the cold grasp of winter gave way to the warmth of spring I knew that a drought was lurking.
April of 1997 did not shower us with her fertile rains and our pear trees yielded no white
blossoms. Looking for fruit, the ground hogs found a barren landscape as they searched
under the pear trees. The earth seemed to be saying, “Remember me. I am the one who
gives you everything you need.”
Instead of summer’s festive bright colors, the earth stayed dim with drought conditions. And surprise visitors often showed up in our yard. An old, debilitated squirrel began making an appearance during the sweltering heat. Red, inflamed skin covered his head, as he looked out from eyes that were hidden under a musty veil. I wondered how the frail and nearly blind squirrel was still alive and was thankful that he was guided to my yard where he found food and water.
I began to build a rapport with him, and named him Old Timer. When I threw out nuts for the animals, he strained to see where the food landed. Overwhelmed with the stampede of squirrels that ran ahead of him, all he could do was sit and wait while the treats were devoured by the angry mob.
I learned that all I had to do was call his name, and with his trusting disposition, he allowed me to place some squirrel treat right under his nose.
One afternoon I was pulling into our long driveway and saw a squirrel perched at the edge of the pavement. Standing on his hind legs, squinting at my car, Old Timer watched me pull into the carport. As I got out of my car, he followed me to the house where he patiently waited for me to throw him some nuts.
When he could not locate me in the yard, he resorted to coming around to the sliding glass door in the living room where he sat on the ledge trying to see into the house. Old Timer looked so sad peering into our living room. I dashed out to the carport and scooped up some seeds for him.
As the miserable summer crept along, I had little hope that Old Timer could survive the sweltering afternoons. Like all the other animals, he frequented the birdbaths for water. On the days when there was severe heat, I continually put out water for him and other wildlife.
The long drought and heat wave were taking their toll on even the healthiest animals, and by July Old Timer started disappearing for days at a time. Surely Old Timer had succumbed to this dangerous heat. As I searched the yard for signs of him, I was convinced that I would never see him again. Just when I had given up, Old Timer surprised me and came when I called his name.
I never knew how he survived. He was always on the ground, and never had I seen him climbing trees. How he avoided predators was a mystery.
In late August we were blessed with refreshing rains that brought life back into the wilting earth. The long period of heat was finally coming to an end and all of nature was celebrating.
During the drought, all the animals had retreated into inactivity during the day. Now my yard was alive with birds singing, and the squirrels chasing one another and playing.
After the healing rain the air was cooler, and there was an invigorating breeze. While looking out of my bedroom window, I saw what I thought was Old Timer climbing to the top of the oak tree. I ran outside and was shocked to see that Old Timer was undertaking this challenge.
As he carefully made his way up the tree I was filled with emotion. He climbed higher and higher, and I feared that he would slip and fall to his death.
Old Timer continued his climb until he made it to the top of the tree, where a long tree limb beckoned to him and he slowly climbed out to the edge. Old Timer was quite proud as he sat in his tree top perch. Looking around the yard, he took a few moments to stop and remember his old way of life. After a brief recuperation, he carefully made his way back down the long tree trunk and strutted away, acting as though there really had been nothing to it.
Determination and courage had carried Old Timer up the tree. He climbed with a conviction that seemed to say, “I am going to make it to the top of this tree, even if it kills me!”
Late the next morning, on what was turning out to be a beautiful day, I put out some squirrel treat. Several squirrels, including Old Timer, soon arrived to eat under the maple tree. Black Matriarch Squirrel wasted no time taking command of the pile of treats, chasing Old Timer away.
Running as fast as his aged limbs could carry him, Old Timer tried to stay ahead of Black Matriarch Squirrel, but she was over taking his slow pace. That was the last time I ever saw Old Timer, as he disappeared behind the barn with Black Squirrel ready to pounce him.
As the days passed, I grieved when Old Timer never returned. I missed seeing him and feeding him treats, but was certain that with his great climb, his final wish had been granted.