A squirrel flies by the dining room window. Jerk! I snarl. He's headed in the direction of the bird feeder. Just about every time I look out the window there's one on the feeder. Q gets up from his waffle and heads for the back door. "He's on it now," he calls, "and he's with a bird!"
That's unusual. The birds and the squirrels don't usually share. I went to look -- sure enough, there the two of them are, stuffing themselves on the food that I have coated with a cayenne pepper dust that squirrels are supposed to dislike. This one loves it. So does the bird. The hanging tray swings wildly. It is tilted at a very steep angle. One thing is for certain: squirrels are a lot heavier than birds, and so most of the seed has shifted downstream toward the squirrel. But the bird is unperturbed and continues to chow down.
We do not know how the squirrels have been getting up there. The feeder has a most intimidating squirrel baffle, too smooth and fat for a squirrel to grip and climb. We have seen them climb the pole, climb into the hollow baffle and then inch back out, stymied by its closed-off end. So they're not climbing into the tray full of seed. And the feeder isn't close enough to a tree for them to climb the tree and leap. Maybe from the corner of the roof? But if so, how come they didn't do it last year? The house hasn't moved. Maybe they really do know how to fly.
Squirrels must be getting stronger. Learning how to fly larger distances. Things must be changing: things that used to work don't any more, things heretofore impossible are now becoming commonplace. This must be evolution in the making, a moment in history like the first time a giraffe fed comfortably from a high branch because he'd grown a neck long enough to keep himself from starving, the first time one of our water-dwelling ancestor heaved himself onto a rock and lay there in the open air -- feeling, for the first time, the unaccustomed sensation of breathing with lungs.
What will be the implications of these flying squirrels? How far will they go? Will they become transcontinental, like airlines? How long will it take? How long do we have before a flock of them from New Jersey flies in to settle like locusts upon a field of corn in Iowa, stripping it of its bounty in the course of a day? These are terrible thoughts.
And they may never come to pass. I do sometimes jump to conclusions. It may be that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the increased presence of squirrels on the bird feeders of North America -- perhaps they are riding there on the backs of birds or something, I don't know.
But I do know that even the animals acquire new skills and new ways of being. That things which were not can come into being, and that they always have. That people change, too, and cultures, teaching new duties for new occasions. That all of our traditions were new at one time.
"Behold, I make all things new," says God, and not all of us experience that as comforting information. What was wrong with the old way? Why do we need something new? Do we get to choose what can change and what cannot, or must we summon the trust to wait and see how the new things turn out?