John T. Griffith 5:14 p.m., May 22
I wrote this four-parter about a year and half ago.
My daughter, Daisy, and I either visit the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Wild Animal Park at least once a month. One day, at the zoo, while we were near the elephants, we discovered a path partially obscured by the tapir enclosure. This concrete path cuts directly to the middle of Cat Canyon. I’ve been a visitor to our zoo since I was a little kid and until this particular day I had never seen this path before. It’s a beautiful path that meanders beneath the shade of exotic, imported trees and beside various non-native flowers and shrubs. Sometimes you can hear the free-range peacocks’ haunting cries from the nearby tour bus terminal or fabricated rain forest. At the end of the path is an enclosure reserved for the African Honey Badger. I love the Honey Badger; he is one of my all time favorite animals. In spite of his cute name, the Honey Badger is fearless, ferocious, and extremely aggressive, and, as his namesake implies, he has a great appetite for bee larvae and honey. Tenacious honey badgers have been found dead from countless stings inside beehives because they refused to leave without their prize. They also brawl with cobras, puff adders, and black mambas, and then they eat their fallen foes’ carcasses. How could anyone not love an animal that tough?
Daisy and I were the only ones standing in front of the honey badger’s enclosure. He came out of his cave, stalked around his perimeter a few times, and then went back inside. We waited, hoping he would make another appearance. I began calling his name, hoping this would encourage him to make another appearance: “Honey Badger! Huuuuuney Badger!”
Daisy made kissing noises as if she were summoning a horse. Then she picked up my lead, “Huuuuuney Badger! Mister Huuuuuney Badger! Come on out, boy, don’t be shy.”
He peeked out of his cave, his dark eyes glinting like flint. He glared at us for a moment, and then he approached the front of his enclosure. He began pacing back and forth in front of us as if he were daring us to try and breach his home. After a few moments he was convinced that we wouldn’t try to enter his domain, and he retired back to his cave where he stayed.
As we walked away, it seemed unfair to me that Honey Badger is hidden away on this pretty though secluded little walkway. It was almost as if the zoo were ashamed of him.
After emerging out on Cat Canyon near the leopards, we headed west past the cactus garden toward the giant pandas, although they weren’t our goal. Our true goal was the concession stand near the giant pandas to buy a couple of soft serve ice cream cones. To be honest, I’m sick of the giant pandas. I almost wish the Chinese would just take them back already. The whole zoo is about the giant pandas—giant panda this and giant panda that. Sure, they’re cute, but the zoo has other animals deserving of their captors’ attention. And, by the way, giant panda is a misnomer, they’re not that big.
As we approached the concession stand, and just before the giant porcupines (they are pretty big as far as porcupines go), we passed in front of a big round tall cage. Inside the cage, directly in its middle and almost reaching its top, is a tree. I’d seen this cage before but had always ignored it, assuming it just held one boring bird or another. “Look at that squirrel, Daddy,” Daisy said to me.
We neared the cage. On the dirt floor and near the base of the tree, was a squirrel twitching his tail and looking rapidly about. And not just any squirrel either, but a delightful squirrel, the most attractive squirrel I had ever seen, as a matter of fact the most beautiful squirrel in the world. The squirrel was dark red, almost mahogany, with black and white stripes running down the entirety of his back and bushy tail … he was just breathtaking. And so active and entertaining! He ran around on the floor of his cage, checking to make sure his food and water bowls were properly filled, to stand on a rock, and to look at us, then he’d dart up his tree to dash out on one limb or another. He craned his neck to get a better view of his part of the zoo. He pretended not to notice Daisy, me, or the many other people who had appeared to admire his beauty and obvious passion for life.
The squirrel appeared to be a bachelor or maybe a bachelorette, although he did share his cage with an assortment of small, colorful birds that he enjoyed shooing from the branches of the tree. We all laughed in appreciation of the squirrel’s antics. This squirrel was a real crowd pleaser.
A small sign on his cage told us that he was a Bornean Prevost's Squirrel. Clearly Asia has prettier squirrels than North America.
To escape rain and the other elements, the tree had a cavity in its middle to shelter the squirrel. A few times the squirrel disappeared into the cavity, but only for moments. Our adoration of him was just too much for him to disregard. He’d peek coyly from his hollow in the tree and then slowly inch his way from the den. Once his tail had passed the entranceway he was right back at it, darting here and dashing there. Daisy and I watched him for half an hour until our longing for ice ream became too much.
“That squirrel is so pretty,” Daisy said to me as we neared the concession stand.
“I know,” I said, acknowledging her comment. “He’s the loveliest squirrel I’ve ever seen. And so happy too.”
Daisy smiled. “I liked when he chased the birds away. What a rascal.”
I laughed. “He sure is.
“Two swirl waffle cones, please.”