Saturday, July 11, 2015


In a hole in the ground there lived a squirrel. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a thirteen-lined ground squirrel hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door, which opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill, and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another.

I suppose thirteen-lined ground squirrels need some description, as they are somewhat shy of people. They are a little squirrel, smaller than most, though inclined at times to be fat in the stomach. They dress in subdued colours, but striking patterns—lots of stripes, certainly, but also polka dots within the stripes, and people who know a lot about squirrels have given them a lovely name, tridecemlineatus, of which they are inordinately proud. They have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and chirpy little birdlike voices when they talk, which is frequently. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along.

Thirteens, as some people call them—other people are apt to call them gophers, or damn gophers, or more likely not to think of them at all—spend a good deal of their time near their holes, alert to the approach of people, or watching with great interest the goings-on of their fellow squirrels.

These goings-on might include some bickering, some rapid chasing, even the making of more thirteens.

But the squirrels who are not engaged in squabbling, chasing, or wooing, as I've said, spend a good deal of time near their holes, ready to disappear in a flash if it looks like too much excitement might be about to happen. "Keep your nose out of trouble, and no trouble will come to you" is the motto and practice of the respectable thirteen.

Thirteens really are fascinating creatures. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after many years they are still worth the time it takes to watch.

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