It was circumstance and not experience that told me the fist-sized package that had fallen 25 feet to the asphalt was a baby squirrel. At first I thought it was a dried pinecone or a clump of dirt meant to pad a nest that had been freed from the thick web of needles and fallen to the ground. Only when it began to scream — high-pitched, desperate — did I realize it was a living thing that had rained on my driveway, and even then, my immediate thought was, baby bird.
But as I ran over, I saw this tiny, hairless, squirming creature had a wispy tail and a mammal’s features. I had never seen a baby squirrel. It looked more like a vole or a mouse with a stout nose. It was beautiful in the way that all helpless baby animals, regardless of species, were beautiful.
By now my husband and the girls were standing with me, regarding the baby with a mixture of fascination and panic, as questions and theories were lobbed over it in an anaemic desire to protect it from the thing that had already happened.
How did it fall? Did its mother push it out? Is it hurt? Will the mother come back for it? Will a cat get it? What should we do? What should we do? What should we do?
In an attempt not to scare my kids into thinking we were utterly unprepared for this scenario (though we were utterly unprepared for this scenario), we changed our tone to a soothing coo, and assured our children that the mummy squirrel was going to sort this out right away, not to worry.
This is nature, I told them. Don’t be scared, this is sometimes what happens in nature, and it will be ok.
It was only when my husband walked to the base of the pine that loomed some 35 feet above our sloping driveway, did we realize that this wretched creature was not alone in his misfortune. A second baby lay tangled in the dry pine brush below the tree.
We spied the mother moving down the trunk of a neighbouring tree. In its mouth was a third baby. See, we told the girls in hushed voices, Here comes the mummy now. We told them that we had to leave them, that the mother wouldn’t come get her babies as long as we were standing there. I did not add that we were late getting ready to leave for a pre-Easter family dinner and I had no idea what else to do but go inside.
Weeks earlier we had discussed whether or not the Easter bunny should be permitted to become part of the weekend’s lexicon. Like Santa, we did not encourage secularized, make-believe entities to play a role in the holidays, or become our children’s impetus for good behaviour. We had decided that, like Santa, we would neither confirm nor deny its existence. We were allowing their grandmother to host the Easter bunny at her house, but made it clear to our kids that the Easter bunny would not be coming to ours.
The children accepted this compromise, and chose to believe the story despite our lack of confirmation.
They looked to me in the driveway, and I assured them again that the mummy squirrel was coming. We made our way into the house.
Once inside, Chris went online for advice, and found that while a fall out of a nest was a common occurrence, we could help keep the babies safe and comfortable until the mother came back for them by putting them in a box lined with something soft. He and the girls found a shoebox and an old tea towel. Chris put on gardening gloves, and with the girls watching intently, gently lifted each tiny creature into the box, where they instinctually moved together into a huddle. I went inside quickly and continued the business of getting ready to leave.
Hours later, we came back home, full, tired and ready to relax. As we pulled into the driveway, the headlights illuminated the little white box at the base of the tree. It startled me, as though in my conviction that the mother would come back for the babies, I had somehow, foolishly, expected her to take the box as well.
Check the squirrels! came the twin cries from the backseat. I took the flashlight from the back of the car and shined it onto what I fully expected to be an empty box.
Two baby squirrels huddled together, still and quiet in the chilly darkness.
I stood with the flashlight’s beam on the box, and willed a paper-thin chest to flutter. Please.
The girls were clamouring out of the car. Are the there, mummy, are they there? Did the mummy squirrel come and take the babies back up the tree? I turned off the flashlight and quickly corralled them towards the door.
Yes, I said, the mummy came. The babies will be fine. Everything is ok. Let’s go inside, its cold out here.
While I got the girls into their cozy pajamas, Chris dug a grave for the squirrels in the western corner of the back garden.
As I tucked each of my girls in, I kissed their round cheeks and smoothed back their downy soft hair. I thought of how easily they believed me when I told them that the babies were ok. I thought of how easily in life the belief that all will be ok can be shattered.
Go straight to sleep, I told them as I tucked them in tight. It’s a big day tomorrow. The Easter bunny is coming.
Yesterday, I attended a wonderful class with my younger daughter that was put on by our Early Years Centre and Public Health. It was the second of a four-part class called Feed Your Mind, and it focuses on teaching small children the importance of good nutrition and a love of healthy food, in an interactive, age-appropriate, and delicious forum. We heard stories, did crafts and participated in the preparation and enjoyment of a delicious, healthy meal.
The class was made up of a very diverse group — no less than five languages were being spoken and we were not all cookie-cutter images of each other.
I felt like I was back in Toronto. I felt at home.
I felt like my misgivings about leaving our big, wonderfully, beautifully diverse city populated with people from every corner of the globe, speaking every language, practicing every religion, normalizing differences and respecting the hundreds of cultural norms that exist there, were dampening.
I felt like this very homogenized place was maybe not quite as homogenized as I had feared; and that with this existence of a richer cultural stew, we were heading towards a greater tolerance for differences here and a lesser reverence for The Way It’s Always Been.
And then today, I read this piece in our local paper.
A piece that is not news, nor is it even opinion. A piece that literally preaches an inflammatory an intolerant view of events practiced only by a certain (albeit majority) population here. A redactive piece that successfully maintains and encourages a sense of ‘other.’ A piece that moves this community backwards.
This is not the voice I want speaking for me or for this community. This is not the pedagogy I want my children to be exposed to in public forums like school or a newspaper. Printing sermons on the front page of the local newspaper is not the way to build an inclusive, culturally rich and culturally tolerant town.
You cannot force affirmative action on a town. I don’t want to. I want to live somewhere where nobody cares, because nobody thinks that being THIS way or THAT way is the most important, righteous way to be.
It is a disappointment. Not the first that I’ve encountered here, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
So what can I do?
I’ve written the editor and publisher of the newspaper, and if I fail to hear back from them, I will write the parent company’s ombudsman and if necessary, the Ontario Press Council.
And I will raise my kids in a respectful Judeo/Christian home where we will celebrate Passover and Easter in the same week, and where I will teach them that both holidays are about strength and miracles and renewal and giving thanks and being with family.
Not about hate and blame and following any doctrine that vilifies another.
And I will go back to our next two cooking classes where six families speak five different languages, and where we can sit together, eat together, speak together and live together. And where I don't feel like an 'other.'
And hope that soon, a-change is gonna come.
I am a writer and a bit dramatic, so my entire life has been accompanied by a running narrative in my head. I am constantly writing the story of my life—both figuratively and literally. But I have not always been writing the same book.
That gave way to my twenties and some marginally better choices, so the narrative was more along the lines of On The Road meets Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Bitch meets Generation X meets Bridget Jones’s Diary.
And then we did some soul searching and made some big bold choices and left everything we knew and loved behind to give it a go in the cornfield. The narrative was sounding a lot like Little House on the Prairie, and Who Has Seen the Wind, and Revolutionary Road (we can make it out here because we’re better than you. Ha!).
But now I know the truth. This place, and my late thirties, will not be about me pretending to be a pioneer or striving to give my children a dynamic life out here in the sticks.
Because I realize now, that I am living in a Stephen King novel. Novels. Horror novels. Many of them.
Like Children of the Corn—do I even have to explain this one? I refer to this place as The Cornfield for a reason. Why didn’t I figure out how spooky it would be surrounded by 10 foot high cornfields?
Like The Blondes. Even though she’s been here for five years, I am still shocked by the fact that I have a blonde daughter. In Toronto I knew she was mine from a mile away. But here in Aryan country? I swear I could not pick her out on the soccer pitch last year. She was just one of dozens of little tow-headed, pony-tailed mutant children looking for their next victim—I mean, running after the ball.
Like The Mist. More Stephen King, thanks to the fog that permeates so many mornings here that the school busses are regularly cancelled because of it. This is not pretty mist on the lake kind of fog. The fog we get here is the kind of fog that sends cars into ditches, causes veritable blindness, and leaves you with a creepy sense of foreboding as you wait to find out what scary thing is going to be left behind when the fog finally dissipates.
Like The Birds. Ok, not technically a book, so the screenplay then. Because the crows are often as thick as the fog. It’s weird. It’s creepy. And then I learned that crows can actually REMEMBER YOUR FACE. So now I throw scraps of bread into the backyard for them on a regular basis because, please don’t attack me or my children, creepy huge birds.
So what will the coming months hold out here in Scarytown? Well, as I’m working pretty much full time on my novel, I’m hoping my life will be more like On Writing and less like The Shining. But I’m off now to go for a run, because you know what they say about all work and no play…
So what’s the story of your life?