There Was a Squirrel at the Fork in My Road

Mine has been a life of regrets. When there’s been a fork in my road, I have almost always headed off the wrong way. I recently made yet another dumb move. It seemed right at the moment. I’m certain now it was not.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning and Don and I were working on projects both indoors and out. We had stopped being cautious about keeping the door closed since Rudy, the squirrel we’ve been raising since late last September, showed little interest in going outdoors.

But all our activity on this particular Saturday was more than Rudy could stand. He wanted to be where we were, and initially, that’s just what he did. Hung with us on the deck.

“It isn’t too late to put him inside,” Don said.

But I was at one of those forks. About to head the wrong way.

Soon, Rudy had noticed one of our massive pines and off he went, racing up the branches.

Don put his arm around me. “Are you ok with this?”

I nodded but said nothing. My throat was too tight for words.

In a lifetime of many critters, Rudy reigned. He was on me or Don from morning to night. Demanding nose rubs. Wanting to wrestle. Tucking morsels of food down the necks of our shirts.

The messes he created were exhausting. The cost of his special squirrel blocks and healthy diet requirements was outrageous. We could no longer indulge in on-a-whim overnight trips. I had even given up my home office so that room could be his.

And now he was gone.

We’ve done the right thing, I told myself.

We had originally planned to set Rudy free in the spring, until a pair of hawks built their nest nearby. After realizing how many creatures were dying so those hawk hatchlings could be fed, we decided to keep Rudy indoors.

That was months ago, though. We hadn’t seen or heard a hawk in weeks.

Until about 20 minutes after Rudy raced up that tree. When it sounded like a hawk convention had opened its doors.

I know nothing about hawks beyond how much I despise them and their bloodthirsty ways, but what we now think must have happened is the hawks went silent while sitting on another batch of eggs, which hatched around the time Rudy went up that tree. The sounds from the babies and parents caused me to panic. Gone was that feeling of having done the right thing.

I had made another bad decision, for which I was certain our Rudy would pay.

But then our neighbor called.

“Are you missing a squirrel?” Phillip asked. “One just jumped on my head.”

Phillip returned Rudy, who was not at all happy about once again being inside. He’d had a taste of the trees and wanted more. He was like a kid who discovered Disneyland was on the other side of his door, but he wasn’t allowed to go out there and play. He didn’t understand that Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers were out there, eagerly waiting. His sadness was heartbreaking, yet the idea of him being torn to pieces and fed to baby hawks was far worse.

I was positively overwhelmed with regret. This creature I loved so much was suffering because of a decision I’d made. I’d allowed him a taste, then took it away.

I reached out to a group of squirrel rescuers, seeking their input. Several messaged me privately, recommending we continue to keep Rudy indoors.

“The biggest mistake I ever made was setting mine free,” one wrote. She said in the wild, a squirrel typically lives one to two years. In captivity, it’s 18 to 20. She also said a singleton — the term for a squirrel raised without siblings by humans — generally lives a lonely life in the wild, as they don’t know how to interact with other squirrels.

Other rescuers told of their squirrels returning home badly injured or finding them dead.

Still, I feared I had broken our squirrel; that he’d never again be the same happy boy he had been.

But that’s not how Rudy rolls. After a bit of a snit, he shrugged his little squirrel shoulders and stretched out on the ottoman, a few feet from the fan. Along with the trees and the hawks, he had experienced Atlanta heat in the summer, and this particular squirrel is an appreciator of air conditioning, fans, and frozen fruit, three things not found in the wild.

Unlike most poor decisions, this one worked out well. Rudy is currently with us on vacation, having traveled many hours stretched out across the dashboard of our truck as we drove to our family’s camp on the New River in Hinton.

There may come a day (perhaps when hawks are extinct) that we’ll once again set Rudy free, but for now, he is here. Wrestling a small stuffed giraffe.

I do regret he’s indoors.

But not as much as him being out.

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Karin Tauscher Fuller

Karin Fuller is a newspaper columnist and short fiction writer who resides in both Atlanta, GA, and Hinton, WV.