Squirrel 3, hunters 0.
That could have been the score of an autumn encounter eons ago when we three were still in high school.
This recollection was triggered the other morning on a walk through Oak Park, when the squirrels were particularly active, probably with winter preparations.
I marveled once again at their uncanny ability to position themselves on a tree trunk exactly opposite of where I was, walking or standing. Regardless of where I was, they were 180 degrees away on the other side of the trunk.
Initially, of course, they approached looking for a hand out.
It was only after I gave the inter-species signal that I had no food for them (a shrug with arms straight out at my sides, hands open, empty palms forward) that they scampered away and took time for a little tree trunk hide-and-seek.
I remembered how as kids we really tested their abilities. We would move right, then left, or fake right and go left, and vice versa, or run around the tree and stop suddenly (like something from a Marx Brothers' movie), and still the squirrel kept out of our sight, always maintaining that 180 degree difference.
With more than one of us per tree, of course, we could keep an eye on him (or her). Three gave us total coverage, usually resulting in the squirrel darting farther up the tree, often jumping to another tree.
The squirrels were probably wise to avoid boys even if we had no obvious weapons.
They were definitely wise when we, as teenagers, were armed and out to shoot them, as on a Wisconsin Saturday afternoon when we were pheasant hunting and were surprised by a number of squirrels in a grove of trees next to the dried out marsh we'd trudged through without stirring up one bird.
With our smaller gauge shotguns, we shot some squirrels, at a distance and taking care not to blast one too directly. I wounded one, and it was running up and down and around a tree trunk, doing its best to stay out of sight.
We circled the tree and kept it in view, a situation that could have ended: squirrel 3, hunters 0. Three impulsive teenagers could have shot each other, and the squirrel's wound might have eventually healed.
The squirrel seemed to know his chances were better staying low. If he'd gone higher up the tree, he might have been blasted from three directions.
He didn't run away or climb higher in the tree. He just circled that trunk. We closed in and realized the best option was not shooting. We couldn't blast him to smithereens. And we couldn't just leave him wounded.
The little thing was bleeding and probably dying, but it still tried to scamper away around the trunk. We took the shells out of our guns, so as not to inadvertently shoot ourselves or each other.
Surrounding the trunk, we each covered a 120 degree sector, taking turns trying to hit him with our emptied guns, but he was evasive, hard to hit. As he scampered around and around the trunk, he zigzagged in a pattern resembling the line on Charlie Brown's shirt.
It didn't take long for our whack-a-squirrel efforts to strike us as way too funny. Our laughter didn't help our hitting effectiveness and it undoubtedly scared the poor squirrel even more.
Eventually, I hit it with the butt of my gun, putting it out of its misery. And that was the last time I hunted squirrels.
Now, eons later, I confine myself to occasionally walking through parks and admiring squirrels' geometric positioning ability. I suppose I should feed them, for all the damage I did way back then.
In my defense, there were mitigating factors: (1) It was the late 1950s; (2) I was a teenager; (3) a male teenager.
EPILOGUE: After concluding this, I noticed how I unconsciously switched from the personal pronoun (he) to the impersonal pronoun (it) when describing my wounding and dispatching the squirrel.
This seems to be an example of our need to objectify a person or animal we harm in some way, physically or verbally.
Look at the inhumane labels we attach to those we don't like, as in war or politics. But that may be a topic for another column.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily?News)