I spent a few minutes after work last night wandering around in a greenbelt about four blocks from my house. It was pitch black, so I was navigating by flashlight. As I walked along the narrow trail that runs the length of the nicely wooded patch, I was carrying a small wooden box. The box had wire screens over its two access holes to prevent its occupant from exiting prematurely. There was no sound or feeling of movement from the box as I carried it, but I knew a tense little being was in there, waiting to see what would happen next.
As I moved deeper into the greenbelt, my flashlight beam fell on the broad trunk of a large Douglas Fir Tree. I walked to the base of the tree and shined the flashlight beam upward, making a note that there did not appear to be any whitewash or other signs that an owl might be perching in the tree on a regular basis. It was well over 100 feet tall, with plenty of thick greenery starting about 30 feet up. Shorter Big Leaf Maples, alders and cedars surrounded it. It would be a perfect launching point.
I stood in front of the tree and I positioned the flashlight so its beam lit up the trunk. Holding the box up in front of me, I slowly opened it and I suddenly felt a small decrease in its weight. A furry blur came to an abrupt stop in the beam of my flashlight, and I was face to face with a Northern Flying Squirrel that was now clinging to the trunk of the tree.
The squirrel paused for a moment as if the sudden feeling of freedom was a little overwhelming. I saw him clearly in that instant. I absorbed every detail of his velvety soft fur, the loose folds of skin between fore and hind limbs, the large nocturnal eyes and the horizontally flattened tail that would act as his rudder as he glided from tree to tree. He had been treated for a broken leg he had suffered in the jaws of a house cat, but looking at him now you would never suspect that he had spent the last several weeks in a state of convalescence. He was beautiful, intensely alert and radiating the electric energy of a lightning bolt as he absorbed his change in circumstances. His instincts kicked in and he scampered quickly to the opposite side of the tree- a motion his kind repeats at the end of every glide just in case their flight has been followed by an owl or other nighttime predator. He was out of my sight, but I heard the soft scratching of his claws on the tree trunk as he scampered upward into the protective arms of the fir. I smiled as the sound faded into the darkness, and then I left the greenbelt to the flying squirrel and his fellow creatures of the night.