Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Ashley exhaled a long breath and looked up from the screen of her laptop. She realized she’d been working all night and she still wasn’t quite finished.

Outside the sun hadn’t risen yet but gray, pre-dawn light illuminated the big tree in her backyard outside the window behind her desk. Ashley felt so exhausted it seemed to require a conscious effort to focus her eyes on the tree outside but she heard birds chirping and wondered if she could see any of them in the strange, shadow-less light. She couldn’t see any birds, but squirrels were chasing each other around the lawn and from her second story window she saw a lone squirrel in the tree scramble out onto the big branch that brushed against the side of the house by her window.

Ashley smiled. She pulled open the middle draw of her desk and looked for the three or four Brazil nuts she kept there for moments like this. Finding a nut, she leaned forward over her laptop, held up the nut between two fingers for the squirrel to see, then place the nut on the far end of her desk that was pushed up against the inside window ledge.

The squirrel outside ran toward the window but stopped near the middle of the big branch. The squirrel stood up on its hind legs. It cocked its head to the left and looked through the window into Ashley’s room at the Brazil nut on the edge of Ashley’s desk. The squirrel cocked its head to the right and continued to stare at the Brazil nut.

The squirrel ran forward and put one paw on the outside window ledge.

Ashley continued smiling. She tried to breath steadily, to keep her body as still as possible to avoid scaring the squirrel.

The squirrel scampered over the window ledge and hopped onto Ashley’s desk. It picked up the Brazil nut with its two front paws.

Ashley very, very slowly leaned forward.

The squirrel gripped the Brazil nut more tightly between its paws.

Ashley’s smile widened and she took a breath. She stared at the squirrel, pursed her lips and said, gently but firmly, “Boo!”

The squirrel seemed to raise the nut to protect itself, but Ashley saw it was really transferring the Brazil nut to its mouth. With the nut safely between its teeth, the squirrel tumbled over backwards and leaped straight from Ashley’s desk over the window ledge to the branch outside. It ran along the branch and stopped where the branch merged with the tree trunk. The squirrel turned around, sat back on its haunches and used both front paws to remove the Brazil nut from its mouth.

The squirrel bobbed its head, getting a good look at Ashley and chirped and chittered and maybe even barked a little at her while waving its tail from side to side.

Ashley laughed out loud.

The squirrel quieted down then settled on its back legs, still keeping a watchful eye on Ashley and began eating the Brazil nut.

Ashley laughed, then took a long breath, ran her fingers through her hair and sat back in her chair. Feeling energetic herself now, maybe even a little squirrely, she looked back at the screen of her laptop, laughed again and reached to the keyboard to finish up her night’s work.

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I had originally wanted to illustrate this story. I liked the idea of capturing the subtle changes in a person’s face going from tired and listless to amused and energetic. But as I whined about last week I don’t know anyone right now to use as a model and I hate—I mean, hate—the thought of using photographs as models for careful illustrations. So I might come back to this story some day when I know a woman who’ll pose for me in exchange for dinner or something.

Squirrels have played a larger role in this blog than I’d have thought. I’m pretty neutral about the critters in real life. But back in 2006 a squirrel showed up playing jazz guitar in Martin’s Sweater #2. And in 2007 I mentioned that my favorite novel in the Redwall saga is the story of Triss, the brave squirrelmaid. Just recently I wrote Squirrels And The Lost Mountains Of Tibet. That story, although I haven’t written out the background yet, is about another squirrel that plays jazz guitar. And now there’s a squirrel in “Boo!” I guess it’s because I’m a city guy. Squirrels and sparrows are everywhere. And I’ve written about sparrows twice: Sparrow And Moon back in 2008 and Death (In The American Eccentric Empirical Tradition) back in 2007.

I like the name “Ashley.” It makes me think of youth, energy and the future because I’ve known three young woman named Ashley in my life. Ashley #1 was very cool, and I’ve never minded admitting that hoping to impress her [ha!] was one of the main reasons I started this blog. Ashley #3 is very cool, and I enjoy talking to her once or twice a week now. Ashley #2 wasn’t so cool. No. Me writing about Ashley has nothing at all to do with Ashley #2.

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