Rocket the Flying Squirrel ~ a ridiculously true story

Rocket the Flying Squirrel makes his landing on our backyard bird feeders

Just before winter’s biggest snowfall, some new people moved into the house on Oxford Avenue. Before they even unpacked their clothes, they set-up several bird feeders. Continuous drama has since ensued from a cast of wild critters and feathered friends. There are many stories to tell about life in any backyard, but this is a tale about Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel.

This hunk of a squirrel got his name from the flying ace and sidekick of Bullwinkle. He lives in the same backyard as Squirrel Nutkin, a namesake any Beatrix Potter fan would recognize, and Twinkleberry, a sweet little squirrel who loves to preen herself in front of the window where the people sit to watch nature unfold in its simple, joyful ways.

Within a few days of putting out that tempting cage of peanuts suspended from a sturdy bird-feeding system, Rocket was spotted sitting on top stuffing his cheeks. He looked at the people through the window, nodded his head approvingly, and gave a thumbs-up as if to say, “Nom, nom, nom. Delicious!”

“How did he get up there?” the people asked each other. After all, this was a fairly sophisticated feeder system with a proven squirrel-proof baffle. Any trees were a good nine feet away from the pole.

It wasn’t long before they saw Rocket shimmy up a tree, gingerly tightrope-walk onto a tiny limb, so thin it was nearly imperceptible, bounce three times, and launch himself through the air in a beautiful swan dive onto the top of the feeder. Squirrel Nutkin and Twinkleberry attempted the feat several times in what could only be called epic fails.

As it was a time of sub-zero temperatures, the people began tossing bread and crackers on the deck so the poor things wouldn’t starve to death. The squirrels, as well as an occasional deer and raccoon, appreciated the feast, but it did nothing to deter Rocket from gorging himself on expensive peanuts truly meant for the woodpeckers.

One day Squirrel Nutkin lodged an entire Ritz cracker in his mouth and carried it up a tree fifty feet in the air to enjoy in peace. Rocket followed closely behind, cozied right up next to him, and stuck out his paw to snatch it from Nutkin, who had clearly had enough of Rocket’s antics. They fought in a tangled circle of squirrel tails and squirrel gibberish until the cracker fell all the way to the ground and hid itself deep in the snow. Nutkin was livid. He leapt to another tree still squawking and pouted most of the day while he watched Rocket swing gleefully from the feeder of nuts.

After the snow melted, the lady of the house propped a ladder against the tree, climbed up, and ceremoniously snipped the thin limb from the tree effectively ending Rocket’s fun, or so she thought. A few weeks of this work-out, combined with a high-protein diet, had made Rocket stronger than the average squirrel. Within a day, he was able to launch himself directly from the side of the tree onto the top of the bird feeder.

When the people see Rocket perched on the feeder, they open the backdoor, clap their hands, and shout strange words. Sometimes the man even throws ice cubes. It’s a fun game that signals the squirrel to do an impressive reverse leap right back to the tree. The only way to stop Rocket from getting on the feeder would be to move the entire system to another spot which, for some reason, hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps the people get a thrill watching Rocky fly, or maybe they understand no matter what they do, this squirrel will win.

Early one morning this week, the lady stood at the window watching several gold finches and juncos, a cardinal, a flicker, and two downy woodpeckers at the bird feeders. Suddenly, on the trunk of a tree just a foot from the house, appeared an upside-down Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel looking at her eye-to-eye through the window. Not at all surprised, she smiled and said, “Hello there, Rocky.” He held up his right paw and waved it slowly back and forth.

From the table, her husband sat perfectly still and whispered, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing right now.” “Good morning,” the lady said through the window. The squirrel smiled at her and waved again before jumping to the deck, darting up his tree, and flying to the top of the bird feeder for breakfast. ยง

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Making Tracks

From the window, I watched a squirrel leave tracks in the falling snow. She came out of the woods, darted though the yard, climbed over the retaining wall, hopped across the driveway, shimmied up and down a tree trunk, skated across the frozen bird bath, and danced in circles in the snow. Finally, she stopped frolicking to eat a nut from her hidden cache at the base of a tree.

I was reminded of The Family Circus comic strip following the tracks of Billy, a curious little boy full of imagination and adventure. What was meant to be a quick trip to borrow sugar from the next door neighbor turned into a trek through backyards, alleys, up trees, over fences, and stops to examine a bug, pick a flower, and skip a stone before returning home with the cup of sugar.

The squirrel’s energetic footprints in the snow got me searching for other tracks. I saw those of birds and deer, foxes and raccoons, pets and people. All of them headed somewhere to do something with their day.

Imagine if our footprints were always so easily visible. Do they lead to places we are happy and proud to go? Are they filled with spirit and enthusiasm? Do they stop and smell the roses along the way?

In his last published book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss cheered, “Today is your day! You’re off to great places. You’re off and away. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”

The book encourages big, mountain-moving dreams, but I think Dr. Seuss would agree that while we keep an eye on our destination, we should remember the joy is in the journey.

My hard-working, easy-going husband often quotes Ferris Bueller from his favorite movie, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”

Watch the sun rise on the commute to work. Stroll through the produce aisle and appreciate an artichoke. Make a baby laugh. Inhale the aroma of soup simmering on the stove. Oh, we have places to go, but while we’re making tracks, let’s not forget to dance in the snow.