The Angel of Mercy

Two hours and fifty minutes on Alaska Airlines and I am in an entirely different universe…the Ancestral Homeland, the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, where I spent much of my childhood, at my sister Wendy’s house.  Broad avenues, tree-shaded streets, houses without ten-foot walls to protect them from god knows what predator or threat. Everyone can drive really fast because – well, no cobblestones, and no pedestrians, no dogs or livestock to watch out for, no street vendors, no taco stands in the calle, and no buses. If there ARE foot-deep potholes, somehow they seem to get fixed quickly, unlike the one I hit a few months ago that blew out our right front tire and left us stranded at sundown on the side of the road driving back from Guadalajara with a car full of Costco stuff.  (As is often the case in Mexico, two incredibly nice government topographers on their way home from work on the highway above us took pity on us and stopped to help, but we’ve been wary of that road ever since).

Well, they do have buses here but one hardly ever sees them. Wide lanes, and everyone has to get wherever they are going as quickly as they can because they know that once they leave the residential area and get on the freeway, they could be stuck there inching along for hours. So where they can drive fast, they do. But it all seems to work in its weird L.A. way.

There is no noise, either, except for the sound of the occasional car starting up – some poor devil who has to leave home at 5 a.m. to get to work on time. Not the raucous morning noises of the birds screaming in the trees, the various trucks advertising their wares with megaphones, the incessant crowing of roosters (they do not start at dawn, contrary to the folklore, they start at 3 a.m., if they are worth their salt), radios, car stereos. Add to this mix insanely loud fiestas with music amplified by speakers as big as refrigerators, and the roof dogs’ barking at whatever little thing is going on below. The biggest complaint everyone seems to have here is the gardeners’ blowers to which my reaction is “and THAT wakes you up?”  So many of my gringo friends back home have learned to sleep – especially in the summer when you pretty much HAVE to leave your windows open or you suffocate from the heat – with earplugs, white noise machines, running fans. Anything to block out or at least minimize the incessant racket.

However on Sunday morning Wendy and I were sitting having breakfast when there WAS some unexpected noise – the terrified screaming of what turned out to be a baby squirrel one of her cats had captured and brought into her bedroom. Wendy ran upstairs screaming at the unlucky cat to drop his prey. Once released from the kitty’s jaws, Wendy put the baby squirrel quickly into a box where it laid terrified and trembling.  We didn’t see any puncture wounds on him, but we still couldn’t tell if it had any internal injuries or what was really going on, but suckers that we are, we were determined to save its little life if we could; even in his panic he was awfully cute. We covered the box so it would be dark and just peeked inside every so often to see if he was still breathing, which he was – his little sides just heaving in terror. But his eyes were open and pretty bright, and even though he was motionless, he was still clearly alive.

Here is what they have in my sister’s neighborhood which we don’t have back home: an outfit called The Critter Squad, which Wendy found after a few frantic calls to friends and some anxious searching online about “how to rescue an injured squirrel”.  After Wendy got in touch with the Critter Squad they sent their truck right out along with delightful young Jeffrey, a volunteer maybe in his twenties or early thirties who is, as it turned out, extremely knowledgeable about wildlife rescue. He examined the baby squirrel and actually told us what kind of squirrel he was – definitely a male. It also turned out that he was a European Fox Squirrel, a species not native to the Valley, which is running all the native squirrels out of their habitat here. Oh great, we both thought, so we should have let him die after all? This darling little baby thing is an invader? It is just so ridiculously complicated. It had been very windy, as it often is here, and his nest probably blew down from one of the tall trees or he just fell out. Jeffrey noted that usually the fall injures them or kills them, but this little guy might just have been incredibly lucky, notwithstanding his adventures with the cat who found him, probably dazed on the lawn.

Indeed as we were getting our biology lesson on squirrel species and habitats from Jeffrey, the baby began to crawl around in the box and it seemed  that – un milagro! – he was going to be okay. We just put ourselves into Jeffrey’s hands and asked “what will you guys do with him now?” Not to worry, invader or not, he was a tiny terrified living thing who apparently had nothing wrong with him beyond being traumatized. Without expecting a penny from us (though we did make a contribution), The Critter Squad would take care of him, feed him the correct formula for a baby squirrel, and if he had no injuries from his fall that would prevent it, at the appropriate time he would be released back into the wild. If, however, it turned out that he had a bum leg or something like that, he would become part of their education program for kids. So, I joked with my sister, not only did they come promptly to the house, rescue him, and promise him therapy, but he may well have a job offer with a lifetime contract! What a deal! Soon the box with the baby squirrel, wrapped gently in an old towel because he was cold and dehydrated, was whisked away in the gaily painted “Critter Squad” van to his new life. No, Dorothy, we are not in Mexico any more.

It occurred to usually cynical me that our morning had all the lessons of an adventure of mythic proportions. Here was pure evil, in a sense – an overfed house cat who probably could live on the Friskies stored on his body for months trying to kill a little baby thing for the sheer instinctual pleasure of it. One gets it that “that’s what cats do” but it doesn’t make it any more fun when they bring the terrified and helpless tiny creature into your house. Wendy and I both see ANY baby thing and go “awwww” like so many people do.

But then, as we frantically try to figure out what to do on a Sunday morning – call a shelter? Call a vet? Who would be around to guide us? —  we find out about this wonderful outfit. Within an hour the Angel of Mercy arrives at the house and the evil is outshone by pure goodness as the baby’s life is saved. It is so indiscriminate and weird . Here a life is saved by this wonderful young man in an exquisite act of compassion, giving up his Sunday morning to help us, and how many people in Mexico, Syria, god knows where else, get randomly mown down today?

The philosophical lessons implied in this adventure were all too complicated for us to fathom so after we returned to our morning coffee  (a bit like Scarpia going back to his dinner with Tosca after arranging for the torture of Cavaradossi, though with a far happier outcome), we decided we needed some trauma treatment ourselves, and planned a therapeutic visit to the mall. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi!

The Baby Squirrel!


  1. I am SOOOOO enjoying your little windows into life….it’s almost (almost!) like we sat and visited!

  2. I SOOO enjoy the little windows into your life…it’s almost (ALMOST!!) like we got to sit and visit for a while!


  3. Wonderful story… and so different from here in SF where squirrels have eaten the tulip bulbs of many of my gardener friends (and I had to build a large metal and wood cage to protect mine)… and thus we are cursing the little critters. I read that somewhere (I forget the city) that squirrels ate most of the 10,000 tulips in a public park thus is a favorite photo spot for wedding parties! I am constantly amazed at how many wild critters manage to thrive in San Francisco: we have raccoons, possums, a fox or two, a coyote and, of course, lots of squirrels, wild cats, and rats.

    1. I know, it’s weird – so many of these things are actually turning out to be sort of pests. Wendy and I felt awful when they told us this squirrel species was an invader and not native to Southern California. But did you see that photo? How adorable is that baby squirrel!? Of course we wanted to try to save him!

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