Sunflowers and squirrels

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I planted sunflower seeds this year. My mom's favorite flower, I'd always manage to buy her a few of the smiling, cheerful, oversized flowers every summer. She'd put them in a heavy crystal vase and wouldn't retire them until it was obvious they were ready to be dried and shared with the squirrels, who would pick at them until every seed was cracked and savored.

She got such a kick out of the whole thing.

I planted three seeds in a sunny area in front of our home. One on the far left was back in the shadier area, one in the middle and one on the right, the most open spot.

A science project could have predicted that the one on the far right would be the blue ribbon winner.

Every few days my husband and I would note how fast it was growing.

By mid-July it had passed the first floor and was fast approaching the second-floor window.

My husband said it would be as if my Mom was looking in on us. The bright yellow head made it to the window. We could sit on the couch and see it like a friendly face keeping watch just outside our home.

I wondered if the squirrels were as excited about the promise of future treats that one blossom held. I sure was.

A severe thunderstorm came through town yesterday afternoon. We sat at work, turned out the overhead lights and watched the spectacle as sheets of rain, tree-bending wind and even sleet turned Glebe Road into Ground Zero for the summer storm.

As I pulled up to our house three hours later, I was thankful that the neighbors' tree was still standing, and just a collection of leaves and small branches from it littered our walkway.

The star sunflower, however, was doubled over and the smiling face was inches from the soggy ground. To add insult to injury, the sturdy stalk had cracked down the middle like the trunk of an old oak.

No tomato stake, no neighboring sunflower, nothing could right this grand dame. So with the head snipped and turned upside down for drying, the little seed that had become a symbol of maternal love was on its way to the next phase of its life.

To make matters worse, as we walked up toward the house we made a gruesome find. Three small animals, about three inches long, were laid out on the bricks. One was white, the little life completely drained out of it. The second was a very pale pink and also not moving. The third, the color and shape of a tiny pig but with a long tail, was moving its little legs. Its chest moved up and down as it tried to breathe.

Long story short, hah, after a trip to the nearby vet, they had no idea what it was, but assured us it was neither cat nor dog.

We returned home to find a neighbor who guessed it was a tree squirrel. After a little Internet research, and a call to the Animal Welfare League, we were told someone would get back to us.

We placed a ziplock bag of warm water (by the way the electricity was knocked out by the storm) under the little guy's newspaper mattress, covered him with a soft warm rag and hoped his mom would come looking for him.

She never did. But a nice woman from the rescue division came and got him. We called her a few hours later to check on him. She had warmed him, hydrated him and sent him on his way to a rehabilitator 35 minutes from Arlington, "one of the best on the East Coast," she told us.

The volunteer rehabilitator, at her own cost, would take care of any vet bills, rehabilitate him and release him back into nature at a sanctioned place.

You're thinking this is nuts, it's just a squirrel, but if you had seen that vulnerable little week-old creature wriggle and stretch and shiver you might think differently. Life is precious and oh so fragile. But somewhere in suburban Washington, D.C., there's a sunflower with this guy's name on it.

Augherton can be reached at aaugherton@catholicherald.com.

UPDATE: We posted this blog on the FB page of the Animal Welfare League and got this response:

"Your little squirrel came by for a visit today, Ann. He's doing great! I shared your story with his rehabilitator, and it made her smile.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

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