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a place to call home
by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2 3

I'm in my new apartment in Toronto, watching the world's ugliest squirrel skitter up a tree limb just outside the living room window. It's a black squirrel, like most of the squirrels 'round this neighborhood seem to be, and the novelty of its coloration should render it plenty cute. But this squirrel seems to be suffering from an unfortunate case of hair loss. Its torso is a patchy checkerboard of fur and wrinkly gray skin; the rat-like whip of its long tail is accented by the few sparse sprouts that emanate pathetically forth. It's a twitchy bald rodenty beast that's the stuff of bad horror movies and nightmares. It is, no doubt about it, hideous. And still: I absolutely love it.

It's been awhile since I lived in a place where I could actually watch squirrels outside my window, and until now, I hadn't realized how much I missed it. Not the skittery squirrels themselves, perhaps, but the stuff that makes the watching possible: plenty of leafy lush green trees, multi-story houses that put you up and close and personal with the (normally) furry critters as they scamper up and down branches in search of food. In my old home in Tucson the prickly scraggly flora was just all wrong; during my last stint, in Edinburgh, the lone trees stood too far from my building to make proper wildlife-watching remotely feasible.

But where I grew up, in the suburbs of Boston, squirrels were so ubiquitous that you barely registered their presence. (Unless you're my mother, and the pesky critters keep stealing the precious fruits on your white peach tree before you can get to them, and all your efforts to thwart the theft only seem to confirm that squirrels are much, much smarter than they look, and certainly much, much smarter than you.) They were there in the yard; they were out on the trees; they came up on the porch, where you'd catch their eyes for just the briefest of shared seconds, before they promptly turned tail and scrammed with their loot. If you had to think about it, you'd probably have said they were cute, but for the most part, squirrels weren't something you generally noticed, as you went about the day-to-day business of your life, and they went along with theirs. When I left Boston after college, I missed a whole lot of things about my old hometown. But squirrels weren't really one of them or so I thought until I moved here to Toronto a couple of weeks ago. Watching the squirrels from this new apartment of mine makes me realize: this feels like home.

It's a weird thing to feel about a place in which I've spent a sum total of maybe ten days of my life thus far.

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