I have recently been tamed by a fox squirrel, or maybe I tamed her. I can’t say which, only that it was her idea. A few weeks ago, she approached the sliding glass door through which I sometimes toss peanuts for squirrels and jays. And then stood on her hind legs and looked at me, sort of hopefully.
I knew what she was asking, so I grabbed a few peanuts from the bowl on the kitchen counter, slowly slid open the door and deposited her breakfast on the deck. She backed off a few feet, but returned to eat after I retreated.
This went on for several days, me crouching and coaxing her ever closer until she would take a peanut from my still and patient fingers. We were establishing ties, as Antoine de saint Exupery describes in The Little Prince, when his extraterrestrial young protagonist travels to Earth and encounters a fox.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince. But after some thought, he added: “What does that mean — ‘tame'”? …
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties'”?
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”
I named my new friend Chloe, and it wasn’t long before she showed up outside the window by the desk where I write. I raised the screen and offered peanuts between parsing prose as she came and went. We were each becoming tamer.
Chloe soon became part of a morning routine that involves making coffee, putting out the bird feeders and tending the chickens. I had become like the fox, anticipating the little prince’s visit: I listened for the leafy sound of a squirrel leaping from the branches of the ash tree to the cherry tree on her way to the deck. I looked hopefully at the low, side-winding walk of every squirrel I saw for the difference that distinguishes Chloe: It’s aimed directly at me.
One morning not long ago — still early, my second cup of coffee — she showed up at the bedroom window. I knew the drill: Off with the screen, in with the squirrel.
And now, of course, I worry on days I don’t see Chloe. A squirrel’s life is a mystery to me, and I imagine it full of perils: the speeding car, the unleashed dog. And the occupational hazards of being alive that visit us, too: illness, age, the unknown.
I’ve grown attached; I want this squirrel to keep gladdening my heart. I want to keep feeding and fussing over her. One becomes responsible forever for what one tames, the fox tells the little prince. Chloe and I have established ties; we have need of each other.
One ordinary human, one common squirrel: Tamed. And now unique in all the world.