Warm evening air greeted me as I stepped outside last night. These little jaunts to the patio represent the only means of escaping my on-call hell. Being tied to a computer 15 hours out of each day leaves no room for much else.
Yet feeling robbed of walks at the lake during such times doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy nature. Living at an urban nature refuge means nearly as much life can be seen roaming about outside my own door as can be seen were I to venture to the lake itself.
Last night was just such a moment, an instance when nature came to me. Albeit under stressful circumstances, and I don’t mean for me.
al-Zill lounged comfortably just outside the fence. His attention seemed focus upward, toward or into the bushes I thought, although my view was limited and he just as easily could have been looking up into the sky on the other side of the hedges.
I had seen him leaping into the photinia bushes from time to time, something I assumed meant he was chasing one of the many birds or insects or lizards that use the foliage for hunting, for nesting, for off-the-ground transportation, and for camouflage. The stealthy black feline always returned to the ground in that clumsy way for which he’s known, and always with empty paws and jaws showing he failed to capture whatever he was chasing.
The moment I stepped out the bedroom door and spied him, he turned, saw me, and came running. This is the usual course of things; to wit, he dashes to my side the moment he sees or hears me, rubbing endlessly against me in an effort to give as much affection as he receives.
After a few minutes of petting and rubbing, him rolling around and giving me head butts the whole time, we had moved close enough to the food and water for him to realize his belly needed filling, so off to dinner he went.
My attention no longer diverted by this joyfully needy and loving cat, I stood, took a sip from my beer, and turned toward the fence.
I immediately saw Psiwa lounging beneath the tree inside the protection of the photinias.
He likewise seemed to be watching the bushes intently. Too intently.
I felt this warranted a closer look, what with two cats within spitting distance of each other who both appeared enraptured by something, something hidden amongst green and red leaves and the maze of limbs that supported them.
So I scanned the verdant growth looking for… Well, looking for whatever they were so interested in.
It didn’t take long for me to find it.
Precariously slipping from branch to branch, sometimes stretched to her body’s limit trying to keep herself as high as possible, a juvenile female eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) scarcely bigger than my hand clung to life by a thread, a thread represented by whatever protection the shrubbery could provide.
With two cats already aware of her presence, that seemed little protection for such a defenseless creature. Felines are patient and skilled hunters. An immature and frightened squirrel stands little chance of escaping.
I then decided I should intervene.
I went back inside and exited through the front door, walked around to the outside of the patio, and located the poor thing. Even as I approached, it scrambled a bit, a clumsy attempt to remain unseen and safe.
Despite its small size and cute visage, I knew trying to grab it was a poor idea, yet nothing else sprang to mind. If I held it in my protective arms, at least then I knew it would not fall victim to predation by domestic felines looking for the enjoyment provided by the pursuit and capture of small darting prey.
But I had no intention of trying to grab it. There is a great deal of nature that can be touched, from plants to insects to reptiles to arachnids to crustaceans to every other kind of life imaginable. One need only know what is safe to touch and what is better left untouched.
A young frightened rodent is nothing to be trifled with, especially one who likely has been trapped in a hopeless situation for quite some time.
Yet what chance did a single human have to intervene when two killers had already marked the target, and the target itself possessed none of the skills necessary to escape, not strength or speed or intellect?
I stood silently as close to it as I could without posing an imminent threat, at least one greater than the cats, and I pondered what course of action I could take.
Thankfully, a timely diversion bigger than me came around the corner, one that could not be ignored.
Someone across the road was receiving a large delivery of plants from a landscaping company. The truck and its two deliverymen rumbled about making all sorts of noise, the lot of them finally coming quite near where I stood at the edge of the concrete.
The cats retreated long enough for the squirrel to leap from its ligneous hideaway and scramble beneath a nearby parked car. al-Zill saw it, though, and he followed quickly.
Withing striking distance of the poor thing, me flailing crazily as I tried to divert his attention, the truck rumbled to life one more time to reposition itself for unloading. That brought it right to the squirrel’s position.
The cat ran back through the bushes fleeing the giant monster, and the little gray visitor ran eagerly beneath the metal giant, out from under the other side, and quickly disappeared up a tree that gave it easy access all the way to the lake (from tree to tree to tree).
Did it survive? While under my watch, yes. I can make no other claims.
— — — — — — — — — —
 Having grown confident al-Zill does suffer from some kind of neurological damage, he tends to be less graceful than most felines. Climbing into the shrubs around the patio is relatively harmless in that regard since he can’t fall far and has difficulty getting very high due to the dense limbs and foliage.
 I’ve said before that al-Zill and Psiwa get along. That’s generally true, although not always. This can be blamed on al-Zill and his mental issue(s). Sometimes he greets Psiwa like an old friend, sometimes he ignores him entirely as though he’s not there, and sometimes he challenges him similar to the way one might challenge a home invader. These dichotomous positions remain unpredictable, sometimes occurring within minutes of each other.
 Some might have provided soothing words to the poor little lass hoping to calm her racing heart and let her know help had arrived. Those words, although comforting to human ears, might have been heard very differently by the squirrel. Domestic cats, for instance, when in distress, are actually frightened and agitated by the soft tones and cooing verbiage we associate with peaceful reassurances. Most people never realize this, and most people equally never realize those heartfelt gestures mean little, if not the opposite, to species other than humans and dogs. While each individual will react according to its own personality, most animals receive little if no benefit from such acts.
[title shamelessly borrowed from “Ghost”]