A Park Tale

There’s a squirrel over there, clinging to the trunk of an old pine tree that is split on one side, another casualty of the bizarre rain storms that hit Baltimore once or twice a month. It will be dry for weeks. The grass turns the color of wheat and grows brittle and itchy. The flowers sag and droop, drop their sorrowful, wilted heads into the scorched dirt in depressing defeat. All the while the sky grows thick and heavy, filling the air with a suffocating, sweaty moisture, an oppressive stillness that clings to your skin and breathes, warm and menacing into the curves and angles of your body’s joints. Then suddenly, with the joyful release of an unbearable weight, the sky opens up and pours rain. For thirty minutes, perhaps forty-five, water floods the hot ground and streets. Thunder cracks overhead and lightning bolts back and forth from sky to ground, hitting the old, tired trees in the park, splitting them in half and exposing their insides.

Now there is a squirrel clinging to the trunk of one such tree, fifty, maybe one hundred yards ahead. He can’t see it clearly, but he can smell it, and with every small movement and twitch of the squirrel on the trunk, his ears perk up, and his backside vibrates in anticipation. He is torn between conflicting desires: the ever-present need to be a good boy, obeying my lazy, monotone command of “stay,” and his insatiable appetite for fruitlessly chasing every squirrel in sight.

I watch his conflict like a play, a great tragedy of inner turmoil and angst. Like a literary monster, torn between a growing morality and an innate beastly nature. A doltish beast traversing a rough sea of emotion too difficult for his inferior intellect to parse and comprehend. Stay, or squirrel? Stay, or squirrel? He opens and closes his mouth over and over again as he weighs the options in his mind. Stay, or squirrel? He lets out a soft whimper of frustration as the squirrel crawls down from the trunk and makes its way slowly across a wide expanse of grass. It’s in the open now, an easy target. “Good boy,” I tell him; “stay,” and he looks at me with a positively tortured look.

“Good boy, ” I say again, but it’s not enough to tame the monster buried deep within his chest and blood. The squirrel skips happily across the grass, and the indignity of abiding such unabashed hubris is too much to bear. Like the sky trembling with the heavy anticipation of angry, violent rain, he bursts open. At full speed across the grass, he races like water through thirsty, porous dirt. A hurricane of effort for very little reward. The squirrel scampers up a tree, and he is left sitting at the base, staring up with longing. Eventually, he trots back to where I am sitting and plops down in the grass beside me. He scans the treeline for more squirrels, spots one in the distance, and the cycle begins again–an endless loop that will play over and over until I decide that it is time to head home. It has become too humid; the air around me clings to my skin and makes me yearn for rain.

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