The ebb and flow of life in J.’s condo complex is governed by the daily habits of dogs, mostly small ones. Every morning and evening, and sometimes in-between, dogs take their owners for long, ambling walks. The owners display various levels of engagement. Often they are on their phones.
J. does not have a dog. The neighbor two doors down has a young black lab, very enthusiastic about walks, other dogs, life in general. On this particular morning, Black Lab had his walk with a professional dog walker who left him tied up in the condo’s tiny patio. Black Lab was unaccustomed to being tied, or being alone, so he began to whimper and make short, high-pitched, mournful barks. His happy universe had gone wrong.
Squirrel Nutterkin lives in the tree in front of Black Lab’s condo. Relations between squirrels and dogs are always somewhat adversarial, and Nutterkin is a red fox squirrel, a notoriously feisty breed. Witnessing Black Lab’s unhappiness, Nutterkin began chittering taunts and invective at him, jerking his tail back and forth and up and down for emphasis. Fox squirrels are very proud of their tails and if linguists ever decode fox squirrel language, tail gestures will certainly be an integral part. Such a linguist will also likely be surprised at how much of fox squirrel vocabulary consists of curse words.
To tell the truth, Nutterkin’s tail is a bit thin on fur. Perhaps this explains his ill-natured outburst. J.’s readers always question his tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior, but having lived with a rather intelligent rabbit for several years (unfortunately now deceased) as well as several cats, J. has found that animals also project their own views when interpreting human behavior. For example, when J. scratched the rabbit’s ears for a while, the rabbit thought that he was then obligated to reciprocate the grooming behavior, so he hopped up on the back of the couch to groom J.’s hair.
Nutterkin did not let up on his invective until the door opened and Black Lab was rescued. In English, the stream of invective went something like this:
You big dumb dog! Why did you let the human tie you up? Ha ha ha ha! You can’t climb a tree, you enormous nincompoop! You can’t even jump over the fence! Ha ha ha ha! Your tail goes wag-wag, wag-wag! How stupid!
This went on for about ten minutes. Some of the squirrel curses cannot be adequately rendered in English.
J. gets along fairly well with Nutterkin. Nutterkin sometimes prances along the fence and asks J. for part of his snack. J. always says “no.” Nutterkin seems to understand and accept “no.” When J. is not looking, Nutterkin sometimes steals strawberries from the strawberry pot. Once, Nutterkin ate most of the leaves of a succulent that came in a florist’s gift arrangement, daring J. to stop him. Nutterkin does not usually curse at J., who has been cursed by other squirrels, but not by Nutterkin.
However, if another squirrel enters Nutterkin’s domain, which consists of about four tiny patios and five trees, a cursing war erupts that can go on for hours. Nutterkin’s cursing proficiency is truly impressive. J. is fortunate to have avoided being the object of it.