That very summer we had caught a caterpillar and placed it in an aquarium. We fed it milkweed leaves for weeks it seems. The caterpillar ate and ate, leaf after leaf, until one day it began to wrap itself into a cocoon. We observed the beautiful monarch butterfly emerge some time later. Luke was fascinated and I just knew he would enjoy seeing the rarely seen nocturnal flying squirrel.
Luke was thrilled. A few days later we carried the aquarium with the squirrel back to the woods to release it. But that squirrel would neither leap nor fly; it would not budge from its corner in the aquarium. We tried to force it out, but it refused to accept its freedom. After several attempts, we used a stick to lift the squirrel up a little and found attached to her tummy three tiny hairless infants. Now what were we to do?
We carried the mother and her children back home much to my wife's chagrin. A large cage was built and placed on the back porch. The cage even included an exercise wheel! We gathered corn from the fields and acorns from the woods to insure our "flying" squirrels had appropriate nourishment through the long winter months. What fun it was to watch that mother care for her infants and the infants grow into an adulthood. When spring came, both mother and offspring were released back into the wild. I don't remember what happened to the fancy cage! I do remember the poem Luke wrote many years later:
The Art of Lifting Stones
Lifting rocks in the forest marsh,
I smell the decrepit moss
and the life of the underneaths
of things as the earth's crust crumbles.
Insects flee the light and cold air
like criminals under search-lights,
except a slug who creeps away
aloof as a glacier.
Ant refugees scurry from my eye,
tugging their larvae like luggage
over a ravaged countryside.
But they do not perceive me,
only the fear, fragmented light.
My father taught me this: to turn
over rocks on banks of streams, to glimpse
crayfish stirring in clouds of mud mist,
to watch turtlebugs ball up like porcupines,
or panic, darting into crumbling tunnels
like dreams upon waking. But this above all;
to return gently all stones, to allow dampness
darkness, to let dreams creep
hidden under sleep, to leave things
as they are, snug in the body of God.
But I searched the streams dry
and tossed all shadows aside;
I wanted God to have no place to hide.