Chiswick Chap [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Sciurus Carolinensis by Chiswick Chap (CC BY-SA 3.0), from Wikimedia Commons

Slowing down isn’t something you usually associate with squirrels, but at this time of the year, many are resting, curled up like balls, tails wrapped tightly around them. They lie sleeping in their carefully-built nests near the tops of trees.

Those clumps of what look, now, like old leaves are called dreys. Grey squirrels build them in summer or early fall using green leaves, branches, and twigs, which they weave together and wedge securely in tree forks high off the ground. They are more secure than they appear and protect the squirrels not only from predators but also from colder temperatures and wind, rain, ice, and snow.

Have you ever thought about what it must be like to take shelter in the treetops in winter, after the trees have shed their leaves?

We’ve had some windy days of late, and I’ve watched the trees sway, the dreys moving with them. The bending and swaying doesn’t seem to bother the squirrels. Their dreys are like ships riding waves, not of water, but of air. The squirrels rest secure.

I was reminded of Matthew 8:23-27, in which Jesus sleeps during a storm at sea while his companions panic, and of the reading from Mark 6:45-52 that we recently had at Mass. In both passages, Jesus still the winds and calms the waters. His authority is supreme; nature responds to the Son of God, its Creator.

Both accounts also demonstrate that the disciples are slow to understand and respond to the miracles that Jesus performs; they give in to fear and allow their trust to falter. Our own hearts can become similarly hardened. Do we seek ever more control in our daily lives, or do we acknowledge God’s supreme authority? Do we trust Him completely?

We can learn from the disciples’ mistakes and misunderstandings. We can also learn from other creatures. Even if you aren’t fond of squirrels, try to view them as St. Francis may have done. In the poem “The Sacraments,” Daniel Ladinsky sought to captured Francis’s vision. An “old squirrel,” excited by Francis’s account of sacraments, runs off and returns with “some acorns, an owl feather, / and a ribbon…” Francis happily acknowledges the squirrel’s awareness that “everything imparts / His grace.”1 Squirrels please God because they instinctively do what God created them to do. In contrast, we often neglect to do what God asks of us.

The next time that you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, imagine yourself resting securely in a drey in the treetop, between branches swaying in a cold wind, with God close by, watching over you.

By the way, January 21st is national Squirrel Appreciation Day. Yes. Really! This is the time of year when squirrels may run short of food. Go on, look at squirrels with the eyes of St. Francis for a day, if not for a lifetime. Know that they, too, give glory to God, even when they are raiding your bird feeder. Try feeding both the birds and the squirrels (they really like raw peanuts in the shell). We share the same ecosystem. May we all enjoy and share the bountiful graces given by God and find rest in Him, even when the day is cold and windy.


1 “The Sacraments” appears in Love Poems from God, trans. Daniel Ladinsky (Penguin, 2002).