Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Race War: The Squirrel Saga

University of Maryland: College Park. Upstanding state university. Questionable administrative policies. Rampant rodent war-zone.

Several days ago, I was granted the opportunity to return to campus after a year of being away. I started my first year of law school in Baltimore the fall following graduation and never really found a reason to come back to the university and visit. Fellow gent Jason Schlafstein was in accompaniment and, after a rigorous brainstorming session over some Indian food, we decided to spend some time just relaxing on the mall - an activity neither of us had done in some time. Passing through the construction of what was Tawes Theater, Jason shared his lament over the loss of a source of memories while I chattered on about one of the first things I had noticed about the campus when I transferred to UMD - the Squirrel Race War of '05 - '08.

Eastern Grey Squirrel
(Sciurus carolinensis)

Crazy, I know. Under the crust of this slice of American academia, the fires of xenophobic warfare raged on unwitnessed. The squirrel community was torn apart in a ferocious campaign for territory and resources. Splinter groups segregated and reformed, collecting and nesting according to the color of one's fur. The large plot of land we knew and used as "the Mall" served as a trench-less, open air battlefield where the five Squirrel Clans (the Greys, the Reds, the Browns, the Neither-nors, and the Dark Ones) vied for conquest and dominance. Sidewalks divided the Mall into separate territories to fight over. Each clan worked to eliminate the other from their respective plots of grass, braving the coverless concrete in desperate charge, hoping to bring their clan that much closer to supreme rule over the entire campus and its abundance of wild nuts and dropped food. Admittedly, I'm embellishing and being slightly theatrical, but it happened all the same. The squirrels teamed up according to color and fought over the Mall on a daily basis.

I noticed this for three reasons: 1) I'm a verifiable crazy person 2) I transferred into UMD my sophomore year, leaving me with crappy housing and scheduling options. I spent a lot of time on the mall during the day - reading, cross-wording, observing, and making up stories about the unfamiliar people and things around me. I tend to make up stories in this fashion fairly often and I did this sort of thing with the squirrels, as well. Care for a sample?

The Greys, lead of course by Squeaker the Mighty, launched a harrowing offensive against the Dark One's and their leader, Overlord Fuzzles. Fuzzles and his men were outnumbered, exhausted from taking a patch of land from the Browns that morning, and were absent their largest advantage in the daylight. Given the ferocity of Squeaker and the Greys, Fuzzles was pressed to his heels . The battle ended swiftly, leading to a fast retreat by the Dark Ones, and the Greys celebrated their victory with barking and acorns. Securing this plot meant the Greys occupied a majority of the plots on the Mall today. Squeaker gave a rousing speech to commemorate the occasion and declared a holiday from battle. Meanwhile, Grouse the Half-breed, chosen hero of the Neither-nors, sat high in the Neither-nor tree-base on the Mall's south edge, stroking his greyish-red tail, plotting, and waiting for a break in the Grey's now thin defenses. To Grouse, the Grey Clan was Rome. And, he wanted their Caesar's head on a twig.

"The Squirrel who fights for his clan in battle, fights for the future. And acorns. Which means more future."
Squeaker the Mighty, Elected Leader of the Grey Clan

(Reason 1 can now be read as: pure unadulterated insanity)

Reason 3? Well, at UMBC the squirrels were just far more friendly by comparison. Seriously, they never ran unless you, literally, reached out and touched them. As a result, "squirrel tag" was a common place phenomenon (a game where a person would run up, touch a squirrel on the tail, and then run away. The person who touches the most squirrels wins). The photography students also discovered to their delight that the squirrels were so socialized that when the students presented cameras the squirrels would strike a pose until the cameras were gone. What's more, they never tended to fight amongst their own kind. Unbelievable amicability.

Given, they were all brown squirrels. Maybe that had something to do with it.


Jstone said...

So what you're saying is, until we are all one race there can be no peace in the world?

Ozkirbas said...

I'm saying that, until all squirrels are one race, there can be no peace in the world. For squirrels.

I'm fairly certain we would find something else to harp on.

B.Graham said...

I'll never forget the particularly battle-torn grey squirrel that lived in a bush between my dorm and the North Campus Diner. He was terrifying-looking, and he knew it.

He would run out at passersby every time we/they crossed paths with the bush, and then he would just stare. Stare, and stare, and stare with his tremendous ugliness freezing anyone in their tracks.

Then he would scamper back into the bush, and all would go about their business, with a slightly elevated heart rate.

Ozkirbas said...

@Britt - and now you know why he was like that

Jstone said...

I once say a grey squirrel roll out of a trash can with a slice of diner pizza bigger than the squirrel itself. I guess he was the requisition officer?

Katie said...

Ozzy...lay off the law school for a little bit. You're freaking me out.

Ozkirbas said...

@Katie - You like it and you know it