For a squirrel with known transatlantic ancestry, it might be considered a major social faux pas to come out in the morning sun on 4th July wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. To do this whilst jauntily flaunting the kind of high-wire skills that instigate annoyance in others serves only to exacerbate an already tense xenophobic atmosphere. And to dance confidently along the electricity lines that cross the Hoarwithy road, whilst passage is blocked by a plump woodpigeon proud of its own unbroken local lineage, is foolhardy to say the least.
In its head, the squirrel is probably humming a few bars from a carefully constructed compilation of The Star-Spangled Banner, the Liberty Bell march and Yankee Doodle Dandy, but its ability to vocalise these heart-stirring favourites is limited to the only sound these irksome little rodents can muster – a kind of strangled, tiresome squeak. Coupled with an impatient flick of the tail, it is all somewhat less than endearing.
The pigeon is unmoved. As far as it is concerned, it got here first, and is enjoying the stillness of the morning and the soporific sway of the cable in the gentle breeze. It responds to the loud impatient squawk with a contemptuously cocked head. The squirrel scurries a few steps closer. The pigeon instantly jerks its head round to confront the furry mischief-maker with a hard stare, adjusting its position at the same time with an unexpected flurry of feathers. Result! The squirrel is in freeze-frame, its leading foot poised motionless above the cable, its tail immobilised, its face stilled.
Nor for long, however. With nothing more from the pigeon except a contented muffled coo, the squirrel resumes the default mode of cocky bravado. Sitting back on its haunches and using its tail to maintain balance and therefore some degree of decorum, our squirrel concentrates closely on its claws as if contemplating the need for a visit to the manicurist. Satisfied that it can probably go another day, it gazes around with that air of haughtiness that says, “Yes, this is exactly the spot I wanted to reach in order to see the view.” Watching this performance whilst still cooing softly, the pigeon unexpectedly does one of its feather flurries again, catching the squirrel off guard and causing a little jump of surprise and a momentary loss of balance. Getting a little mouthy, the squirrel squawks again, quite obviously along the lines of, “Hey yoo! Geddouda my face, willya?”
No reaction from the pigeon, other than to take two sideways steps towards the twitching bundle of nerves along the cable from it. Now, as we all know, squirrels are resourceful. This one wastes no time in formulating Plan B. Eyeing up the cable above its head (one of three on this particular section), it ascertains without hesitation that all it has to do is to leap onto the top wire and simply scuttle over the pigeon’s head to reach the safety of the pole at the end of the run. Up go its hands to grab the wire. Down comes the wire, almost to the level of the one below. The squirrel lets go, shooting the pigeon an expression that says, “What? You thought I was going up there – are you kidding me?”
He looks down instead, but it’s a long drop. What is more, there is no guarantee that he won’t prang himself on one of the branches of the ancient Bramley tree immediately below him or indeed hit the road surface with a bone-jarring thud. Reminding himself that this is precisely why he is on the wire in the first place – to avoid any potentially fatal mishaps – he eyes the pigeon crossly, twitches his tail in exasperation and puts a foot tentatively forward, debating the odds on successfully rushing the bothersome bird and putting it to flight.
Knowing he is holding the winning hand here, the pigeon calls the squirrel’s bluff by going into a clattering full wing stretch. Taken by surprise, the sciurine high-wire act dissolves into a flurry of fur and flying feet – the squirrel is in full retreat, and does not stop until he reaches the post from which he originally set out.
The pigeon, satisfied with the result of this encounter, simply flies off, no doubt looking for some female to impress with his tale of victory in the face of overwhelming odds.