When I was twelve or so, my parents were regularly attending a church for the first time in a long time. They developed several friends at the church and decided that we were going to attend the 4th of July picnic and join in the spirit of camaraderie.
We arrived at the township park, a large expanse of open fields bleached khaki by the persistent influence of the summer sun. A covered pavilion with picnic tables held the food while the children roamed the fields at will. I teamed up with another girl my age, and we engaged in effortless interaction such as only children can.
Molly (name changed) and I revealed our life stories to each other, quickly becoming good friends. Unexpectedly, a small, tow-headed boy came over to us and informed us that he was going to catch a ground squirrel. The sand-colored field was dotted with rodent holes from which small creatures would appear and disappear as quick as a thought.
I laughed at the boy when he told us of his goal. There was no way that a child would be able to catch a creature as fast as a ground squirrel, especially when the burrows provided an easy escape. Molly shook her dark hair out of her eyes and asked the boy how he planned to catch the rodent.
“All I need is a water jug and a couple other people.” He responded to her query, confidence coloring his voice.
He detailed the plan to us, and we decided to organize the children together and put the plan into action. Our audience listened to us, absolutely absorbed in the possibility that they might be able to catch a wild animal, even for a short time. Each child agreed earnestly to help, and we began the first step.
To start, we had to find a ground squirrel at the opening of a tunnel. Once that step was accomplished, we found all of the holes nearby and stationed a child guard at each possible egress so that the ground squirrel would only have one means of entry and escape. After the guard had been established, the tow-headed boy, Molly, and I rushed at a ground squirrel as the other children stomped their feet and yelled menacingly at the rodent.
With nowhere to go except down the only available hole, the ground squirrel quickly went to ground. “Now!” The boy shouted; Molly and I upended the gallon of water into the hole. The water chugged out of the container and into the earth, streaming down the dirt tunnel toward the ground squirrel’s lair. The children continued to stomp and shout at their posts.
We were almost out of water when the ground squirrel darted up into the jug, seeking a means to escape the flooding burrow. The three of us gave cries of elation, the other children quickly approaching to see our prize.
The ground squirrel was half-drowned, but the boy reached in with his slender hand and began the extraction process. It was far harder to remove the rodent from the jug than we had assumed, and the ordeal took a good ten minutes before we were able to get him out and onto the blond grass where we could see him better.
After the events that had almost killed him, the ground squirrel was too exhausted and shocked to move, so we each took turns petting him gently as he dried out in the sun. The children spoke in hushed whispers as their small fingers caressed the spotted hide of the rodent. Never again would we have a chance to be this close to a wild creature.
It took the poor thing almost 30 minutes before he recovered enough to dart off, but we let him go without giving chase. We had achieved our goal, and we understood well enough that wild animals were not meant to be contained as pets.
We ran back to the pavilion to tell our parents about our amazing feat. After forcing us to wash our hands repeatedly, we were allowed to regroup and continue with our play.