#18 - Nigerian Proverb: If You Travel Far Enough, You Will Find Hunchbacked Squirrels.
Reflections on the need to search for enriching experiences.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter of reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
It’s the last day of the first month of the year. Day 31 of 365 or approximately 8.5% of the year is gone. As you look back, do you find enough in the 8.5% you’ve used up to make you proud and happy? As you look forward, do you have dreams, plans, and courage aplenty to make the remaining 91.5% of the year count? There’s a Yoruba proverb from western Nigeria that offers something to include in your plans for the year. It says that “If you travel far enough you will find hunchbacked squirrels.”
What is this proverb getting at?
What’s the big deal about hunchbacked squirrels?
How far is far enough to travel in search of hunchbacked squirrels?
Let’s dive in.
Squirrels are popular creatures and most human beings know what they are, look, and act like. You’ll find them in almost every human habitat—yards, parks, schools, any building in rural and urban settlements where there are trees. They are in every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Some types of squirrels are gradually being introduced to Australia as pets, under strict conditions. Generally, unless squirrels become too many and turn a menace, those in other parts of the world are happy to co-exist with them. Hence, it is easy to think that we know all about them. But there are more to squirrels than meets the eye.
Here are 5 beyond-the-obvious cool facts about squirrels that I gleaned from several sources:
The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) estimates that there are more than 200 species of squirrels, classified into three types: tree squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels. The US alone is home to more than 65 of the different species.
The many branches on the squirrel extended family tree guarantees a wide variation of colors and sizes. Their colors range from brown, red, gray, white, and black with several hues of each alone or in combination. The smallest type is the African pygmy squirrel, which grows to about 2.8 to 5 inches long and weighs about 0.35 ounces. At the other end of the size spectrum is the Indian giant black squirrel. At about 36 inches long and 4 pounds weight, it is the world’s largest squirrel. Somewhere in between the smallest and the largest, there are medium-sized types like the grey squirrels of North America. Adults peak at 15 to 20 inches in length and weigh about 1.5 pounds. Their long bushy tails add another 6 to 9.5 inches to their length.
Squirrels crack nuts and other hard things that can damage the human teeth. Not a problem for them. They have only 4 teeth, and in front of their mouths. The teeth do not stop growing so they stay sharp throughout their lives. They are omnivores and will eat human food waste, plants, insects, and even small animals. Also, squirrels are flexible and can bend their bodies into all kinds of shapes. When upright, they can stand erect on their hind. When laid flat, they can stretch out flat, leaving no bulge on their backs or sides. Often, they sit back on their hind, hunched with a distinct bulge on their back.
Gestation period for squirrels is between 25 to 69 days. Females produce 2 to 8 babies at once and wean them within two months. By their third month of life, their eyes are fully open, they are weaned, and they leave their nest. They move only a little distance, not more than two miles, from their birth nest to start their own lives. I wonder if they have neighborhood councils and family gatherings, since most of the ones in a neighborhood are likely to be related. Squirrels that make it to adulthood can live 5 to 10 years in the wild and 10 to 20 years in captivity.
Squirrels are intelligent and can learn to answer to names. They also remember the faces of the humans that they see often. They have excellent vision and their two eyes on the sides of their face allow them to see wide angles without needing to turn their head or body. In addition, their long bushy tail is beautiful, but also functional. They use it to stay dry and warm from the rain, wind or cold. They use it to cool off from the heat, as both a parachute and a counterbalance when jumping in trees, and as a signal in squirrel speak to their kind.
However, the proverb “If you travel far enough you will find hunchbacked squirrels” is not concerned about the features of squirrels. Knowing how they abound in type and population, the proverb does not also appear to be focused on the types of squirrels or the ones that are close by. Instead, it suggests that there’s a rare type of squirrel that one has to journey far to find. The type of squirrel is not named but it is described.
This proverb seems aware that all squirrels hunch their backs when in a certain position. However, the proverb makes it clear that the search is not a squirrel with a hunched backed but for a hunchbacked squirrel. It gives the impression that this type of squirrel is unique and the one that the other types we see on the regular mimic. Thus, rather than settle for the common types of squirrels around, the proverb suggests three things for consideration:
i) the statement of fact that an unusual type of hunchbacked squirrel exists;
ii) a clue that the unique type exists far from the familiar squirrel hangouts close to home;
iii) the charge that if you want to find it you will need to travel far for it.
The hunchbacked squirrel exists. I did not find a picture of a hunchbacked squirrel, but this proverb already addressed that. The proverb cautions me to not assume that a hunchbacked squirrel does not exist because I do not see it among the different types of squirrels in my yard and neighborhood. But to keep my mind open and keep journeying in search of one. When I have traveled far enough, I will find it.
Metaphorically, the hunchbacked squirrel to find may be an uncommon way to do a routine task. Something that everybody does without thinking too much about. But for which a hunchbacked squirrel way of doing exists where you are, just unknown or yet to be discovered. It could be an unusual task, an uncommon knowledge, a unique experience, or new sights and places. You may not have found it. No one may even be thinking about it. Whichever of the options symbolizes the hunchbacked squirrel though, it exists. And because it exists, it can be found.
The hunchbacked squirrel exists far from home. Rare forms of things exist and are usually not found among their common variants. This proverb alludes to the possibility of discovering rare and unique versions of the common and familiar. Usually, the rare versions are not close by—physically and figuratively. The rare hunchbacked squirrel that you need to find may exist thousands of physical miles away from you. To get there, you may need a car ride, a flight or cruise, a long hike, or miles-long trek. Knowing that it exists though, you are likely to find it if you search for it.
You will need to travel to find your hunchbacked squirrel. If someone found a hunchbacked squirrel and told you about it or shared pictures with you, that effort will, at most, prove that it exists. But the person who finds it gets to enjoy the full experience of finding it. If you want the fullness of that experience, you’re going to have to make the journey to find it. Finding your hunchbacked squirrel may require you to apply for a passport, buy a plane ticket, and fly in search of it. Or fill up your car tank, or buy certain books to read with intention. Your journey may require you to take the time to declutter your mind to access the space between your ears for fresh insights and perspectives. Whatever you see and appreciate around you, a rare form of it usually exists away from your familiar and comfortable spaces. If you want it, you’re going to have to go in search of it. The elders who gave the proverb said you’ll also have to travel far to find it. Will you?
Will you take the trip in search of your hunchbacked squirrel? Especially when it exists far from where you live or work? It’s worth journeying to find, so will you take the trip wherever necessary to find the enhancing experience that can enrich your life and impact for good? The rarity may be on the pages of books. It may be in a new location where you’ve never been. Or in a familiar location that needs to be explored with new eyes to be able to see new sights. Don’t dismiss the existence of something because it’s rare. Don’t quell the curiosity or desire for it because it exists far away. Give yourself permission to think about it, and to plan to find it.
Again, it’s the last day of the first month of the year. Squirrels are beautiful creatures in abundance around us. They metaphorically represent the routines, the familiar, and the common things that we have gotten so used to, we sometimes forget that they’re there. But rare and unusual beauties of what is common are often far away, waiting for us to find them.
Does a hunchbacked squirrel really exist? I believe so, even if only metaphorically. I haven’t found mine yet but the Yoruba elders say I will if I journey far enough in search of it. So, that’s my cue to keep journeying in search of finding one. In the course of traveling, I am discovering other rare things I would not have found if I’d been content to sit in my yard and gaze at only the squirrels there. Those ones remind me to enjoy the common and the familiar but to not forget that the rare and the unique exist outside my bubble, beyond my comfort zone, and far from the safe place that I call home. So, I stay on my search. I have the rest of this year and the rest of my life to keep searching. I continue to marvel at other unintended rare finds while my search. Sometimes, they jump out from the pages of a book, a scene in a movie, a sight while on a walk or during a ride, a conversation, or just while deep in thought pondering something else.
In your case, what hunchbacked squirrel do you need to find? What kind of journey do you need to make to find it? 91.5% of the year lies ahead. Will you make the most of it? Why settle for the mundane? Why be content with the commonplace and the familiar? As grounding as those may be, they also easily lull into complacency, underperformance, and underachievement. But you’ve got too much potentials into you to coast through the year or the rest of your life.
What’s the right kind of trip you need to take to get going on your search? Enjoy what you have around you but do not neglect to search responsibly for new experiences. Stay grounded with your good routines but do not forget to expand, enrich, and enhance them with unusual variants and variations. And as great as it is to search for your hunchbacked squirrel, remember to also enjoy the journey during the search.
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