The Squirrel Man and his Nuts

Another Saturday in the City.  Frank opted to take a new route which proved less chaotic.  My nerves and I are thankful. 🙂  In fact, we made it to class early.  We’ve been Practically Philosophized and – not caring about the rain – are headed for Central Park for our stroll.  It is a moment of nature that I am coming to love, albeit misplaced nature.  Or so one (Okay, me.) would think… I can’t help but wonder, how can all this beauty be dead center of all this mayhem?!  And yet it is…

We walked the path, which thanks to the weather was not as crowded.  The leaves were all gone from the tree tops.  It is amazing how much they helped to drown out the street noise, evident now that they’re gone.  Raindrops trickled their way through the bare branches, hitting leaves which now cover the barren wintered earth.  A symphony of droplets tapped tunes via puddles and park benches, and those once vibrant leaves – giving them their last hurrah before melting back into the land.  

We never seem to make it very far on this path.  Last time we stopped to watch the sailboats and listen to music… today, within minutes of entering the park, I saw my next Central Park story unfold.

A few yards ahead, standing by the bench, was a man surrounded by squirrels.   A backpack was propped open in front of him, exposing the bag of peanuts stashed inside.  He was a very busy man, as his following of bushy tailed friends was ever growing.

20140111_125757I didn’t want to scare them.  I wasn’t sure how close the squirrels would let me get before they shied away, but then several other passerby’s walked right up… they even took close-up pictures… The squirrels tolerated them quite well.  These were no ordinary squirrels, these were Central Park squirrels!

20140111_125954Of course, my curiosity and nature loving nerdy-ness, forced me to introduce myself.   

20140111_125820Rafael, or ‘The Squirrel Man’ as he is appropriately called, comes with bags of peanuts for his twitchy, furry friends, which he has been feeding for years.  A few of them didn’t start out as friends, and let him know who was the boss with a nasty bite – that required a series of cautionary rabies shots – but ‘The Squirrel Man’ was not swayed.  His love of animals and the connection with nature was too etched in his core.  He HAD to feed them… he HAD to connect… and in time, he learned the personalities of each of these new found friends.  As I stood there, I was amazed at the interaction.  He did know them.  The one with the white patch behind only one ear.  The one with the white patch on his front paw.  The one with the weird thing on his face, thanks to a nasty fight.  The one that likes to eat his peanut on his branch, and his friend who prefers the giant tree across the way… Their personas were as varied as humans, some brazen, some shy, some confrontational if another dare take his spot, some with a sweet docile temperament that you just want to take them home as a pet. (Uh, no not really.)

Standing in the midst of a congregation of nature is a quizzical sensation.  I felt somewhat akin to Snow White as she sang to her birds, or directly witnessing Dr. Dolittle in action – reincarnated in ‘The Squirrel Man’ standing before me.

20140111_130006“Can I feed one?”  (I had to ask!  …and would have had no problem letting my inner-two-year-old-child full out beg!)  He reached into the peanut bag to pick out a specific morsel.  It had to be long and a double – not the occasional single shorty.  

He held the peanut in his tippy-tippy-fingertips as he instructed me exactly how to hold it.  The idea was to expose as much nut as possible… to satisfy the bigger idea… which was to not get bit!

20140111_130353(0)Nut in hand, I turned to the bench to choose my ‘new best friend’ (if only for a second – and yes, ‘friend’ – wouldn’t you ‘friend’ them if it kept you from getting bit?!)

I reached towards my choice, and ‘The Squirrel Man’ quickly redirected me. “No, no.  Not that one.”  (Okay… do you have any idea how hard it is to not rip your hand back, because you don’t want to risk scaring every potential cute furry friend into biting, or away… I steadied my hand and waited for direction.)  “Him.  You can feed him…”  I could see the difference in personality right away.  ‘Him’ was confident and calm.  ‘Him’ seemed to know I was a friend… the other was edgy, twitchy and wouldn’t hold a gaze in any direction.  I held my hand out – slowly, ever so slowly.  (What am I doing?!  Seriously… Nan?!  This oneness with nature is going to get you some oneness with doctors offices and needles! Oye!!)  (I can’t help myself… my hand now has a mind of it own…)

I reached further, wriggling the nut to the tippy-tippy-tip of my fingers… my cute little squirrel friend reared up on hind haunches, grabbed my fingers gently, but pointedly. (good word, given my little ‘friends’ nails were seriously sharp, like cat claws, only they never retracted)  My insides pulled away, but my hand stayed still and steady.  He took the nut and scurried off…. and my inner-two-year-old self turned into an outertwo-year-old, who was blatantly squealing in delight.  A man walking by couldn’t help but laugh at my expense – and I was okay with that.  Too busy wrapped up in joy and elation over just having hand fed my first squirrel!!

‘The Squirrel Man’ was obviously accustomed to this happenstance.  He went on to explain that I am not the first to ask his permission to participate.  Nor am I the first to morph into a two year old.  Apparently, business men in suits squeal, photographers squeal, so do reporters – for whom he has given interviews – and all sorts of people… especially kids.  Kids definitely squeal!  We laughed about all the antics that people reduce themselves to, which I feel are the blissful moments of our core existence. (When did it become unacceptable to bubble over with joy? Probably around the same time it became unacceptable to feel good about our mirror images…)  

How fun must it be to have a following such as this?!  To walk the winding paths of this mammoth park, while a bushy tailed entourage scurry to your side.  (He calls to them when he enters the park – they follow him until he finds the bench of his choice.)  Should he decide to sit for a spell, they join him occasionally sitting on his lap.  The birds have taken note and join the festivities.  There is something so pure about the energy of animals.  (And Nature.)

I love our domesticated fur-babies! Toots, is an awesome eternal puppy – and Buddy, our mischievous ferret – who I compare to a toddler on crack – is nothing short of perfect.  Each of them has a special place in my heart…. but the thrill of having a wild creature trust you enough (or maybe they’re just hungry and brazen enough…) to take a morsel from my very hand… That is AWESOME!  (Yes!  Said exuberantly by my inner/outer-two-year-old self.)  Ah yes, it is a wild life for sure. 

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