The Fable of the Squirrel by John Ronan Around 1842, before clear cutting, When such events as I’m about to describe Were still possible in that age of miracles— Barnum’s Thumb, Mormons, countless Cures, There was a certain standout squirrel. Squirrels Do not have names, albeit they are recognized Among their buds, don’t even have a cute collective, Being solitary, and are simply referred to in the unpretentious plural, Although this particular standout, with a bit of attitude, Adventurous spirit and sly, sideways leer, Could have been called Odysseus (or Clint) If squirrel brains extended to language and the classics, Because of the impressive feat foreshadowed above. In September–October of ’42 or ’43, Clint (or Odysseus), leaping from tree to tree, naturally netless and never touching ground, Traveled from Gloucester, Massachusetts in the Bay State, To San Francisco, California, the opposite coast, In 59.4 days, give or take. There was plenty of food, and trees: oaks everywhere (acorns), Maples (whirlybirds) between the great oaks. And remember, this is before invasive fungi, So millions of American chestnuts, American elms. Even in the prairie states (or territories) Odysseus (or Clint) Was able to follow the wooded banks of rivers, As the Missouri and Big Cheyenne, cheating once Only when he hopped approximately twenty miles On the also plentiful backs of buffalo near the as yet Undreamed of Rapid City, South Dakota. You couldn’t do this today because of deforestation. Not to mention highways, cars, the hapless honk - Harsh blasts not working with squirrels, They’re so naively used to the woods and can’t think To get back from traffic, like us with causation, Can’t see any other way and therefore die innocently, Paws drawn up in the posture of prayer. Then, however, there were no cars and little asphalt. With all those oaks and maples! And hickory, ash, Sycamore, walnut and cherry, beech…in the billions, Until you begin to understand the tree as transportation. Nevertheless, some skeptics doubt the veracity of these facts. Because, they ask, what about water? Or birds of prey—the goshawk? eagle? Not to mention mountains. Deserts. The inaccuracy of maps.
John J. Ronan is a poet, playwright, movie/TV producer, and journalist. He has received national honors for his poetry and is a former NEA Fellow, Ucross Fellow, Bread Loaf Scholar, and Poet Laureate in Gloucester, MA, where his cable program The Writer’s Block with John Ronan is in its 27th year. Poems have appeared in Three Penny Review, New England Review, Southern Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Folio, and many other publications. Media productions have won a Telly, an Aurora Gold, a First for Education Programming from the NECTA, as well as other awards, and have been aired on PBS outlets. In 2010 his book of poetry, Marrowbone Lane, was named a Highly Recommended selection by the Boston Authors Club. A new volume, Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown, appeared in January 2017. You can find him online at TheRonan.org.