of being released. I knew I had to accept that, but I struggled with the fear that I hadn’t optimized his survival odds. I prayed that he was ready to face the world. Maybe he needed one more week? Maybe he had become too friendly with our cat Henry?

On the day of the planned Release Day – this past Saturday – I let Hazelnut run around the sunroom while I cleaned his cage. It was a warm and sunny day, perfect for his first day exploring the backyard. Henry also thought it was a good day for exploring. Though he is an indoor cat, he’s a clever escape artist, so I wasn’t surprised to see him meandering around on the deck.

But Hazelnut was surprised. After standing motionless for a moment, he ran up my leg to sit on my shoulder. All of a sudden he started stomping his feet and chattering. He combined a series of different squeaks into an angry song. He was sounding an alarm call. And though it was a scary moment for the fellow, I was excited for him: it showed that not only did he know cats were predators, but he knew that even Henry, who I worried he had become familiar with over the past few weeks, was a threat. It assured me that Hazelnut was ready to be out in the world.

Though Saturday was meant to be Release Day, Hazelnut had different plans. By the time I had securely attached his cage to the fence on the deck, covered half of it with a tarp to protect his nest box from the rain, and gave him time to get used to the new location of the cage, he had decided to take a nap, from which he refused to wake up. I offered him a peanut. No interest. Half an hour passed and I tried again. This time he chattered angrily and head butted my finger. He was napping whether I liked it or not.

Sometimes, a friend told me, we have to go with the flow and trust the universe. We opened the cage door on Sunday instead. Hazelnut didn’t go far: he spent a couple hours running up and down the legs of me, my dad, my brother, and Esteban in between exploring the entirety of the deck. I didn’t mind that he stayed close. We ended up putting him back in the cage when night fell, and he didn’t seem to mind that either.

So it was that the universe decided today, Monday, would be the day Hazelnut wandered off into the great unknown. I opened the cage door in the morning, spent a few minutes with him, and went inside. When I came out a few hours later, he was gone.

Today is also the day that I wander off into the great unknown. As I write this, I am en route to the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil to volunteer with a nonprofit for three weeks. I’ll l be helping them with their reforestation work – planting seedlings on farms. A few weeks ago, social media exploded in indignation and rage: the Amazon was burning. It still is burning. It’s my understanding that it has been burning for years. The Atlantic Rainforest is smaller and lesser-known but has seen even more damage than the Amazon. Though I read the headlines as they came out, I couldn’t bring myself to click many links. The problem felt too big, too painful, and too untouchable. This journey, I hope, will show me the good fight that is happening on the front lines. I hope it will bring me more hope than sadness. At the very least I hope I get a better sense of the presence of these ecosystems, and, just as importantly, the presence of the work that is being done and the people that are doing it.

As I left the house this afternoon to head to the airport, Hazelnut emerged from nowhere, bounded up to me, and ran up my leg. The universe decided that he and I would both head into the great unknown today. But not alone.

I plan to write regularly about my experience while I’m in Brazil, so please follow along! Let’s explore this faraway part of the world together.

My dad will continue to feed Hazelnut every day and keeping an eye on him while I’m gone. Hopefully he’ll won’t go too far and I’ll be able to give an update on how’s he doing when I get home.