Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy April. It is snowing hard, and will keep snowing hard for all of the day and all of the night. The boys are in bed, wallowing in the cloying pleasure of yet another school cancellation. These days even they are mad about missing school. My doughty crocus and daffodil shoots have vanished once again. The bird feeder is crowded with a dozen squawky, crabby redpolls. Last year at this time I was digging in the garden. This year at this time I am not. How I will get out of my squashy, muddy, puddly, snow-drowned driveway to get to tomorrow's book signing is anyone's guess.

Because you are probably tired of coal and steel and labor and their ilk, I am not going to talk about them at all today. Instead I am going to talk about squirrels.

So imagine, if you will, a 16-year-old French boy known only as J.C.B. (which are, weirdly, also the initials of my own 16-year-old American boy) who travels to Quebec and decides to join the army. The year is 1753, and the boy becomes one of a detachment of volunteers whom General Duquesne sends south in an expedition to solidify French claims to what was then known as the Ohio country. Unfold those French and Indian War maps that have been resting comfortably in your long-term memory, and you will get a better of picture of where he's headed.

The boy keeps a journal, which more than a century later is published as Voyage au Canada dans le nord de l'Amerique septentrionale fait depuis l'an 1751 a 1761. ("Septentrionale" implies "northern unexplored regions," which doesn't exactly seem like future Pittsburgh to me, but maybe the boy was from the Riviera or something.) Anyway, here's what he sees on a hot summer day in the virgin forests of western Pennsylvania:

We were still however only in the month of August; it is in this month that one ordinarily sees many squirrels swimming. . . . those that are in the north . . . are not nearly as beautiful as on the Ohio and in the environs of Fort Duquesne, where they are big as rats and of four kinds, the black, the silver, the ground, and the flying; these last two do not differ at all from those of the north, it is unnecessary to mention them further. In regard to the first two, which are the black and the silvery, their pelt makes very beautiful furs [and] they are excellent eating; but they are subject to an itchiness in the head especially in the months of July and August that obliges them to leap into the water to refresh themselves, and this two and sometimes three times a day, to the number of seven or eight hundred and sometimes more.

Get your kids to draw a picture of those squirrels. It will be funny.

I have no idea what to make for dinner, but whatever it is may be elaborate. After all, it's opening day for the Red Sox, it's blizzarding in Maine, I'm up to my hips in alligators disguised as tomes about the coke and steel industry, and my bathroom sink drain is clogged. What better excuse do I need to cook steak, risotto, and a big cake?


Ruth said...

Squirrel for dinner? When I share in our nearly weekly potluck meals with my Band family, I bring one of my vegetarian soup creations which are lovingly and teasingly known as squirrel soup.

Ang said...

Squirrel is totally delicious. I ate many of them growing up in WV. The squirrels 'down there' are big and meaty, quite unlike the ones in Maine.
That squirrels as rats image gave me the creeps.