Scallywag Squirrels, or, a Desperate Attempt to Observe Others 


Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student

Little guy holding something invisible, potentially a microscopic sized version of our beloved 19th hole?

Though there has, in the past few years, been talk of serious (like, hard alcohol serious) disciplinary action resulting from picking up a nice campus duck, the silence on squirrels is deafening. 

Nobody expects us to engage with the bountiful number of squirrels on campus. For one, it’s usually cold here, and squirrels don’t really find themselves out and about as much in the winter. Secondly, we’ve been conditioned to fear rabies. This is almost certainly a beneficial fear, though ducks also may injure us or spread disease, and we are not nearly as disconnected from them. The squirrels simply do not spark our interest in the way a duck or a professor’s dog might. We simply coexist. They avoid us, though they’re synanthropic, and we avoid them. 

Some, however, have noticed an interesting trend in the behavior of our bushy tailed cohabitants as of late. An Oct. 1 tweet from Najá Crocket ‘23 asked, “Can we talk about how ballistic the squirrels on campus are this year,” which garnered 28 likes. So, let’s do exactly that: talk about the squirrels. 

Spotted: Squirrel filming a “what I eat in a day” TikTok. (Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student)

Alexi Knight ‘23 noted that she recently narrowly avoided a squirrel running across her toes. Clara Porter ‘22 recalled that a squirrel once dropped a nut on her head from a tree above. Porter also feels the animals seem to be putting on weight.  

It’s accepted scientific knowledge that urban squirrels have adapted over time to become increasingly comfortable around humans. People provide them food, intentionally or unintentionally. While Bates students have largely been absent from campus for a prolonged period, it’s reasonable that our return has excited these creatures. This idea is further supported by the fact that we now eat outside, with large trash cans  located outdoors as well. This may explain a potentially observable weight gain in our furry friends. 

Lauren Nudi ‘23 also noted that she frequently looks for one particularly fat squirrel when she walks across the quad, saying she “loves him.”  She called the animals “ballsy,” but also thinks that it’s possible they haven’t changed and she “just acknowledges them more this year.” 

An enthusiasm for or a particular attention to our natural environment has always been a part of Bates culture. However, now more than ever, we are spending a large amount of time outside. Elise Lambert ‘22 said that she “will be sitting in the Adirondack chairs in the library quad and they’ll just run up to [her] and scavenge around [her] feet. One even ran into [her] chair the other day and scared [her] half to death.” However, Jahmari Josiah ‘21 said they’ve always been getting “a little too close.”

It’s possible that our return to campus has excited the squirrels and that our new habits have caused them to feel more comfortable approaching us. It is also possible that they’ve always been friendly to those of us who spend a lot of time outside, but that a majority of students have greatly increased their outdoor time recently, and therefore observe the squirrels’ behavior as particularly bizarre.

Nudi’s assessment of her own feelings does not just solely point to the idea that students’ perceptions are shifting as they spend more time outdoors. It also allows for other explanations, including  a different, and potentially more upsetting, analysis of the current squirrel-centric zeitgeist. Bates students are desperately seeking social meaning in any arena they can. As the presence of empty cans of Natural Light on the ground declines, and the module system forces a stronger focus on academics, we lose a fundamental aspect of our studenthood, and of our humanity. 

Where is the gossip? Where is the “tea?” Well, that squirrel looks pretty fat. That’s something. Nobody fought anybody at a party last night, but a squirrel sure did get pretty aggressive with me the other day. Intrigue!

Nut haul! One to throw at someone’s head, one to eat. (Dieter Villegas/The Bates Student)

Perhaps we don’t all cope in the same ways. Maybe you have half or all of your courses online, so instead of group messaging about who showed up to calculus with a hickey, and from whom, you type a private zoom message saying “lol did you see how *other student* joined and then left the call in the first minute?” We are bored. We look for patterns; we look for reason. We look for a reason to care as the dark shadow of apathy encroaches upon us. 

As so much changes in extremely obvious and seemingly negative ways (the Den is closed, acapella groups can’t have concerts, and fall sports will not compete), we are sure that there must be other organisms changing as well. There is a comfort in the idea that everything is “off.” Even species with no governments to mishandle a pandemic, no cases of the virus, no capitalism, no high cost healthcare, must be struggling as well. This cannot be our issue. Humans can’t possibly be facing unique turmoil and change at the moment. Because, if we are, it’s our fault. That is not so easy a pill to swallow. 

Maybe the squirrels are different this semester. Maybe they are not. Maybe it does not matter. The discourse is just something to engage in, something comforting, and something to extend our short mealtimes, which are our new social times, sitting on Garcelon a few seconds longer to trade stories on these nutty nut-gatherers.