Tevya Lewis’ story takes me back to a couple of my most memorable animal experiences, also involving rescued squirrels, which I’d love to share with Bolander readers.
During my Matric year, in 1983, I spent a week in the school holidays at a horse-riding camp at Arnim’s Place on the Bottelary Road – which just so happens to be featured in a story on
page 10, about a legendary woman in the equestrian world, Brunsi von Arnim.
While trotting around the sandy arena, I looked down and spotted three little creatures on the ground, and quickly dismounted to investigate.
At first, no-one was sure what they were, as they were hairless, with ears and eyes still closed, an umbilical cord still in evidence, and not a mother in sight (leaving us to speculate that they were either mice, rats, or possibly squirrels).
Brunsi could see I was torn at the thought of not attending to their needs, and excused me from the class.
I raced back to the bunkhouse, and put them in a shoebox on a bed of my socks, and organised some Ideal Milk from the kitchen, and some cotton wool, with which I dropped a few warm drops of milk into their mouths.
One of them had a piece of straw in its side, stuck through the paper-thin, translucent skin, the little boy, which I gently removed.
After a feed, you could clearly see the milk in their tummys, through their skin.
I kept them alive for the remaining days of the camp, using an eye dropper to feed them every few hours, and making sure they were warmed by a hot-water bottle in my absence, and tucked into my shirt when I was around.
They went back to Mossel Bay with me, where, after some time, it became clear they were squirrels, and their eyes and ears opened, and they started growing fur.
Over the next months, the two little girls flourished, but the little boy deteriorated, I think due to the injury he had sustained with the hay piercing his skin when he fell from the tree.
He died after a few weeks, but the girls grew big and strong, and went everywhere with me, tucked into my pockets, or riding on my shoulders, and leaping on and off me at will, and they were no small distraction as I studied for my year-end exams. We also had a swallow we were rehabilitating, after it was cuffed by our cat Max.
It also lived in my bedroom for a while, being fed moths every day that I had to lure with a gas lamp and a bowl of water, until it’s wing was strong again, and he could return to the skies.
My squirrels even went to school with me on occasion, although my teachers really strugled to regain the attention of the class, with these little aerobatic clowns vying for attention.
Eventually, I took them to the World of Birds in Hout Bay, as our farm didn’t provide the correct habitat, and I missed them dearly.
In 2003, when my son and I were living in a farm cottage on the Blaauwlkippen Road outside Stellenbosch, we had the occasion for another squirrel encounter, when Nutcase (as we called her) came into our lives.
After a major storm, she was found under a pine tree, and it was back to mixing up egg yolks, cream and infant kitten formula, night feeds, and endless fascination in observing this little being grow into adulthood, having been thrust into our care.
My dog and cat deferred to her, for some inexplicable reason, perhaps because I asked them politely to treat her like a member of the family, for as long as she lingered.
And eventually, when she was ready to take on life in the fast lane, she migrated outside, incrementally, and one day she just didn’t return. Nutcase is launching from my piano, below.