One morning in May, as I walked alongside my neighbor’s yard appreciating their pear tree still bare from the winter, a squirrel launched itself from the ground, flying up from the grass, limbs splayed. It latched onto the trunk just above the lowest branches, scrambled to turn, then launched itself down into the grass in a a new direction. I watched it cross the lawn, its tale a graceful echo of each arcing jump—one, two, three, four, under the low-hanging pines with their tufts of pale-green growth tipping each branch.
I turned away from their yard, onto my street, where another squirrel crossed the asphalt, one jump after every other, each arc of the body painted in air by the sculptural dancing tail.
I’ve seen squirrels in yards and trees all my life. I’ve watched them defy gravity climbing tree trunks up or down, perfectly vertical. I’ve watched one eat acorns on the big rock outside our front door, leaving the broken shells behind in a neat pile. As a child I loved going to the dentist because he had feeders outside a massive window, where we stood to watch the squirrels get close to the glass.
But this time I saw the squirrel’s motion as if for the first time. It flies more than it grounds. It does not walk or shuffle or in any way hug the horizontal. No, it soars each time it moves, arcing away from earth, defying the ground to keep it close. It flies up into trees and down from them. It hugs the vertical, though even there I suspect it travels a wave—I’ll have to observe more closely next time.
How wondrous that despite years of watching squirrels, this time they danced for me.