Dead Birds and Trash Squirrels


I’m in Philadelphia. This has been a childhood dream since… my childhood. Actually, visiting Philli wasn’t really the dream, it was just to see the Liberty Bell and other historical sites. Now that I am here, I’m less than impressed, but I’ve only been here for three days. And I still haven’t seen the Bell! It is loud and dirty, crowded and colossal. I’m broke and no one will hire me. The air has that dingy quality to it that big cities do; the effect of too many cars in too little space and too few trees to digest the pollution. The worst part of Philadelphia has been the dead birds. They’re everywhere. Like water from a well, the birds are drawn to skyscraper windows, only to be knocked unconscious and splatter on the pavement; a Jackson Pollock painting gone wrong. What’s even worse is that no one picks them up. They rot on the pavement. Wings stretched, cracked, flattened, bystanders side-stepping the Samaritan. It’s quiet sad, really.

If birds are the Samaritans of Philli, squirrels are the Ninjas. As I walked out of the dorm complex yesterday, I was overcome by surprise at one of the best sites I have ever seen. A gray squirrel- frayed tail, apathetic eyes- leisurely made his way out of a campus trash can and onto his spot of lawn a few feet away. I stared at him, speechless, and the little punk stared back. His eyes said, “Ha, bet you wish you could do that.” Then he took another bite of his Trash Surprise. I told my husband about the incident later that day, only to discover that he had seen the same thing! Apparently, this is a common occurrence here.

Honestly, maybe the reason I don’t like it here is because I’ve never spent an extended period of time in New England. It’s probably just culture shock. Maybe I just need to explore more, but I’m scared. I’ve never explored on a large(er) scale on my own before. So I need to make a decision: Will I be a dead bird or a trash squirrel?





Allan Rufus writes, “Your inner strength is your outer foundation.” When I was in high school, I was a social amoeba; as most kids do, I carried an identity morphed by the beliefs of my parents. My freshman and sophomore year, I was fairly alone, just as I had been in middle school (I was always told that it would be better in high school. This is a lie.), except for a few friends from theater and choir. But even in that group, I was usually the quiet one (I had my loud, confident, smart-alec moments), the self-conscious one, the double-checker; my older classmates were quick-witted, more experienced, funnier, licensed, prettier… and therefore extremely intimidating. Their egos and “rule the school” attitude didn’t console my feelings of fear around them, either. My friends at church, however, made me feel loved and accepted, for the most part. We were a team, we were each others’ confidants and friends. There was love shared and received from and to all. But as I grew, I slowly began to split and harden; a sapling in winter.

Young, newly planted trees with soft and supple bark- such as cherry blossom, linden, apple and maple- are wrapped in the wintertime in order to prevent any damage from the elements. However, it is only the trunk that is protected, the branches are left to breathe. Like an unprotected sapling, I wasn’t prepared for the torrent of pressure, self-discovery and freakish uncovering of assumptions sitting patiently outside the front doors of my high school, smoking a cigarette, ready to capture the unsuspecting adolescent.

The summer before my junior year, Naivety introduced me to my first boyfriend. I met him on the second to last day of school, on the steps in the choir room. I had never even seen him before. Strange, seeing as how the choir only had 65 people in it. People I saw everyday. Our year and a half journey began four days after our meeting; we had a wonderfully illusioned year.

Communication is key to relationships. So, when parents don’t nurture their children in a balanced way- protecting their foundation, but letting them branch out- two things can happen. Some children shut down, internalize and begin to ex-communicate their parents, letting once strong (or what they thought to be strong) relationships fall to pieces. Other children, because of a lack of communication, will begin to throw teenage temper tantrums, externalizing their feelings of angst. I tried both; neither worked effectively.

Like I said earlier, my first boyfriend and I were heavily involved with each other for a year and a half. As I look back, I realize now that our connection sprouted from desperation. I was so disconnected from my family, from real, personal communication, so I grafted myself to him in hopes of bearing some sort of fruit.

My family and I have an apple tree and a peach tree in our backyard. In the past few years, both have begun to bloom and even form little tart apples and grainy peaches. It’s exciting to watch. But the summer before my senior year was dry, and as soon as the blossoms stretched their milky petals, the brutal sun scorched them. Within a day, they would shrivel and die.

Before I came to York, my soul was shriveled and defeated. Mary Jane and I had become best friends and my drinking went hand in hand with my favorite physical pastime. Most of my high school friends had slowly begun to pull away from me and I hadn’t talked to many church friends in a year. They say that your habits become your beliefs and your beliefs become your actions. If that’s true, then I was a lonely, slutty, stoner. I was the worst kind of quaintrelle.

I packed my bags and left Colorado suddenly at the end of July, only 8 weeks after graduation. I was so frazzled, so sick of my destructive path and of the shallow enablers I spent my days with, that I left. I uprooted my tree.

Newly planted trees go through a phase know as transplant shock because of the massive amount of roots severed during the unearthing. This shock lasts until the natural balance between crown and roots is reconnected.

So, I drove out to York and moved in with my sister for a month, before school started. I got a job as a barista- something I’ve always wanted to be- and met friends through a camp counselor who lives in town. I immediately fell into “old habits,” I suppose you could call them. Old by a month, perhaps. My transplant shock had me sifting through shallow topsoil, instead of the rich, dark and peaceful clay beneath.

Growing roots is a multifaceted process. There must be a connection between the translucent skin of the green above and the sappy striations of the wood below for any development to take place. And even if this connection is present, there are always other external variables and obstructions. Pests in the springtime, frost and winds in the wintertime. Sometimes, transplantation is best when roots begin to grow upward rather than down in the normal transverse patterns or in root balls; this is a sign that there is a lack of oxygen in the deeper soil, so the roots must reach upward in order to obtain the necessary nutrient. Sometimes, uprooting a tree will save it.

Now, six, almost seven, months after my move to York, I am slowly unfurling my newly grown blossoms. This time, with a watchful eye on the sun. My roots spread further everyday, probing deeper through hollows of critical thinking and self-actualization- transforming myself- and discovering the potential of a body and mind made whole.