Thursday, October 23, 2003

“I saw a squirrel!”

I keep having the most amazing, stop-in-your-tracks-and-lose-the-ability-to-move, encounters with animals when I do not have my digital camera at the ready.

The other day, walking down the lane that takes you through King’s College’s “backs”, I was passing the cows (yes, there are cows grazing behind King’s – and on other Cambridge greens) when I saw a squirrel leap up onto the barbed wire strand running between the old black iron fence-posts.

It coyly curled its tail round the wire and cocked its head at me, maybe three feet away.

Squirrels may not be amazing for you Brits and North Americans, but they’re gob-smackingly weird for Australians.

Before I could very, very slowly reach for my backpack, undo it and rustle like crazy for my camera – it bounded up the nearby tree (maple, oak, who knows? – something terribly old and English) in a series of wind-up toy jerks. It hung from its fairly vicious looking little talons and again gave me a jaunty, appraising look. Something like:

“Food? Has he got food?


Not dumb enough to hold it out. Damn. Not a local, not a tourist.”

Sniff, scritch.

“Ah, new student. Time to go, then. No food for me.”

And off it bounded into the canopy, while I stood about slack-jawed and dopey-looking.

Some people just do not have this trouble with photographing squirrels, durn them and their quick-wittedness.

I had another encounter with Cambridge’s not-very-wildlife on Monday morning, walking over the Garret Hostel Lane bridge (now one of my favourite cycle paths, not that I’ve yet got up the speed to get over the bridge without dismounting), where I stopped to look at some swans.

It seemed to be a Mum and her full-grown adolescents: too big for cygnets, but still to grey-feathered and grey-footed to be adult swans. Like all adolescent males, they were looking for food and their feet seemed clownishly huge.

They looked much bigger than Australian swans, but maybe they’d just put on their down bulk for the winter. They seemed very solid and ponderous on land, plodding about behind their mother while some sort of red-beaked moor-hen scurried about the edges of the scene.

One of them eventually wandered down to the water’s edge, a thick patchwork of autumn leaves, and lumbered in – the leaves brushing and spinning about his grey-white feathers, his gait in the water still somehow slightly waddling.

At that point I left. I was on the wrong side of the bridge and it was only a question of time before I collected a speeding cyclist by stepping back, awe-struck into the hurtling traffic.

No comments: