My Google Alert for squirrels has not yielded anything noteworthy this week, so I figured it was time to let the world know how this nickname/alter ego came to be.

First, flash waaaaay back to the summer of 1985, when I was an 11-year-old slip of a girl with a tragic haircut. This era was the height of my mom’s work as a wildlife rehabilitator, and summer was her busiest time. One day she received a baby red squirrel that had probably fallen from her nest when a tree was pruned or cut down. [For those of you not from the northern reaches of the US, American red squirrels are about half the size and twice the personality of the common gray guys and tend to stick to the deep woods.] Tween that I was, I fell in love with the tiny cuteness and spent the rest of the summer raising little Rusty myself, feeding her warm kitten formula from a 10 cc syringe and letting her sleep curled up in my palm as I watched TV. Rusty grew plump and sleek, and before long it was time to set her outside to learn how to be a wild animal. She throve in our backyard and quickly grew wild to everyone but me. I would often meet her on the back patio or in the garage to give her a treat of peanut butter or fruit, and she would obligingly sit on my shoulder for a visit. Below is what I like to consider Rusty’s farewell kiss to me before she became a thoroughly wild squirrel and disappeared forever:

Focus on the squirrel, not the hair...it was 1985, dammit!

Focus on the squirrel, not the hair...it was 1985, dammit!

What precipitated Rusty’s full transition out of the ‘burbs and into the wild when she clearly had a sweet deal? Story continues after the jump.

One day, as she was picking up a treat from me in the garage, something startled her. She darted past me into the kitchen (I had left the door open), whereupon I panicked, fearing that any of our several dogs and/or cats would make a quick meal of her. So I set off after the poor squirrel, hollering at the top of my voice for her to get out. Rusty fled up the stairs with me and our Springer spaniel in hot pursuit. Not knowing where to turn, she ran for the bathroom, took a flying leap, and dove into the toilet. I immediately scooped her up, wrapped her in a washcloth, and ran back downstairs, out the door, and to the backyard. I released her on the patio, and she immediately took off, never to return.

Fast-forward 20 years, to the dawn of my current Relationship, when we were planning our first vacation together, a road trip to Nova Scotia. We were talking about the wildlife we’d be seeing up in the Maritimes, and I mentioned how I was looking forward to seeing red squirrels again (they don’t live this far south). Will had never seen one, so I went through the whole Rusty tale, which prompted him to draw certain parallels between the personality of a red squirrel and my own. On the trip, one bold little Rusty came forward to sniff Will’s toes, and my nickname was cemented.

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