The concept of soulishness in animals other than humans has become a source of personal study and fascination. In several posts during the past few years, we have returned to this discussion. The splendor and appeal of animal life on our planet is powerfully related to the notion that many of earth’s created creatures have a soulish trait unexplained by a naturalistic, evolutionary flow of events. Our rural, suburban, and urban neighborhoods are plentifully supplied with animals manifesting this trait.
We introduce a humorous expression with origin in the habits of likely the most commonly observed rural or urban mammal--the squirrel--in particular, the eastern gray squirrel. When the term squirrelly is used, a wide variety of mostly negative meanings come to mind. Negative connotations include odd, nutty, silly, foolish, sneaky, unpredictable, jumpy, eccentric, and strange-acting. A search for this word’s meanings and its uses was entertaining. My observations have affirmed all of these characteristics in our neighborhood squirrels. Their behavior has given rise to this humorous slang expression sometimes applied to people. Squirrels, however, have multiple admirable behavior traits.
The squirrel is a source of childhood fascination. When young people befriend a dog or cat, it is not surprising that their fascination with animal pets is transferred to the common neighborhood squirrel. Alas, squirrels do not respond to human efforts of domestication, much to the disappointment of children. Rather than responding to kindness as dogs and cats do, squirrels may answer with a nasty nip from the animal’s incisors more adapted to gnawing hard shells of acorns, hickory nuts, and black walnuts. The upside of this childhood disappointment may be parental opportunity for teaching discrimination and observational skills.
On the morning I decided to complete my post on squirrels, I observed one of the squirrels in my backyard red cedar tree. Several weeks ago I had observed an adult pair of squirrels busily constructing their winter den from sticks, leaves, and a variety of other building material in the fork of our tree branches. Now it was time for a pre-dawn foray, perhaps to find their day’s food. Squirrels are diurnal and do not hibernate. They must find food regularly all winter, perhaps from their buried caches. They over winter in their leaf dens and sometimes share their dens with their mates or other family members.
In the category of nutty behavior, last summer I observed a lone adult squirrel performing somersaults for about ten minutes at the base of our black walnut tree. The animal flipped from the trunk to the ground, repeating the action again and again. No purpose was apparent except expression of sheer joy as far as I could tell. Perhaps the animal was celebrating last year’s bumper crop of 8000 walnuts from that tree.
Last year I had piled up a row of several thousand black walnuts on the ground next to my garage. These were the walnuts over and above my personal walnut collection and storage needs. After several months they all vanished, probably carried off and buried to provide winter nourishment during the colder months to follow. Several weeks ago two squirrels, one with a large black walnut in its mouth, entertained themselves chasing each other up and down in my back yard walnut tree. One participant finally settled on one branch and proceeded to gnaw away the thick shell while his partner retreated. He consumed the large walnut in its entirety in about a half hour.
Reference books and articles are filled with the lore of squirrels and dozens of other types of wildlife. We recommend that personal observations be supplemented by the wealth of literature available. One blogger’s comments on squirrels used these animals to illustrate their wonderful traits of persistence, playfulness, preparation, protection, peacefulness, and production. Scripture commentators draw a wealth of practical applications based on habits of wildlife and the wonders of living bodily systems. Christ’s reminders about sparrows instruct us about God’s care for these small creatures and about his care for humanity even more.
Even though these animals do not make good pets or relate to humans as do many higher animals, their ability to relate to other members of their own species, nurture their young, and co-exist with other forest residents puts them into the privileged category of soulishness. Rural, suburban, and urban residents are privileged to enjoy the wonders of living creatures each day of their lives. “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:25)
Our brief discussion of the soulish qualities of just one of thousands of species of animals is a reminder of several transcendent miracles including the creation of life itself. The creation of interactive and volitional life forms is a step up the stairway of the transcendent miracles we identify in God’s creation of this universe. Our Creator supplies abundant evidence of his existence, his creative acts, and care for his works of creation.