August in Austin Gardens: Communing with critters

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

I know what you're up to, sidling up so nonchalant, like you don't care a whit, and should I happen to drop a potato chip or bread crust, you'd accept it, but only to keep the park free of litter. You don't fool me. Your nervous little dance betrays your desire.

I know you never completely relax around humans and winter is coming, but it's only August. You've still got a couple of months before you have to start putting on your pre-winter layer of protective fat. Lighten up. It's summer and the living is easy, right?

I see plenty of acorns all around. Yeah, I know — bland, bland, bland. You need a change of pace. You'd probably do just about anything for a potato chip right about now.

But it's not good for you. All that salt, all those preservatives, all that saturated fat. You don't want to clog your tiny arteries. If it's bad for me, it's got to be bad for you.

Besides, I'm not one of those kindly, generous souls from Holley Court Terrace or that squirrel guy with the safari vest who seems so strangely devoted to your species. They've got you eating out of their hands. Where's your resourcefulness? What happened to your foraging skills? Where's your self-respect?

Geez, I'm starting to sound like a damned Republican. "Pull yourself up by your pawstraps! I am not my critter's keeper!"

It's not that I'm unsympathetic. But if I give to you, your buddies will be all over me. You open a sandwich wrapper in this park and it's like setting off a silent alarm. I see your friends undulating across the meadow as they make their way in my direction.

"Sandwich Alert! Potato Chip Watch! Bench number 7!"

You wave those elegant tails at us because they're you're best feature, what principally distinguishes you from other rodents, which, let's face it, you would otherwise resemble. Instead you qualify as "cute" while rats make us run screaming in the other direction. Doesn't seem quite fair, but you're willing to exploit the inequity. Can't blame you, I guess, but if I give to one, I'd have to give to all, and that would negate my entire reason for being here, which is to enjoy a little uninterrupted alone time before resuming my busy day.

If it makes you feel any better, I don't give to panhandlers either. The vast majority are phonies. "Excuse me, sir, can I ask you a question?" A dead giveaway. They need to work on their script. They've been asking that question for years, long enough anyway to qualify as "regulars." Once I saw one of them in a van with his family, getting gas at Thornton's.

Mostly, I don't give because I can't tell the authentically needy from the professionally needy, so I don't try. I try not to let it desensitize me, but sometimes it feels like running the gauntlet.

Meanwhile, you're still doing your dance of desire. What's life like for you? Is it stressful being a squirrel? Do you ever venture outside Austin Gardens? On summer evenings, do you listen to the elegant, convoluted soliloquies spun by Shakespearean actors up on stage and wonder what they're getting so worked up about? Do you live in mortal terror of leashless dogs who love to give chase, or have you become jaded, cocky, knowing you're never more than a few feet from safe refuge up the nearest tree?

Do you enjoy "going vertical"? Does the view from up there enchant you? Are you ever stopped in your tracks by moments of sheer beauty that take you by surprise? When you chase one another up, down and all around, are you aware that you're having "fun"?

Are you bored? Do you live with the perpetual hope that life will soon take a turn for the better? How do you remember where you hid all those nuts?

Will you be starting a family soon? I know, you don't plan ahead, but you're hard-wired for the future. When you woke up this morning, did you have any idea how you got here? Is every day completely new?

One thing's for sure: You're not exactly holding up your end of the conversation. Yet the same mysterious force animates you that animates me. We share a limited consciousness.

You may not remember much, but you know that humans like me sometimes offer food. Here's a chip for listening. I'm sure in your own way, you're grateful.

Such a mystery life is.

Don't you agree?


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