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Smell the Coffee: Wrong thing, right reason

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I did something stupid the other day. In a lifetime of stupid things, you'd think I'd have become hardened against yet another occurrence, but this one keeps gnawing at me. I keep trying to make sense of it.

Strange thing is, even though I know it was stupid, I'm still kind of glad I did it.

I work in Building 6 at the Capitol. A little after lunch one Thursday, I had to walk some documents over to the Capitol. It was cold and windy, so I bundled up and grabbed the envelope and was walking fast across the compound. I was nearly to the other side when the biggest hawk I've ever seen swooped down and snatched a squirrel right in front of me.

I happen to love squirrels, so I'm a little blind where they're concerned. It's their hands I love most, and the demure way some have of tipping their head downward while looking up, totally working those big eyes to persuade me to share what I'm eating.

So when I saw that the hawk didn't have much of a grip and the squirrel was fighting fiercely, I ran at the bird without really thinking, yelling and waving my envelope at it, trying to scare it into dropping its prey.

The hawk wasn't easily intimidated and it took quite a bit of foot stomping and looking crazed to persuade it to release the squirrel. After it did, it flew just a few yards away, allowing me to get between the hawk and the squirrel to assess whether it was injured.

Surprisingly, there wasn't a mark on it. It was just so terrified it couldn't seem to move.

While I admit to frequently foolish behavior, I'm not so impaired as to pick up a frightened animal with very sharp teeth. Yet the hawk wouldn't leave, and the squirrel wouldn't move.

I considered my options. I had nothing with me but the envelope and my coat. I considered removing my coat and scooping the squirrel into it, then bunching it up in a way that would hold it temporarily, until I could get it somewhere safe. Except I had documents to deliver that people were waiting on. I envisioned attempting to discreetly carry a coat containing a freaked-out squirrel into the Capitol, the likelihood of the squirrel squirming loose once inside, and the hilarity (and unemployment) that would likely ensue.

I decided instead to wait with the squirrel as it recovered its senses enough to scamper to a nearby tree, but the only trees in that part of the compound were scrubby and small and didn't provide much cover. Still, the squirrel seemed to have tangled itself in the lower branches well enough that I felt OK about heading inside.

I hadn't even made it to the door before the hawk had the squirrel once again. This time there was nothing I could do.

Over and over, I've told myself that it's just the circle of life. Nature doing what nature does. If it hadn't been that particular squirrel, it would've been another.

I can't stop thinking about that little squirrel after the hawk first released it, how it was then at my mercy and how terrified it must've been by this new creature it faced, the one that had been fierce enough to frighten a hawk. It pains me to think I didn't make the end of its life any better, only more drawn out. I might have given it another 10 minutes or so, but it was only more time to be frightened.

In a way, I wish I hadn't done what I did. Had I not intervened, it would've been over far more quickly for the squirrel. I hate myself for that.

I told some friends what happened. A few thought it was brave, but the consensus seemed to be it was dumb. Even worse, it had been pointless.

What I keep rolling back around to is that if you see something happening -- something awful -- shouldn't you try to help without assessing whether it might be pointless? Granted this was just a common tree rat we're talking about, but there are so many other similarly desperate -- and likely equally pointless -- situations:

A woman fleeing an abusive husband, even though she has a history of taking him back. A homeless person asking for a few dollars to buy a warm meal, even though you suspect it'll buy liquor instead. A child with suspicious bruises. Again.

It's easier to look the other way. It's certainly less messy. And it's not so difficult to convince yourself you couldn't have made a difference anyway. I tried to make a difference for one stupid squirrel and I failed. And only made things worse in the process.

I really wish I hadn't seen what I saw. It haunts me in a way I know I won't easily shake.

But I'm still not sure I wish I hadn't tried.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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