C.W. Gusewell


The nuts and bolts of a lapse of memory

Memory is undependable. And that’s not exclusively a problem of advancing age.

According to the literature, the average life span of an urban squirrel is three to five years. I can’t know, of course, the age of the one I’m seeing now outside my window.

But judging from his behavior he must be a youngster.

His athleticism is quite impressive. He runs up and down the trunk of a tree as casually as I walk from my desk to the file cabinet. He springs from one branch to another with no thought of falling.

All that is much beyond me, for I’m afflicted with acrophobia. I can’t begin to climb a ladder or even stand on a chair to change a light bulb. I did find, during military service, that I can step out the door of an airplane 1,250 feet aloft as easily as stepping off a bus.

But in that case falling is expected – at least until the parachute opens. The squirrel, however, has no parachute. He’s equipped only with pure courage.

The two of us do have something in common, though, and that is absentmindedness. And where I’m concerned that has nothing to do with age. In high school, I often forgot an assignment. From the time I got my first car I’ve regularly mislaid my keys.

For a journalist there’s no worse handicap than the inability to remember names, and that’s been a curse of mine since my days as a cub reporter. It is an annoying and occasionally embarrassing shortcoming. Nevertheless I’ve managed somehow to get by.

For the squirrel, however, forgetfulness could have fatal consequences.

He’s in the yard now. And as I watch him through the window he’s frantically digging holes, going from one spot to another. It’s easy enough to guess the reason for his industry.

It’s nuts he’s looking for – the ones he most likely collected and buried some months ago, shortly after they fell from the tree. He’s been at it the better part of an hour but still hasn’t located even one acorn to reward him for his trouble. And having struck out in our yard he just went over to the neighbors’ yard.

Alas, theirs is a yard without trees. Or nuts.

We’ve had a bitter spell of weather lately, with no promise the cold will soon let up. Winter is a punishing time for wild creatures in the best of circumstances. What the future holds for a squirrel who has lost his nuts can only be imagined.

Although, as I’ve said, he and I share the defect of imperfect memory, there clearly are differences between us. Important ones.

He can scamper up and down trees as if it were nothing.

But I can find my way unaided to the refrigerator and the cookie jar.