Stubby evidently gone for good


It may be that Stubby is gone for good.

In the summer of 2022, I started writing about my mother’s new pet, a red squirrel who she reluctantly began to care for.

My parents live on 20 acres in the woods up north in a house my father designed when he retired 35 years ago. The house looks over a lake and, for most of the winter, my parents have few neighbors, except for the birds at their feeder, the deer making their way through the deep snow and, of course, red squirrels.

Red squirrels are not friendly, like chipmunks. They are more rascally than gray squirrels. They are timid around people and aggressive around other squirrels and they will eat all the bird food they can get their paws on. My mother was not a fan of red squirrels.

But when one particular red squirrel began hanging around my parents’ house, my mother began to reconsider. Their relationship got off to a rocky start when the red squirrel tossed pine-cone seeds on my father’s head and dug up my mother’s flowerpots and made a terrible mess of the deck.

But, after the mysterious loss of his tail, my mother began to feel sorry for this little scoundrel. She began to leave him a few seeds on the railing. Eventually, the red squirrel, who we decided to call “Stubby,” became quite attached to my mother, and would stand with its little paws knit together, looking into the window after my mother left seeds out for him on the railing.

Stubby now appears to be missing.

There is another red squirrel and, as hard as my mother would like to believe otherwise, it is not Stubby.

“Could it be that his tail has grown back?” my mother asked.

I’d heard of salamanders growing new tails, but this seemed unlikely in a red squirrel. We both stood silently at the window for a long time, trying to convince ourselves that this was Stubby — thinner after the long winter, with a new scar on his side and a much longer tail. But we knew it was not Stubby.

“I saw two squirrels chasing each other around,” my mother said. “I thought one of them was Stubby. Do you think this squirrel chased him away?”

Of course, I didn’t know. I didn’t even know how long red squirrels lived. Three years, I later learned, is average, although some have lived up to 10 years in captivity. But even with a steady supply of seeds, I don’t think Stubby was living under optimum conditions. Somebody had already gotten the end of his tail, after all. And we have no idea how old he was when that happened.

“Where could he have gone?” my mother wondered aloud.

We do not know, and I don’t suppose we ever will. I had hoped Stubby would be around this summer, tossing more pine-cone seeds onto our heads and peering earnestly at my mother through the window. I would like to believe that, after an extended convalescence, Stubby was well enough to seek out new territory, perhaps find a mate, start a new life with his refashioned tail.

But I know that none of this is likely. And it makes me sad.

Stubby was a good friend to my mother. He made a big impression with his short life and his short tail and his surprisingly courteous manners. He was a fine example of how we can rebound from tragedy, make new and unexpected friends and behave better than people expect.

Till next time,


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