Thursday, July 25, 2013

A squirrelly situation

The day had been hot and humid--a rather regular occurrence for a mid-summer's day in Ann Arbor. The evening sun was beginning to set at just the right angle so as to make driving a car both pleasant and dangerous: pleasant, because the mixture of colors in the sky as I looked through the windshield was like a painter’s palette; dangerous, because the sun was at the perfect angle so as to blind all drivers of vehicles on roadways, including myself. I had loaned my sole pair of sunglasses to someone at the church picnic a few days previous, and so I drove along South Division and over the bridge near the train station squinting my eyes almost shut in an attempt to avoid being blinded by the sudden appearance of the setting sun as the clusters of trees that had been blocking it from view abruptly ended. I coasted down the hill and came to a stop at the light where Maiden Lane and Moore intersect Broadway; the light turned green and I proceeded forward, leading the line of traffic. I drove for a block until I reached the next intersection where Broadway turned into Plymouth [Michigan’s streets have a habit of changing names suddenly and unexpectedly, for no other reason than to confuse and bewilder drivers, aiding and abetting the likelihood that those unfamiliar with the mitten state's clandestine street-naming practices will become utterly and hopelessly lost], and at last, I was back in the protection of the shade, cast by the shadows of a new group of towering trees at the edge of the road.

As I gave my Mazda a little gas to send it up the long hill, I could see the silhouette of a small animal up ahead, crouched next to the gutter on the far side of the wide, five-lane road. I immediately recognized the creature for what it was, as its species is without doubt far more abundant in the state of Michigan than all other living creatures combined. As if Sciurus carolinensis could hear my thoughts, it turned and looked at me, seemingly cocking its head, the cogs of its tiny brain whirring.

Shall I scamper across the street?” it thought. “Now that there are at least a dozen 2000-pound death darts headed my way, wouldn't this moment be an optimal time for me to get to the other side?

I stared the squirrel in the eye as best I could from a distance inside of the moving car.

“Don’t do it,” I thought. “Stay where you are. Do not cross the street.”

The squirrel rudely ignored me and continued its inward debate.

“Yes, yes—I know that the tragic deaths of Mother, my twin brothers Larry and Harry, dear old Aunt Mabel, Great Uncle Ted, five of my cousins, and my best friend Phinneus have all occurred under the rubber wheels of these great and terrible vehicles of doom…but that doesn't necessarily mean my fate will be the same, does it? After all, I was born for greater things than to be ground into the asphalt.”

“Don’t do it, little squirrel,” I silently willed.

Ahead, I could see some oncoming traffic beginning to trickle down the hill, headed straight for the ambivalent squirrel.

“Quick, while you’ve still got time! Jump back to the side of the road!” I soundlessly shouted at it.

But my pleas were ignored, and then contradicted.

“Yes, I am going to cross!” it seemed to decide. “For Mother! For Larry and Harry! For Phinneus! For Aunt Mabel and Great Uncle Ted!”

And with a defiant twitch of its tail, it began its journey across five lanes of traffic.

Lanes one and two were still empty; the oncoming traffic had not yet arrived. The squirrel triumphantly completed two-fifths of its journey.

The turn lane was also safe, as no one was in it; swiftly, the squirrel continued its dash.

But then it reached the fourth lane. My lane.

“What shall I do?!” I thought in a panic, vividly remembering my experience last summer on Geddes Road involving the exploding bunnyrabbit.

As the squirrel scurried in front of me, I hit my brakes.

But it was too late.

Thunk went my Mazda.

Horrified, I gazed into my rearview mirror and saw a feebly-quivering fluffy tail, attached to what was now a squirrel pancake. There was no explosion of fur as there had been with the bunnyrabbit; but alas, the results were the same.


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