When I mentioned to a coworker that I was reading a book about squirrels, he sort of rolled his eyes and said, “Of course you are.” He probably didn’t mean to sound like he was tired of hearing my random nature facts, so I’m glad the stapler I threw missed his head.
No cage is going stop me from trying
Yes, I’m reading a book about squirrels because my bird feeders are inundated with them, but how much do I really know about them? I want to hate them for eating all my birdseed, but they keep winning me over with their impressive acrobatics – and honestly, don’t they have great hair?
When I took the Virginia Master Naturalist course I thought I would leave that class feeling so smart about the natural world around me. Turns out, it just reinforced how much I don’t know. I realized how much I either just assumed or never bothered to ask.
I also left with a greater appreciation for just how exotic even the most familiar sights are. Every year people travel to far away islands, forests, deserts, and plains just to be aghast at the flora and fauna – but we miss the amazement under our noses.
In our own back yards, local state parks, and camp grounds you will see plants with ancient origins and amazing adaptations that keep them flourishing. And you’ll see animals with routines so fascinating you’ll wonder why people in Bora Bora don’t come to your house for vacation. If you can’t work out a trip to the Virgin Islands to see sea turtles and bougainvillea this year, why not go to Hungry Mother State Park to wonder at the Sciurus carolinensis and Calvatia gigantea?
Just hangin' around
Yes; that’s just a gray squirrel and a giant puffball mushroom…but doesn’t the Latin reinforce the fascination factor??
Pick up a book to learn more and you’ll see what I mean. For instance, Squirrels: The Answer Guide by Richard Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell will explain some of the great physical attributes that allow the little bird-seed-stealers to run, swing, and hang the way they do. The reader learns that squirrels are rodents, but they’re in the family Sciuridae and they get to share that spot with other critters that also infuriate and fascinate – like groundhogs (who knew, right?). The reader will want to underline the good parts like….the fact that there are 278 species of squirrels; the fact that gray squirrels use their tails to regulate body temperature; and the fact that flying squirrels don’t really fly but tree squirrels can really swim (need a new mascot for your swim team?).
Don't you want to hug me?
Halfway in, you might find yourself wanting to celebrate National Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21). Well, you might.
In any case, you’ll hopefully be ready for a trip to a familiar spot in order to feel wonder for even the most ordinary.