A Loose Squirrel

Cliff Williams
Department of Philosophy
Trinity College
Deerfield, Illinois 60015


I had started the class with a reading. Three-quarters of the way through, two or three students to my left started whispering among themselves. I ignored it and continued to read. When I finished, there was some commotion among the same students. One of them said, “There’s a rat in the ceiling.” He pointed upward to a place behind me at the front of the classroom.

I looked. One of the ceiling tiles had been moved out of place, leaving gaps in the ceiling. In one of the gaps a squirrel’s tail was hanging down.

Now the thing about squirrel tails is that I have an uncontrollable impulse to yank at them whenever I see one that is yankable. That happens now and then on the bird feeder in our back yard. The squirrel’s head is on one side of the feeder and the tail hangs out over the other end. When I catch sight of it from the kitchen window, I sneak out the front door, go around the tail side of the house, tiptoe to the feeder, and if I’m lucky I give a good yank. As it happens, I had done that several times in the days preceding this day. So when I spied the new tail, my impulses took over.

I dragged a desk to a spot just below the tail, hiked up on the seat part, reached for the tail and yanked it, not too hard, but hard enough that the rest of the squirrel followed the tail.

The squirrel fell to the floor—no doubt on its feet, for it quickly scrambled underneath the classroom’s desks. The males in the class, ever ready to make things right, jumped to their feet and cornered the squirrel. The females jumped to their feet to watch the activity. Someone brought over the wastebasket and someone else brought over a notebook. Soon a couple of the males had the squirrel in the wastebasket covered with the notebook.

They carried the arrangement out of the room, but the squirrel extricated itself from its moving prison and landed on the floor of the hallway. It ran behind a large plastic trash receptacle in the hallway. The males crowded around the trash receptacle, but the squirrel did not cooperate. Finally, though, they got the squirrel into the wastebasket again, placed a large piece of cardboard over it, and marched out of the building, accompanied by the rest of the class. There they deposited the squirrel into the flower bed beside the building’s steps. In another minute, everyone returned to the classroom, where I resumed the class session.