I was sitting on my deck, reading and eating a handful of peanuts, when a pointy brown face appeared at the latticework gate. The head then ducked under the gate, and a squirrel emerged a few feet in front of me.

I looked at him. He looked at me. I threw him a peanut. He approached it cautiously — one eye still on me — then grasped it in his tiny paws and devoured it in several chomps.

Then he ran off.

I know I should not encourage the rodents who spend most of the day in my backyard. But that was adorable.

I could be writing about any number of topics this week: The continuing pandemic, the horrors of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the ongoing ravages of climate change. But it’s all becoming too much. Watching the squirrels in my backyard is a welcome diversion. Perhaps a necessary one.

I recently retreated to my lounge chair on the deck to stew. I need to have surgery. It’s not urgent, but necessary. There’s a chance that if I don’t get the care I need soon, I could end up in the emergency room. Nobody wants to go under the knife as an ER patient.

But despite repeated calls on my part, I have yet to get a date for the operation. I’m sure this is because of all those unvaccinated people infected with the delta variant of COVID. They are taking up so many hospital beds that services for people like me are being delayed.

Luckily, it wasn’t long before one of the four resident squirrels appeared. All gray squirrels seem to be identical, but I do recognize “Baldy,” who has several areas where her fur appears to be growing back, and “Dot,” who has a circular naked spot the size of a penny on her haunch. I am less sure about “Kyle.” The dark brown lines on either side of his snout seem to be darker than the others’ markings and he is prone to silliness. He digs holes so furiously he ends up with his rear end in the air. On warm days, he stretches out on a pallet of bricks where the watering cans normally go. He loves to play in the woodpile.

But there may be two Kyles. I just can’t be sure. Trying to identify each of them keeps my mind off the latest COVID numbers.

Our resident squirrels have it good. What my husband, Paul, and I call the “little backyard” is nearly enclosed by the L-shape of the house, a two-story garage and a retaining wall topped by a fence. An old pear tree is a dominant feature, along with several shrubs.

There are two bird feeders, two birdbaths and a suet holder. I regularly throw out peanuts in the shell for the squirrels, in an attempt to keep them away from the feeders. It does slow them down, but I wouldn’t call it a success.

Watching them eat the peanuts is amusing, though. They get up on their hind legs and hold the peanut in their little hands. They turn the peanut around, and around again. Then they start nibbling on it. Then they run away with it.

Every time.

The squirrels are acrobats. They prostrate themselves against the feeders. They run along the fence and chase each other in spirals up the pear tree. Once, one pursued another across the corner of the deck while my dog Martha and I were out there. She jumped to her feet but just missed them. I’m not sure what Martha would have done if she had caught one.

I know it’s not all fun and games with squirrels. Our Victorian house used to have an attached shed that wasn’t in the best of shape. We had red squirrels in the yard that year and they were getting into the shed and wreaking havoc. Paul set up a Havahart trap and captured one. He released it in a suitably woodsy location about 5 miles away. The next day, there was another one. And then another one. In total, six. Luckily, the word seems to have gotten out in the red squirrel community and we have not had any take up residence since. Meanwhile, we replaced the shed with a tightly constructed, red-squirrel-proof addition.

Our current group of grays are reasonably well-behaved. For squirrels. But there’s always something going on with them. One night, Paul and I were eating dinner on the deck when we heard a whoosh. A hawk had landed in the large bush several feet away. Obviously, he was squirrel hunting. We looked at the bird. He looked at us. Then he thought better of trying to find supper there and flew away.

Paul saw the hawk several days later. He landed in the bush again, but then swooped down in search of prey. He was unlucky once again.

I am fond of saying “It’s the circle of life,” but I don’t want to see it playing out in my little backyard. Not with my squirrels. Without them, I’d have to start thinking about forest fires, and hurricanes and crazy anti-vaxxers.

I’m going to go out now and throw some peanuts into the yard.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].

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