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Totems: Squirrel

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

"Squirrel", I said, in a somewhat challenging tone of voice, "what are you doing here in January’s article in the dead of winter?

Squirrel paused a moment from gnawing on the acorn in his mouth. "Why, I’m getting your readers ready for change, of course," he chattered between swallows.

"But your time of power is late summer and autumn when you are gathering stores for winter. In January, you’re pretty much tucked away," I protested.

Squirrel put the acorn down, flounced his bushy grey tail and looked me squarely in the eyes. "This is the time to prepare for change," he said meaningfully, "before change is upon us. I want to present a new slant on what it means to prepare for the future," he said while glancing nervously at the sun dipping below the trees.

"Oh?" I said, pausing for effect. "How so?"

"Oh yes", he said confidently, nodding his head. "The best way to prepare for the future is to be wholly and utterly in the moment."

"Hmmm," I said doubtfully. "I presume you are going to go into this in greater detail."

Squirrel was nonplussed. "Of course" he said with a slow grin. "You know how fond I am of de-tails", he chuckled, while fluffing his own!

The past is full of regret, the future, of terror, right? Indeed, but there is skill involved in being in the moment. One must observe and expand into one’s surroundings. When something occurs that we don’t like, the normal reaction is to contract. This sends a clear directive to the three trillion cells of the body to also contract. There is no accident to disease patterns. They come from the body being unable to, over a long period of time, deeply relax and become expansive. When we focus all our energies into the experience and acceptance of what is happening in the moment, we begin to experience real joy. We keep thinking we have to have things the way we want them in order to be happy, but actually, it is the experience of our true self that creates happiness. Everything else is dependent upon things we cannot control. Whether we are reaching or running, that takes us out of the moment and also out of awareness. The best time to prepare for the future is now. Prepare yourselves and your children for change by appreciating all you have now: food, love, clean water and air, clothes, play, shelter and advantages. Increased gratitude brings greater awareness of blessings, and the likelihood of attracting more.

Squirrel totem prepares us for change. And how! Just before beginning this, squirrels were frenetically running across roads, just in case I wasn’t paying attention. I couldn’t miss it. About a week into this, the 2008 Presidential elections took place, signaling the country’s overwhelming desire for change. At the same time, economic reversals precipitated lifestyle changes for America, and environmental foreboding sent caring people into deep consideration of ways to "save" the planet. It was time to clean up, clean out, and prepare for a clean, green future. I could feel the energy building for a big change, but I couldn’t seem to match my mind’s attempts to organize for it. For months, I’d had a strong desire to clean out and feng shui every room, every corner of my living space, but I hadn’t made much headway. People under the influence of squirrel totem do better working quickly, in bite-sized increments. I hadn’t written about squirrel earlier because I like to have a personal experience to write about each totem. Squirrels were just animals I’d seen all my life – nothing exotic or wildly interesting. Then one morning in the wee hours I heard scratching outside my bedroom window. I went back to sleep. At dawn, I heard it again. It was loud like something was trying to gnaw through the window frame. A young, apparently fearless red squirrel stood on hind legs on the rooftop outside the window, looking curiously at me. I looked back from the other side of the pane. Neither of us moved. When I decided to open the window, red squirrel thought better of its curiosity and ran to the edge of the roof – yet didn’t run away. The next day, red squirrel raced around on the roof again, delivered its message, and then was gone: Be timely. Prepare without haste. Have fun while putting stores by.

You can recognize squirrels by their prominent snouts, large, bright eyes, bushy tails and ear tufts. Squirrel means "shade tail." The tail provides shade, balance and is used for communication. People with this totem read body language well. Squirrels of the family Sciuridae are rodents, the largest mammalian order. Rodentia means "gnawing animal" their most obvious characteristic. Some members of the squirrel family might surprise you. In addition, to the American grey, red, and flying squirrels of this article, chipmunks (a previous article), prairie dogs and other ground squirrels (look for them in March) and woodchucks, a.k.a. groundhogs (May) are in the squirrel family. Squirrels thrive in many habitats. They appeared in North America 30 million years ago, but have since been introduced to every continent except Australia. There are three basic groups: ground squirrels (diurnal) seed eaters and grazers with highly developed social systems; arboreal (diurnal/tree dwelling) nut and fruit eaters, and mostly solitary. Grey and red (a.k.a. chickarees/pineys) squirrels are in this category; and nocturnal flying squirrels, so named because side skin flaps (patagium) allow them to glide from one tree to another. They can coast for over 150 feet.

More than 200 squirrel species live across the world. This is part of squirrel’s adaptability. They adapt well to various climates. This totem takes things in stride. Life situations that would throw others off balance are gracefully attended to. Have you noticed squirrels always move with grace? There is an even deeper aspect to this totem’s ability to live and thrive. Squirrels can eat Amanita mushrooms, fatal to humans. Now that’s digestibility. How’s your digestion? Folks with this medicine have unusual detoxifying capabilities, as well as the ability to break down knotty issues into their separate components. Careful not to be too chatty or gossipy. Squirrel speaks up for itself. Squirrel is very vocal, and high energy, is known for teasing dogs and cats, and protests vigorously if anyone approaches its den. "tchick, tchick" chickaree scolds, jerking its tail as a threat. If the intruder (even much larger animals) ignores the warning, a foot-stomping tirade of extended "tcher-r-r-r" is meant to emphasize that red squirrel means business. If all else fails, the intruder will be chased. Grey squirrels ignore red squirrel threats. Greys "kuk, kuk, kuk" rapidly for immediate danger; slowly, when danger has passed.

Arboreal squirrels live in tree holes or hollow trees over-winter and to raise young. They have one to two litters in late winter and early summer. They gestate for 44 days (a master number) and babies are weaned at eight weeks. If no inner tree space is available, a nest called a drey is skillfully made. Even though they look sloppy from the outside, the nest is woven tight with twigs, leaves and soft material for the interior. They’re about soccer ball size. Winter nests are strong enough to withstand winter winds, and are built close to the trunk for added protection from the elements. Summer nests, usually in the crotch of a branch, give predator protection, with abundant leaf cover. Squirrels take good care of their homes. People with this totem make repairs before things fall apart. If you are experiencing this totem’s energy, you may be remodeling or repairing your home. At the least, you are cleaning out the garage or clutter in the house. Perhaps you are storing supplies for winter.

Squirrels are curious and opportunistic about food. Some will take food from your hand. When my daughter was three, we undertook a car trip south, camping in unusual places. I’d heard about an island off Georgia, known for tame wildlife. Squirrels would come up to receive the obligatory treats as soon as you brought out food for your own meal. They were so spoiled by humans that they were threatening if you weren’t quick enough. They actually charged us. In city and suburban settings, squirrels will raid trashcans, and of course bird feeders for an easy meal. In the wild, they eat nuts, acorns, berries and flowers, bark, fungi, insects, eggs and baby birds. For some, tree sap is a delicacy.

My mother had quite a green thumb and she loved songbirds in her garden. The bane of her existence were the grey squirrels, who ingeniously outwitted her attempts to prevent them from stealing food meant for the birds. "Those pesky squirrels," she would tsk. She spent time and effort trying to squirrel-proof birdfeeders. Even feeders hung in tricky places can be masterminded by this intelligent mammal (largest brains relative to size). It didn’t take squirrel long to figure ways to the prize, despite increasingly complicated obstacle courses devised by my equally ingenious mother. Sometimes the squirrels would hang by one leg swinging their bodies like trapeze aerialists toward the bird feeder, grabbing at handfuls of seeds or nuts.

Nature has fostered a fascinating relationship between squirrels and nut-bearing trees. During a mast year, a tree will give an abundance of nuts. Squirrel will bury many. Squirrel finds the nuts by smell and memory, but some are left unfound. They sprout into saplings. However, trees bear erratically to thwart nut-eating squirrels. It’s feast or famine. Successive years yield few nuts. They are then susceptible to mange, mites and even starvation. Territory for grey and red squirrels used to be more separate in old-growth forests. Greys prefer nut-bearing deciduous trees, which shed their leaves in the fall like oak, maple, ash, birch, beech, aspen, poplar, black walnut, hickory, butternut and orange osage. Red squirrels prefer conifers like fir, pine, spruce and hemlock. They yield seeds, cones and berries maintaining needle-like leaves, year round.

Squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing. Their incisors are a big part of their totem energy. Once a person with squirrel as a totem sinks his or her teeth into a project, they will make incisive decisions until the desired result is achieved. Squirrel will help you gnaw at the great questions of life: Who are you? Why are you here, and what role does free will play? These are deep questions. Squirrel’s incisors grow continuously from deep in the jawbone. That is why you will always see the squirrel family gnawing. They must keep eroding them, or the teeth of the lower jaw may perforate the palate or even grow out of the mouth into the eyes. Did you know that squirrels only learn to crack open nuts through lots of practice, and trial and error? By chiseling deeply with their incisors into the grooves of the shell, they eventually crack it open. Squirrels sit up to feed, using their dexterous front paws to manipulate food. This totem teaches perseverance, which leads to success. If you tend to procrastinate, ask squirrel for help finishing up or releasing old projects, and beginning new ones. Are you planting seeds for the fulfillment of your dream? Have you let yourself even have a dream? What are your long and short-term goals? Have you a plan? Resources? Are you saving or squandering money? Squirrel is the totem that helps us realize what’s important and let go the rest. What do you need in your life now? Make room for new prosperity by releasing, and giving to others. This creates a balance between accumulating possessions and being free.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Star-woman has been a healer and writer for 35 years. As an interfaith minister, and advocate for the natural world. Cie lives and works shamanically, using Light, Sound, and stewardship in healing animals and humans. For a healing session, in person or by phone, for you or your animal, a reading, spiritual training, to attend Cie’s Salon for Expressive Arts, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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