An Audience with a Squirrel

July 9, 2020

Looking into the eye of the wild

Have you ever had a wild animal stare right into your eyes? And then to walk on by, seeing you not as a threat but as a part of nature? It is unforgettable. Each time this has happened to me the moment has been imprinted in my soul, and this happened to me today as I was telling a sycamore a story: let me explain.

These past few days have been sticky for me. I have what Jason and I are calling lockdown lethargy. Restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic have been lifted but I am far from back to normal. There is a well-researched phenomenon that when people or animals have been held in captivity, when the door is opened, they don’t walk out of it. I have absolutely been grappling with this. I am noticing it in me, my reticence to going out, and it is surprising me as it is the polar opposite of my natural state. Normally in the summer I am here there and everywhere, but not this year, even though it is entirely possible now.

This isn’t the first time I have had an intriguing psychological response to the lockdown period we have been in and are still enduring here in the UK. Each time, whenever I get myself into a pickle, I find that if I turn my energy to doing something creative, I can see my way out. This was the topic of our most recent shamanic journey circle: discovering the hidden treasure that lies within us, as a path to shifting our soul a little bit closer to where it wants to be.

Dreamtime to storytime

This morning I woke up with a fairy tale running around inside my head. I had just come out of a dream where I was given the task of creating a new fairy tale, which I duly did. Wide awake, I could still remember it. I could easily have rolled over and dozed off, dismissing it, but I talked myself round and opened up the notes app in my phone and wrote down the salient points. I then fleshed it out immediately afterwards: there was no time like the present and I couldn’t put it down. By the time I got up out of bed I had recited my first telling to Jason.

As I planned out my day, I decided to flip things on their head. Instead of doing the things I needed to do to meet various work deadlines I went to the woods straight after breakfast. I wanted to tell the fairy tale to the land. I set out my picnic rug and spoke it to a sycamore tree.

So, there I was, in the woods, speaking the story I had dreamt about less than four hours previous. It is about a squirrel, a boy squirrel who is sent on a mission by his tribe. The stakes are high and there is a pressing deadline, with various trials and tribulations encountered along the way. Given this was only my second telling, as I was mid flow in the opening piece, I surprised myself with the thought, “you know Nicola, this isn’t that bad!” A friend asked me recently if I would like to submit a short fairy tale telling to a project that he is coordinating for the vicar in his local village. I had a flash of inspiration that this could be the one. I set my iphone camera balanced on the tree, pressed record and began.

I loved speaking the story to the land, bringing my dream to life. Then as I approached the crucial pivotal point of the story towards the end, imagine my surprise when a squirrel walked past, right in front of me. He stopped, turned around and sat up on its two hind legs and looking me right in the eyes. He cocked his head to listen, paused for a while and then trotted off. He was so close I could have reached out and touched him.

Storytelling to the land

When I have told stories to the land before it has felt like the trees and plants are listening. There is a point in the telling when everything around me feels different. Now I am conjuring up an audience of one squirrel to listen to the squirrel fairy tale that has come through me, that feels very special indeed.

This isn’t 'my' story: it was given to me in a dream. It feels such a gift. A gift from the imaginal realm. This has never happened to me before, not like this. I do get given information in dreams, but not a whole story. I could have talked myself out of writing it down, taking time out to tell it, record me telling it, and then sharing it with the world. But I pushed through all those excuses that came to mind, such as I have more important things I need to be cracking on with, it isn’t very good, I am not very good. I have jumped right in, as after all, this isn’t my story, and as a shamanic practitioner, am I not here to bring through information from the Otherworlds that is most needed at this time?

Our Mythology teacher Dr Martin Shaw from the West Country School of Myth told us that stories are the language of the earth. The earth speaks in story and when we tell a story to the land something happens. Each time I have done this the energy around me has changed. Everything becomes sharper, closer, more colourful and yet surreal at the same time. It feels like I have moved into a different dimension, and perhaps I have. It feels edgy, I can see movement in my peripheral vision, and I keep on needing to look over my shoulder. I don’t hang around long afterwards: something is there and not just a curious squirrel.

Sadly, as the camera was pointing towards me, I didn’t get to record my squirrel companion. But you can see me distracted, looking at him, 9.02 minutes in.

And as for lockdown lethargy? Well, after an experience like that I can tell you that has well and truly gone, for now at least. Creativity is always my key to finding my way out of difficult states of being.

So, I hope you enjoy storytime. Scroll to the top of this page to watch the video. This is the first time I have ever told a story to camera. Usually we are around the campfire, sharing stories during our retreats. However, lockdown is pushing us all out of our comfort zones, and so here is my offering to you today: The Boy Squirrel & the Tonga Tree, fresh from the Otherworld.

I would love to hear what you think in the comment box below, especially in respect to what message you are taking from this story. Which part of the story has claimed you? And why do you think that is?

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. I rescued a Nestling Crown seconds before He/She was about to be devoured by a Border Terrier, She walked straight into my open hand.
    We spent eight Enlightening weeks in each other’s company, we did everything together, bathed, showered, walked the countryside, she liked to sit on my head or ride on the back of my Husky/Malamute Saskia, who had total respect for her. She taught me that we are not the “master-race.” At six weeks old she jumped on my workstation, tapped on my keyboard and showed me that she could use the internet, mind blown.
    I called Her/Him Nessie out of my respect for Robert Nestor Marley. I cried when Nessie finally left, they were tears of joy and sorrow.
    Intelligence has nothing to do with brain size, that’s just a by-product of “man’s” over inflated Ego.


  2. I listened to your story earlier today and I was expecting at first to see the squirrel that came to listen but then realised that it would not be in the camera range unfortunately as I would love to have seen him/her. I enjoyed the story and one thing I took from it is to keep on keeping on, The boy squirrel found it hard to keep going through the seemingly never-ending grasslands when he had a tight deadline but he stuck with it even though he was running out of food and eventually he achieved his goal of getting back to his tribe with the new seedling just in time. It can be hard to motivate ourselves to do things even when we do want to do them, especially at the moment, so I will think of the boy squirrel and keep on keeping on like he did. Thank you, Nicola.

    1. How true your words are Jill, that it can be hard to motivate ourselves but to keep on going. Thank you so much for your reflections here 🙂

  3. I love the way you tell your story, Nicola. How special to dream it, and faithfully tell it, and have the squirrel tribe send someone to receive it. Amazing.

  4. What part has claimed me? Boy’s meeting with the Fox “He didn’t ought to ‘ave done that!’ He had disobeyed the instructions of Wise Old Squirrel! But he got away with it … just at the last minute he snatched away the Magic Cloak, and – after a panicky pursuit – escaped into the canopy where he belonged. The Fox got tired of his chasing, and let him away,

    So Squirrel got back Just at the Last Minute again, with the Tree of Renewal. The succession was Assured. A new generation could flourish.

    When I heard the story, first, I was intrigued but not quite satisfied by it. Unsure of the “happy ending”, because Boy Squirrel had been disobedient to the Wise One (something I have been afraid to do, have feared to risk, although the last 5 years I have been taking a growing delight in challenging the Wisdoms that I have been enthralled by).

    The words and phrases that spring out (like a leaping aquirrel) to me personally, from what I have written, are: “got away with it”; “Just at the last minute” “panicky pusuit” “canopy” “Tree of Renewal” “The succession was Assured” “A new generation could flourish”

    That is the treasure that I shall carry onwards, this list of phrases, meaningful to me at many levels. Thank you Nicola for this unexpected outcome. I believe I uncovered the treasure through this process ofwriting my response in this Reply Box that had so kindly popped up across my path through the Forest of Fear. And I have now found safety in the Canopy,
    Love from Oak Catkin and a { big hug }

    1. Oh, Kathy, I have loved reading your comment here. So fascinating to hear what stood out for you and the process that followed through you answering my question. Thank you 🙂 and love and big hug too!

  5. Lovely story Nicola. The message for me is that however hard the going is and even when we make mistakes (as the squirrel did in talking to the fox) all will be well in the end. Thank you – I love your story telling. Blessings.

  6. I am halfway through my second reading of “The Enchanted Life” by Sharon Blackie and just read how she learned to tell stories to the natural features around her. This fascinates me. I often find myself talking to wildlife on a walk or in the garden, and they do listen! And trees also appreciate a compliment, or sympathy, just like us.

    I wrote a fairytale several years ago myself and it came so easily – I was compelled to illustrate it too and self-published it. That story had a message about not being afraid and learning to let others help you follow your dreams, because they may fulfill theirs in the process. I wrote another story after that with a a completely different theme, and I have returned to illustrating that one in lockdown. It will not let me abandon it!

    Your story was magical, and for me the essence was not to be distracted from your purpose in life, to press on even when the alternatives might seem more attractive, and that many people can reap benefits from your unique endeavours.

    So, once again, I have found synchronicity through your blog, Nicola! Thank you.

    1. I have found this fascinating to read that you have created fairytales too and thank you so much for reflecting on the message of this one Betty 🙂 thank you so much for your kind words!

  7. Hello Nichola ,
    Thank you for sharing this experience and story . My spirit animal
    a squirrel he comes most days to my garden and I too have looked into his eyes .

    I think it’s interesting to hear of wild animals resistance to leave after captivity ,Some feelings we are sharing just a little at the moment .
    Thank you ?

  8. Finding the way to save the tribe by finding the Tonga tree sapling mirrors reality we need someone to find a vaccine and save the human tribe. Felt dread when the squirrel almost gives the cloak to the fox and relieved that he completed his task. I’m a storyteller and would love to share that story. If you prefer that I don’t I will respect that wish. It was a beautiful vision that you had. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Gosh, Elaine, I hadn’t thought of people wanting to share it. Being a fairy tale it is absolutely for sharing, so tell away!! I would love to hear how you get on when you do – I am just fascinated that a story can come through in a dream like this and where it all leads.

    2. I hadn’t drawn the comparison with the tribe finding the Tonga sapling with our need to find a vaccine at the moment. That is certainly food for thought. Thank you, Elaine.

    1. I had not thought about Pookie when I read Nicola’s tale but when I saw your comment, it took me back to my childhood, Susan. My sister and I had a copy of Pookie and it was certainly one of her favourite books. I don’t remember much about it now but I wonder if she still has it and may ask her if I remember next time I speak to her.

  9. I really enjoyed the story (and the telling), how wonderful to dream a ‘full’ story!

    There were two sides of the story for me, the first being a parable about how to keep going no matter what, to reach the goal not just for yourself but for others as well. Also that we all sometimes get things wrong (in the story speaking to the fox), but we can usually put things right if we admit and realise this mistake.

    The second part for me though was feeling sorry for the fox (this is typical me, always seeing two sides and not knowing which is right/wrong). Poor foxes, usually in stories they are always the villains, often in children’s stories as well I.e. Peter Rabbit, but they are just another creature who needs to eat and feed their young.

    Thank you for sharing Nicola, and telling the story so well, I was captivated from the beginning.

    1. So lovely to hear you enjoyed the story and were captivated Maggie! and to hear your reflections too. I am with you on the fox. They have been villainized and they are such incredible creatures.

  10. Great story Nicola! Long time since anyone read a story to me! Well done for resisting not turning over & going back to sleep & managing to capture the dream before it was lost
    I think it must have been so tempting Squirrel to accept the everlasting bag of Nuts & been tempted away from his main mission having been courageously travelling alone such a long way without coming to harm.

    I think if you are chosen to complete a task that will save/help many others, & you have taken advice from a wise person, which you have accepted & understood, & also given the tools to complete this mission, then do not be tempted by what might seem to be the easy option.

    You must keep going even though it will be tough, as the prize of completing your mission will be so much more rewarding when you see the faces & hear the joy of all those you have saved or helped.

    Interesting when u said a Tonga Tree & the Tree being Sick. I remembered many moons ago my Son went to Tonga, he loved the place. The people were welcoming & happy to share their ways with him. Once of the things which most impressed him was the way they had passed down their knowledge for survival through generations, especially their knowledge of healing plants. (There is a juice they told him was so good for your immune system called Bula Noni from the Nonu tree (I think).).

    There was a baby on the Island who had been allergic to Milk, so they fed it with the juice from a fruit/plant (I can’t remember what it was, but he did tell me) & my Son said the Baby was really healthy plump.

    Maybe your Dream is about you passing on your knowledge, & to keep going even though it could be tough at times. Maybe it is a message that you should learn more about the Natural Remedies in the Healing Plants/Trees around you. Who knows, but it is all part of survival of our Tribes!

    Well done!!! Can’t wait for the next Story!!

    1. Thank you, Fiona, fascinating insights. I hadn’t heard of the Tonga people until after my dream and I have loved reading your son’s experience here. Also really interesting to hear about the Nonu tree… 🙂

      Another story? Gosh, would you like to hear one!? I will have a think 🙂 I have a few more fairytales in my pocket I could share…!

  11. Thanks Nicola for a little while I imagined I was sitting amongst those trees in the fresh air listening . Pretending I was out in the woods at Fell foot. A welcome break.
    Love through nature.

  12. I will now try and start telling stories to the land, This is something I had never really clearly thought of until you named it! As always your generosity inspires me and it is the 'community generosity' of squirrel that I notice, to put himself through hardship for the good of his tribe.

    The story is beautiful. Thank you.

    I recently did a bike packing trip across the peak district with my partner, trying to make the biggest adventure out of the opportunities we had to hand, we slept out in Bivvy bags and mainly focussed on enjoying the journey. We both love to nurture our connection to the landscape and this has inspired me to go armed with some stories next time. Extra points for not adding weight to the bikes!

    1. Thank you Kiran, and I love you have been on a bike adventure. Some of my most memorable holidays have been doing just that. A few times I walked out of my front door when I lived in Bollington, Macclesfield, and walked out across the peaks with my rucksack and bivvy bag. So delighted you have been inspired to tell the land stories 🙂 🙂 and thank you for your kind words about my story!

  13. I loved that story. What has claimed me personally is that we have a focus or a dream of what or where we need to be, for our over all good. Something that we will cherish and love, and that will bring us joy and happiness on a permanent level. The goal and journey will hard sometimes and exhausting…but we know it will be worth it. Then just as we feel at our lowest, fox gives us an easy option! Will we take it? It may give us an alternative but will it give us the longterm benefit we are looking for? For me, I have taken or understood that I allow things to talk me out of my dreams or goals, I allow myself to be distracted and take an alternative route, which just exhausts me even more. .. This is something I will work on for Samhain…I am starting to see things as they truly are…I undrstand now what I am allowing to happen…I am sifting through what I will take with me…and I will ditch or change what I know is dragging me in the opposite direction. I keep stepping out of my power !! I think I need to journey!! But at least now I have been given stepping stones, insight to what is going on. ???X

  14. Dearest Nicola thank you so much gor this story. You are a beautiful story teller! It's a syrange reason why i looked up squirrel in the library and listened to your story. On Monday morning, 20.9.21, i saw a squirrel hugging an electricity pole that's at the edge of my garden. An hour later it was still there, at the very top, 2 hours, 5 hours later! Moving occasionally round and sometimes with it's head down. But never left, the whole day. I worked in the garden, mowed the lawn, the squirrel remained. Then i joined you and Jason for the equinox celebration, sitting almost under the pole on my little patio. At some stage i looked up – the squirrel was gone! I had not seen him leaving. Am still not sure what the message is for me. Be prepared, but for what? My life feels good, most of the time. Believe that i will get the help i need when i need it? Which i took from your story. Don't know but will continue to ponder. Thank you very much. With my love, gratitude and blessings

    1. How interesting.That feels such a powerful encounter – what unusual behaviour. Have you journeyed to Squirrel to see what the message might be? Squirrel energy is also about balance, so as well as preparedness it might be worth thinking about this, especially as we are at the Equinox, the festival of balance. Thank you so much for your kind words about my storytelling! It is a relatively new thing for me and I am still finding my muscle so thee words of encouragement mean a huge amount to me. Thank you and with love, Nicola 🙂

  15. I loved this story it filled me with hope and i loved the fact the squirrel tribe relied on the youngster and his visit to the wise owl on the edge iof the woods as well as the mischievous fox 😀 keep the story's coming Nicola!

  16. Hi Nicola
    Thank you for sharing the squirrel and Tonga tree story. Really loved how you captured it amongst the trees, was picturing the little Tonga tree there too with the squirrel tribe!

    I was called to read this in the animal spirit library after having a week of adventures with squirrel. In the November journey circle squirrel was my companion animal and we journeyed to my woodland outside my house. The following morning when I walked into the woods to the clearing there was a squirrel sat at the edge of the clearing that didn't move as I approached it. When I looked up at the trees they didn't appear so tall, like I was seeing them from squirrel's perspective just for a few moments. Seeing the trees like this has helped me feel certain things are not insurmountable as I may think at times! The following day there was a squirrel on the hawthorn tree outside my window determined to break into the squirrel proof bird feeder. It cartwheeled over it and kept falling continually until eventually it managed to balance itself and get some nuts. The squirrel really showed me that being a bit brave, perseverance and preparation pay's off. I worked through the journal prompts in the spirit animal library which has helped me to consider when in my life squirrel energy can help me most so thank you as always for your guidance and wisdom. 🙂

    I wasn't able to join Bear Necessities live on Saturday but looking forward to catching up with this now I have done a little work with squirrel. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your note here Gemma. I am just delighted that you have had these Squirrel encounters and the messages that have resulted. I am touched by your appreciation of my squirrel story. Well I say my, I dreamt it so it wasn’t really mine! Just delighted. And enjoy Bear Necessities. It was a great day (even if I do say so myself!).

  17. I have journeyed today and met a squirrel as a guide and a Bumble Bee as my companion into Lower World, then I listened to your dream. What magic. Preparedness. Boy squirrel into the great world with tools to help him. All too often we can be tempted by fox. To please, saying yes to things we don't really want to spend our energy on. The hunger is both physical, emotional and it would be so easy to to yes to a moments brief sustenance. Where do I need to use my energy and for what purpose? That I will ask of squirrel again. Maybe I need to save and store my resources and gain the energy I need and bring back my health. I look forward to whatever squirrel or other guides show me. I am on my quest to find a Shamanic Practitioner and do a Soul Retrieval as that feels the right way to go.
    Thank you for sharing

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