Not Just Another Empty Nester

Watching my daughter’s caring approach to all things living, I’ve experienced a kaleidoscope of animal care—life, freedom, capture, frantic escape and death. So when a September wind rustled through the leaves against our house, revealing a baby squirrel, I couldn’t ignore him.

The squirrel shook against the sun-warmed brick, and I saw his former nest high in an oak’s branches. After covering him with more leaves, I named him Nester.

Lately, I’d been struggling with adjusting to my own empty nest. I couldn’t know if the mother squirrel missed her young one. I sure missed mine.

In August, we’d moved our daughter to a boarding academy for her sophomore year, after homeschooling since kindergarten. In my daughter’s absence, I’d been experiencing changes just as this squirrel family—some inviting, others resisted futilely.

The baby squirrel’s shivers made me suspect sickness, so I contacted the North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators, receiving details on Nester’s care. The group started networking to find Nester a home, and I arranged a drop-off with a volunteer for the next day.

Nester using tail

Nester, using his tail wisely.

I moved Nester into our garage, snuggling him among some old t-shirts in a cardboard box. He soon stopped shivering. For extra warmth, I added socks stuffed with rice, heated a short time in the microwave. I awoke several times in the night; twisting my stomach in a fear knot and untying it with hope. I sorely missed my daughter’s calming spirit. I jotted a note to include fun-colored wool socks and a favorite staple—yellow rice—in my next care package to my daughter. Nester slept.

In the morning, Nester sucked down a dropper of Pedialyte®. He finished another dropper just before I placed his box on my car’s front seat. He slept as I drove past fields dusted with southern snow.

Nester planning

Nester, making plans.

I pulled into the volunteer’s driveway, and walked around to get Nester’s box out of the front seat. Nester sprang out of the box, slipped down the side and jumped once more. Freedom! I quickly closed the car door so he couldn’t escape.

I could hear Nester scrambling, but couldn’t see him. I opened the car’s hood—nothing. The volunteer detailed how a squirrel can destroy a car’s fan belt. A golf date with my husband loomed on my schedule. Frantic, I removed my golf clubs from the back seat, thinking Nester might be curled inside. I drove forward and backward, hitting the clubs. The volunteer shrugged and walked to her house for a flashlight. I took a deep breath and looked inside the car. Again.

I spied Nester’s tail hanging under the steering wheel shaft and grabbed it—a large piece broke off! I honked the car’s horn. Nester’s face peeked out at me. I grabbed a t-shirt to protect my hands, and after several misses, I finally wrapped a hand around Nester’s belly.

“I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” I controlled my voice, fearing I’d be forced to shout, “I’ve lost him! I’ve lost him!” I placed Nester in his box. He gallantly scrambled up the side. I promptly blanketed him with a t-shirt and crisscrossed the box flaps closed.

I left Nester in the garage with the volunteer, awaiting his next Pedialyte® moment. The volunteer planned to eventually release him into the wild. Nester’s determined energy continues to inspire me as I work on refilling my heart.

It could happen to you: Care Instructions for Infant Squirrels