Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The squirrel: furry forest friend or pestiferous urban vermin? That's the topic of tonight's show where we let the viewer decide.

"Hopping his Merry Way across the sidewalk and onto the trunk of the lone Maple, I see my Friend the squirrel come to break the paved Drear of my city block. I breathe a whiff of emergent Nature."

"What sound is more frightful than the shrill chitter-chatter of the mad squirrel that dismembered the trash bag behind my Building? It dragged off a carcass of pizza crust that I watched disappear round the corner like my Hope.

"The center of Power is shifting and we do nothing to stop it."

Though it has long been known that squirrels spread Rabies to pets and children, it is only recently that researchers have proven the amazing ability of these rodents to spread Gossip.

Studies done by Hunt and Greimas at the University of Michigan (2010) suggest that an even minimally dense squirrel population can move an item of salacious Rumor across an urban space and into the suburbs even faster than traditional print Media.

The squirrel rests on its haunches, eating the Chestnut held in its forepaws. Its tail, curved into a stiff "S," stands to attention behind the upright silver body.

When the tasty tidbit concerned a prominent or fashionable young Woman, squirrels were found to spread the slander at a speed and efficiency approaching that of the Internet. This led Greimas to conclude in a Dec. 2011 interview in Zoological American that: "A squirrel is a suburban housewife trapped in a rodent's body."

Hunt, however, has disagreed with his this assessment, stating in a counter interview in Nature: "The soul of squirrels cannot be gendered or classed this way. A squirrel, in my view, is a small mammalian incarnation of the god Hermes. That is how we should treat them. Parkside libations, peanut butter, the works."

A squirrel is the pilonidal cyst of the animal kingdom; it is a compact yet motile furball of pent-up office park Rage.

Greimas: "Note the beady black eyes always on you, the twitching. You approach the tree from one side, it scutters round to the other. You go to the other side and it scutters back, the twitching tail all the while sending Messages in every direction, mean backstabbing bytes of Gossip."

Hunt: "In his role as psychopomp, Hermes led the dead to the Underworld, his caduceus held aloft and guiding them like the squirrel's tail. If only we could cleanse our eyes to see. If only we could read the divine chatter. The word hermeneutics, after all, comes from Hermes."

To move through life like a squirrel leaping branch to branch, Philosophy my tail keeping balance, my path developed by a fractal logic, out to the perimeter of one Oak, then working toward the center of Another. To accept each day with its acorns and near auto misses, ever aware of the boy with the Pellet Gun who lives down the lane.

Greimas: "My research points to one of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as most effective. I've especially shown good results using Sertraline, which can slow the gossip-mongering of these rodents significantly."

"C'mon, kids!" Buddy Squirrel exclaimed, waving the crowd to the platform. "C'mon! The Acorn Train is about to depart! It's time to go to NutterNutterLand!"

Hunt: "United with Thoth, he brought us the Corpus Hermeticum."

Greimas: "Within ten years, I predict prudent city councils will be earmarking funds to medicate their squirrel populations."

Whether Greimas or Hunt's approach will best help us appease the Wrath of these small tree-hugging mammals, whether they are friends or chattering foes, there is one thing I think we can all agree on here: Squirrels would be nowhere without their extravagant tails.

If Evolutionists point to the tail as having evolved to help the animal balance, we can point another important survival-enhancing aspect of the tail: It's the one thing that makes squirrels cute.

Only raze the fur from a squirrel's tail and you get a largish tree-climbing rat. How long would a neurotic, hygiene-obsessed species like ourselves have tolerated such a creature in our parks and school yards, chattering at our children and denying the Trinity? How long would this verbose vermin have survived?

Whether parkbench backbiters or avatars of Greco-Roman divinity, we'd have exterminated the lot of them back in the Fifties.

* * *

This and many other animal musings are collected in my new book Idiocy, Ltd.--dryest damn prose in the West.


ullrich said...

Neither Hunt nor Greimas, apparently, took account of the definitive study of squirrel avatars, published in 1911 by A. J. S. Burrelhead (Annals of the Society of Friends of Park Bench Zoology, IV-V). Burrelhead demonstrated, by deductive reasoning, that squirrels could not be descendants of Hermes, because the latter's most recent incarnation, as Hermes trismegistus, relies on the number three to express his power, whereas squirrels, when asked, were uninterested in the number three as opposed to any other greater number of nuts.

Eric Mader said...

Of course Burrelhead's thesis put the squirrel/Hermes connection in question for a time. But Hunt (and myself as well, I might add) would argue that Burrelhead's work suffered from the limited sampling of squirrels he interviewed (certainly Cambridge squirrels do not speak for ALL squirrels) and was superseded in any case by Constance Branch's 1952 study of the impact of the interwar Oak Blight. Branch, you might remember, proved that east coast squirrels' acorn consumption dropped from an average of 3.8 acorns a day to 0.5 acorns a day as a direct result of the blight. He further documented instances in which the hermetic Avatar /adjusted/ its epithet to match the new dietary regimen. Many squirrels interviewed, in various locales, had begun referring to themselves as "Hermes Demimegistus". Branch thus concluded that the Avatar's self-perception was indeed influenced by diet, as Burrelhead had discovered, but that this self-perception adjusted according to what Branch called "nutty circumstance".

Hunt I think rightly follows Branch's methodology. Some scholars in rodent studies ignore Branch because of his later, more speculative work (cf. his widely derided 1966 thesis that the hermetic maxim "As it is above, so it is below" referred to the quality of acorns on the tree vs. the quality of fallen acorns) but this, I believe, again along with Hunt, only manages to cut them off from a veritable vein of unmined rodential gold that still awaits extraction in early Branch.

Thanks for your comments, Ullrich.