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Today the Bean died. One very small life ending on Earth Day.
   My wife and I are wildlife rehabilitators, mostly working with birds and small mammals. She has all the licenses, I  help feed, clean, build caging, assist in capture and release, and help restrain more recalcitrant patients so they can be fed and medicated. This is the just the beginning of our busy season. From late April until mid-fall our lives are not our own; both of us can't be away for more than two hours because there's always some tiny critter who needs frequent feedings. If we do go away for more than two hours--a rare event--we have to take tubs and cages of critters with us. We start feeding first thing in the morning, and are quite often still feeding well after ten at night.
   The Bean came in a few days ago from the Vet, the sort of incoming patient that makes each of us take a deep breath and prepare for intensive care, non-stop worry, and an all too high probability of heartbreak. The Bean was a baby red squirrel, at most two days old. Pink, naked, blind. Weight when we got him (he was little, but still proudly male) 9 grams. Not much bigger than the last two joints of your index finger, or two jelly beans. Hence the name.
   The Bean had to be fed every two hours, nursed from a small syringe fitted with a tiny nipple, and fed a special, not particularly cheap formula. Once we really get rolling we need a second fridge to store different mammal and bird formulas, plus electrolyte, other special foods, and meds. A squirrel that young has a mouth that is so small we need to wear strong reading glasses to see it. That mouth is dangerously close to a tiny nose that cannot have milk near it; aspiration can kill fast, or slow. Baby squirrels are fussy about the temperature of their food--they want it quite warm, and such small amounts being delivered so slowly cool quickly. Feeding is tricky.
   We had the Bean about five days, the first of many baby squirrels we will care for in the year to come. We have raised dozens and dozens of squirrels. Reds, grays, blacks, and flying squirrels.  Some coming in as small as the Bean was, some singly, some broken nests of five, six, or more. The solitary ones, both mammals and birds, have the odds stacked against them from the outset; most critters thrive better in the company of their brothers and sisters. The Bean was eating and peeing and pooping, but worried us because he wasn't putting on much in the way of weight. Not thriving.
   The Bean had a good 2:30 feeding, taking formula without much fuss and responding well. When time came for his next feeding just before 5 he was gone. The Bean was one tiny spark of life that winked quietly out, unnoticed and un-mourned by anyone other than us. He wasn't glamorous, or on any endangered list--most people regard his kind as a nuisance. And us as crazy for caring for him and his kind.  Of course none of them have had one in their pocket.
   If you go to some large city and watch a main arterial road after dark you will see a bewildering constellation of moving lights, coming, going, flashing by, too many to count, and you will know nothing about the source, destination, and purpose of the makers of those lights in this particular ecosystem.
   There is that same flood of traffic in the natural world, mostly unseen and unsuspected and unconsidered. Lights flashing by, large and small, following their own purpose. Come and gone.
   Earth Day is a good day to think about the larger picture. This was just a peek into a miniscule corner of one fragment of that larger picture. The brief life of one tiny little squirrel. The brief life of the Bean.

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Originally posted to malapert on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 05:41 PM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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