It has become a trope to cry “squirrel” when you are suddenly distracted during a conversation and then lose your train of thought. Perhaps this started with the movie “Up” where the talking dogs are often deep in their alt-dark plans when they become distracted by a squirrel. Or perhaps the trope came first and the movie just brilliantly recognized and magnified it.
When I wrote this, I was thinking of this trope because I was at my mother’s, with her huge dog that puts lie to the human interpretation that the squirrel is the interrupter of flow. This dog is always busy, trying to crawl into someone’s lap (usually my mom’s, since mom is the only one who puts up with it), steal food or paper napkins, or cause some other kind of trouble. During meals, she circles under the glass dining table like a shark, gazing up at us between the side dishes and placemats, and waiting for the conversation to get interesting enough (or the champagne to flow enough) that she can sneak food off our plates. Sometimes we become so interested in our own discussions that we forget and turn back to ask my mother something, only to find this 60# dog in her lap.
Busy, busy dog. No attention span, constantly moving, like thoughts when you are trying to meditate or sleep.
Until she sees a squirrel.
The squirrels commute across the telephone wires, down the large tree, to the small tree in the backyard or the fence along the alley. There they pause to make sure the dog isn’t around, rubbing their paws like maniacal geniuses. Then they slowly descend to forage for nuts under the leaves and snow.
The dog, her attention captured, watches through the glass doors in the dining room, doing mental math that includes the distance that the squirrel is from the tree, the ambient air temperature (the Vizsla is a short-haired dog), the depth of the snow, the probability that one of us will drop food on the dining room floor or lose attention long enough that she can forage on the table or climb into mom’s lap.
Then she wends her way between the chairs, into the garage and out her dog door.
Unsuspecting the squirrel continues to forage, glances over to the dining room, realizes the dog has disappeared from her observation post. The squirrel freezes, gazing toward the open gate to the dog run. (I haven’t figured out why my mom installed a dog run when she never closes the gate.) Following the squirrel’s line of sight, we pan right, the dog reappears around the corner of the garage, slowly, silently, patiently, stalking across the yard towards the squirrel.
One step, another step, another.
The end comes in a flurry of squirrel up tree, just out of reach, dog sitting under tree, demanding squirrel come down and take it like a man. Sometimes they remain like this for minutes. Sometimes the dog returns inside and the squirrel, after reassuring herself that the dog is not lurking behind the garage, returns to the ground to forage once more. Until the dog realizes that the squirrel is trespassing once more.
The dog and the squirrel can keep this game up for hours, or until mom moves to the living room and the dog accompanies her, determined to climb into mom’s lap as soon as mom falls asleep. Both sides win: the squirrel gets enough sustenance while the dog decides whether to brave the weather; the dog gets bragging rights on having vanquished the evil squirrel enemy once again. Neither side loses: the squirrel escapes with its life; the dog does not create an interspecies incident sure to get her banished to the dog run with gate closed and dining room door closed. The purpose, after all, is not to catch the squirrel but to practice the chase.
Now, does that sound like a distraction?
Or a purpose?