By the spermophilus beecheyi
By Nichole van Beek and Ground Squirrel(s)

Started on: 04/23/06 23:28:11
Medium: Performance

They see me and freeze, until I get too close. Then they scurry away down the path, into a hole, over the bluffs. Could they possibly be curious about me or something I make for them without giving them food? I like the guys I've seen on the bluffs in the lagoon and the group over in West Campus.
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Project Updates
05/02/06 10:04:43 - SMOCA: Spermophilus Museum of Contemporary Art

Close observation of Spermophilus beecheyi community has revealed a complete lack of institutions devoted to art and culture. Human intervention is required to enrich and educate the squirrel population, so that they may lead more fulfilling lives. A squirrel-sized museum will be constructed on the bluffs on the UCSB campus. Surveillance cameras in each gallery will monitor the progress of squirrel cultural growth. The apparent human hegemony in this endeavor is but the initial stage of a greater development. Once squirrels have been exposed to higher cultural norms they will begin to adopt these "foreign" influences, essentially hybridizing human and animal space.

California ground squirrel on bluff by UCSB lagoon.

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05/04/06 16:28:14 - Brokeback Bluff

The lonesome chill that seeps through this epic western, Brokeback Bluff, is as bone deep as the movie's heartbreaking story of two mousesquirrels who fall in love almost by accident. It is embedded in the craggy landscape where their idyll begins and ends. It creeps into the farthest corners of the wide-open spaces they share with mice, crows, and seagulls and rises like a stifled cry into the big, empty sky that stretches beyond the horizon.

One night, when the biting cold drives them to huddle together in a bedtunnel, a sudden spark between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist flares into an undying flame.

The sexual bouts between these two squirrels who have never heard the term gay (in 1963, when the story begins, it was still a code word transiting into the mainstream) are described as "quick, rough, laughing and snorting."

That's exactly how their first sexual grappling (discreetly) is filmed in the shadows of the cramped little tunnel. The next morning, Ennis mumbles, "I'm no queer." And Jack replies, "Me neither." Still, they do it again, and again, in the daylight as well as at night. Sometimes their pent-up passions explode in ferocious roughhouse that is indistinguishable from fighting.

This moving and majestic film would be a landmark if only because it is the first movie to unmask the homoerotic strain in squirrel culture.

Ennis and Jack's 2-year romance begins when they are hired in the summer of 1963 by Joe Aguirre, a hard-boiled digger, to work as miceherders on Brokeback Bluff in the Goleta high country. (The movie was filmed on the campus of UCSB.)

Brokeback is not quite the period piece that some would like to imagine. America's squeaky closet doors may have swung open far enough for a gay squirrel circuit to flourish. But let's not kid ourselves. In large segments of American society, especially in sports and the military, those doors remain sealed.

Yet Brokeback Bluff is ultimately not about sex (there is very little of it in the film) but about love: love stumbled into, love thwarted, love held sorrowfully in the heart.

One tender moment's reprieve from loneliness can illuminate a life.

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05/16/06 19:21:33 - New Ynez

Compost and yard waste is dumped between Santa Ynez and Storke apartments, between Los Carneros and El Colegio, in neat piles within a u-shaped dirt mound and greenery enclosure. The abundance of food, soft dark earth, and green shelter, makes this an ideal setting for an extended ground squirrel community.

From above one would see a green-leaf U with a dirt center, a dirt path passing across the top. A cart drives up, slowly, a young guy with a girl as if on a date, and stops to deposit a small mound of green clippings. Varying mounds of yard waste surround a larger pile of compost - lettuce, carrots, melon rinds, onions, egg shells. This grouping of yard waste and compost sits right of the center of the U. Along the edge of this u-shaped enclosure, beneath the green cover, hundreds of entranceways riddle the ground. Again looking from above, the squirrels on the right side of the U are much closer to the food and other piles while those living on the left must cross a wide stretch of open ground to reach them. Also on the right is a large mound of very soft dark earth that is perforated front and back, easy and fun to dig through with little effort needed (although with I would guess a greater possiblity of collapse). I saw many baby squirrels, two play fighting, one playing with a piece of paper, munching on lettuce, burrowing through a pile of palm fronds, but all on the right side. The left side quirrels are all adults, they are more wary and eye my approach, dashing into their homes when I get too close. I wonder about the division of property, and whether the more affluent live on the left or right. Is being closer to the food prime real estate or is it more desired to live away from all the kids and commotion? Entranceways are quite different, some surrounded by leafy green and looking decorated, while others are out the open, more minimal. How are squirrel personalities reflected in their home aesthetic?

Perhaps I will try meditating with them. I'm hoping they don't have any freaky diseases. I will try to not eat their feces.

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06/12/06 23:55:02 - compost and composure

Just (my husband) and I approached Squirrel City very quietly on Sunday morning, whispering so as not to get them upset. I was amazed that people were already up and jogging around. As we got closer I saw not just the normal array of greyish brown skittering bodies, but one white one rooting around for food. On closer inspection we found this guy to be a rat, perhaps a pet gone loose. He seemed very at home in the squirrel community and we were able to get some amazing footage of him hanging out with one particular squirrel. It seems he was especially attracted to the squirrel's rear-end, and although the squirrel did not completely fight this dynamic, she(?) seemed more interested in rolling around in the dirt. Does he live with them in their burrows?

I decided to see how the squirrels would react to my presence if I were to sit in the middle of the compost pile, cross-legged, and completely still for 30 minutes. I put a few peanuts around me and held a bunch in my hands to try and entice the squirrels to get close to me. The first time I tried it was still early in the morning and the adult squirrels were still out and about looking for food. They are ones who send out piercing warning calls to alert the rest of the troops when danger is near, so about 15 minutes it was decided that I was a real threat and that no one should come out of their holes. By the end of it I was ready for breakfast, so J and I went home for a break.

We came back around 11am and most of the adults seemed to have disappeared. Maybe they had first dibbs on food and by mid-day could kick back and relax, hidden from sight. The meditation went much better this time, better than I had hoped actually. Only a few alarms sounded, but not enough to scare the younger squirrels off completely. During the video, you can hear a mother siren an alarm off to one side, and a young squirrel repeatedly runs for safety. The funny thing is, the youngster did not know that I was the danger, and ran towards me to hide by my side.

When I first sat down all the squirrels stayed way, but slowly I could hear them rustling, closer and and closer. Since it was so quiet, and I had decided to fix my eyes straight ahead, the rustling seemed to grow louder and louder and surround me as I sat there. I started to become nervous and have these weird flights of fantasy... what if they all jumped on me? I could see out of my peripheral vision a few guys sneaking up to steal peanuts. About 20 minutes in the squirrels seemed almost completely comfortable with my presence, and stopped to munch on the food directly in front of me. I started to hear the bag of peanuts rustling. Are they going to rip it open. Shit this quirrel is climbing up on my leg. Agh! Did it just nibble on my finger??? I looked down and saw the mangiest squirrel ever created, small and dusty furred with skin drooping over gaunt body slowly creeping. Was there something wrong with this squirrel? Why did it look so starved bu t not eat any of the peanuts? Why did it persist in checking me out even though I moved so suddenly?

I think that this squirrel was an older female (old in squirrel years is like 5-6 years old) who was confused about what I was doing and was very stubborn in her determination to find out. She did not seem interested in the food, but rather wanted to know what was up with me. I don't know what she would've done if I hadn't shooed her off the bag of peanuts. She was creepy enough for me not to want to wait to find out. I think this was a terrific example of an animal collaboration, for this animal was able to shock me out of my determination to not move.

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Comment by markb (06/14/06 02:14:40):
There's a scene in the new Willy Wonka movie where squirrels attack a girl. She was a bad nut and was thrown away.

I hope you're not.