January 14, 2009

Elegy for a Squirrel

Greetings from beautiful Ojai,

I came up here yesterday afternoon on a whim that struck on Monday, but has been brewing for several years. Way back when I was still working as a film exec (six months plus many years ago), I always dreamed that I would reach a point in my life where I could whisk away for a few days by myself to write, holing myself up in a cabin somewhere. The fantasy has always been very basic, with modest expectations (a room with a bed, a desk, a reading chair) in a beautiful, serene environment.

After I quit my other career to focus on writing full time, I felt so liberated just staying home all day, making my own schedule, writing, working out, seeing friends when I wanted, on my terms. And did I mention how amazing it's been to have Rocky by my side ALL DAY LONG? We've kind of become addicted to each other since we're home together all the time. He likes to follow me wherever I go, even if it's moving five feet from one end of the room to another. He'll sit on the bathmat in front of the shower door while I take a shower, or lie down outside the bathroom door waiting for me (when guests are over and I have the door shut -- kind of weird to let them see you actually let your dog follow you into the bathroom. I know I'm admitting it here, but at least it's pseudo-anonymous and I don't have to see your reactions.)

Here's the thing. I grew up with dogs and have been dying to have my own since I left home for college. My family's dogs died a few years ago, at the same time my husband lost his beloved family dog (both chocolate labs. In fact, here's a good tidbit. Molly and Charlie in In Your Room are kind of named after my hubby's family pets, Molly the chocolate lab, and Charlie, the legendary greatest cat of all time. He really was. I mean, his neighbor named one of her children after Charlie the cat he's THAT legendary.)

Anyway, having Rocky around all the time, not just on school breaks and visits home, is pretty much a dream come true. Which is one of the reasons I've deferred this other dream of mine, to go somewhere alone to write. That, and, of course, it's always more fun when I'm hanging out with Alex.

But, with a deadline approaching, I felt this was a good time to go away and see if isolation in a tranquil place would be all that I dreamed it would be. So, on a whim (plus many years of dreaming) I found this charming place on several acres of beautifully tended land and drove up the next day. I don't have a cabin, but a little cottage, modestly appointed (a bed, a reading chair, a desk) with my own balcony overlooking the mountains.
This is what the view looks like:

And this brings me to the squirrel.

I'm one of those people who shudders and feels a tiny bit of pain on the part of any dead animal I ever pass on the street. It's like those times you feel a shiver go up your spine for no apparent reason, only the reason for me in these cases is always very clear. I feel sad that their lives ended so tragically.

So, after being happily ensconced in my room, on my balcony, on the grounds for the last 24 hours, I decided to venture into town to get some lunch and restock on supplies (breakfast is the only meal served here). On my way down the steep private road, a squirrel darted out right in front of the car. It was almost like a kamikaze mission, and even though I managed to swerve slightly, it was too late. I could see the little guy lying in the middle of the road through my rear view mirror, his tail whipping from one side to the other.
It was really sad. I felt awful. Even though there wasn't anything I could do, I hated that I was the cause of his death.

Further along my drive into town, I drove past a sign on the side of the main road that said: "Free Your Mind," beneath its Sanskrit equivalent. I thought about the squirrel and what had just happened and tried to do just that.

I had a lovely meal and walk around town, and browsed through an antique store, where I bought myself a pair of delicate earrings, and a little gift for Alex.

On my way home, not too far from where I'm staying, I drove past a dog crossing the road on his own, no owner in sight. A couple of other cars stopped to make sure he got across okay. He had a collar but no leash, so I pulled over and walked across the street to see him.
He was a sweet, medium sized dog, some type of Shepherd mix, with a rich dark brown and black coat. I was able to see that he had a tag with a local number, but the sound of a truck driving by startled him and he ran off. I got back in my car and followed him slowly up the street and down a private drive that led to several houses off the road. I pulled over again, got out and followed him to a house where a man greeted him. He was home, and his owner didn't realize he had gotten out.

I got back in the car again, relieved to know that this animal wasn't going to get hit by a car, and drove the rest of the way up the hill. When I got to the private road where I had hit the squirrel, I kept waiting to see his dead body still lying there, and cringed at the thought of facing it again.
But I kept driving all the way up, back onto the property, to my parking spot near my cottage and never saw him again.
He was gone. Who knows, maybe he didn't die after all.


G r a c i ε ಌ said...

Ha Ha! Squirrels are weird yet mysterious animals.

I bought In Your Room on Saturday. I just finished it...and I loved it! It was cute. You need to write a sequel, and that is not an option. =]

Jordanna Fraiberg said...

thanks so much, gracie! I'm so touched, and as you can see, not very adept at looking at my comments!