A furry friend teaches a mushy liberal how issues can evolve

December 26, 1997|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- It's 7 a.m. and Hazel is ticked.

She stands on my windowsill, front paws against the glass pane, eyes narrowed, hissing: ''What the $!&% is this?''

I feel her fury even though I refuse to meet her glare, even though I studiously continue reading my paper, even though I do not speak the whiny little Squirrelese that is her native tongue.

A new feeder

The $!&% that has prompted her ire, is the new bird feeder, although of course Hazel does not see it that way. Hazel believes deeply in her gut -- the primary source of any emotions attributed to her species -- that this is a squirrel feeder.

Indeed, why shouldn't she? For 18 months, a daily cache of sunflower seeds flowed from a large plastic cylinder conveniently located a hop, skip and jump from the tree that grows outside my second-story kitchen. The bottom of the container was a wooden platform for my feathered friends.

My aviary invitation list was composed of nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, finches, robins and sparrows. But Hazel regularly crashed this buffet line.

She spent long hours sprawled on this wooden lounge dropping sunflower seeds into her mouth, rather like a Roman emperor feasting on grapes.

I watched her dine with a mixture of hostility and admiration. But when the feeder went crashing to the ground one stormy night, I replaced it with one that is, I am told, guaranteed to make life harder for her breed.

Now Hazel is ticked. She slaps at the feeder like a punching bag, tries to embrace the swaying cylinder, and falls to the ground, only to scramble up and try again.

Here is the rub. Instead of feeling victorious this morning as my omnivorous nemesis stands defeated, I am feeling guilty. And a bit mean-spirited.

I know, I know. This is the problem with those of us who occupy the mushy-left, even those who call ourselves progressives. We make lousy enemies. We are rotten at carrying grudges -- except, of course, at each other -- and are wimpy haters.

The right way

I ask Hazel, Do you think that Jesse Helms would have trouble evicting a squirrel from his bird feeder? Not on your life.

Would even the environmentally friendly Newt Gingrich have second thoughts that he was committing a kind of speciesism, favoring the feathered over the furry creatures? No way.

Now, retreating cowardly to the living room where I cannot see her frustration, I know that no right-wing think tanker would feed the enemy. But the mushy-left is cursed with empathy and an ability to see the other side -- even of a window pane.

I don't mean to mix politics with sunflower seeds. I have no idea of Hazel's social views, although she has a short agenda and will only grudgingly share her wealth.

Nevertheless when I return to the kitchen some hours later this is what I see: a small gray squirrel dangling upside down, holding the hanger in her hind paws, circling the feeder with her front paws, burrowing her nose into the holes, happily chomping. Around her a chickadee boldly shares the meal.

The long and the short of it is that while I was worrying, she was evolving. While I was analyzing the problem, she was solving it. While I am Progressive, Hazel is pure Darwinian.

When at long last she has had her fill, this most fit survivor drops back to the windowsill and the birds take up their coexisting post. Proudly standing on her own two feet, Hazel leans against the pane, staring at me smugly.

This is what we have learned. With my seed money and her resourcefulness, we'll all make it through the winter. Squirrel away that thought.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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