On gratitude: After the storm

The powerline danced in the corner of my eye. Usually I wouldn’t notice this movement, it being one of millions happening outside my double kitchen windows every day. Above the dusty windowsill, beneath our hastily hung curtains, another world thrived every day just five feet away and I always miss it. The world outside, a mere backdrop for breakfast, for the daydreams in my head.

But on this morning, movement from something other than me seemed like a luxury. I hadn’t seen anything outside except the constant fall of soft snow for days. The polar vortex had been keeping everyone inside. The city had basically shut down. And behind our own windows, we waited. Huddled masses yearning to be free—free from the drip… drip… drip… of water from our pipes. Grateful those drips were our only problem on nights of record-breaking cold.

Now, it was 20 degrees warmer than it was less than 20 hours ago. Everyone and everything, it seemed, was celebrating. Stretching legs out from fetal positions. Popping toes warming up again on cold hardwood floor. Subtracting layers down from a hefty four to a daring two. Myself up hours earlier than usual, witness to this bouncing powerline.

I moved to the window to see what was making it shake. One by one, I watched three culprits leap from the tightrope—performers fearlessly ignoring the three-story-drop of certain death—to the oak tree that towers over the house behind our apartment building.

Squirrels. Looking hungry and ready to camouflage in a pile of wet leaves, were in a full steam chase up and down the branches. Undisturbed by the melting ice, ignoring it well, like I was doing now to my preventatively leaking faucet.

One squirrel scurried and another followed. A third, the smallest, managed with effort to keep up. It was like they were playing a game of tag. Just for fun. Squirrel tag. Animalistic antidote to cabin fever. Winner getting the belle of the walnut ball.

Leave it to me, sentimental and cooped up human that I was right then, to anthropomorphize my new bushy-tailed bffs. They, I decided with such certainty, were having fun! Expending pent up energy spent crammed inside a tree hole for the past two days, Squirrel #1’s beefy ham hock thigh shoved up against the shivering chubby cheeks of Squirrel #2. Squirrel #3 somewhere in between, mangy ears tucked in the furry arm pit of a brother.

That’s what I imagined them to be. Siblings. I guess they just had that kind of energy. Brothers and/or sisters in arms who had just survived one of the coldest nights on record. As they raced around the tentacles of our oak tree, all nature and instinctual balance, one thought raced through my mind: How the hell did you guys make it?

The tree, that masochist rejoicing in the claws puncturing its alligator bark, lifted face to sun and said, “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.” The three squirrels paused. I feared for a second maybe they had seen me move behind the window, saw my pale ungloved hand reach to the glass as if to touch them. I just wanted to say hi. To join them, to join the tree, to shed off something of survival and say, “Yes, yes, I am here too.” But instead, determined as I watched their heaving chests and give-a-fuck-all of me, they were just taking a breather. I could almost feel their tiny heartbeats racing, beating out of their hard chests, through my fingertips on the glass.

This lasted only a few seconds. Then they were off again. Reversing course, they ran counter clockwise around the living wooden maze this time, hopping from one raised branch to the other, the littlest one leading now.

To have happy siblings is the greatest gift, right? To know those people you’ll always know as children, even as they pay their taxes and talk of 401Ks, are happy and loved, with places to hibernate, armpits to cuddle into, thighs to lean on, and tiny heartbeats to feel through their own fingertips—fingertips completely unique from mine, but forged in the same walnut tree womb. What a gift to have them and an even greater one to have the peace of mind that they are somewhere, surviving, stretching out and playing with their chosen families.

I pressed my naked hand harder on the glass. The cold was beginning to sting but I wanted my energetic neighbors to sense me before they left for the next powerline over: “Yes, yes, I am here too.”

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