[I wrote this on facebook several years ago, right after I moved to New York. I still think about this sometimes]
I’m worried about the squirrels of Central Park. I’m not worried about their physical safety. They seem both numerous and prosperous. Central Park is eight hundred acres, and there are thousands of the little buggers running around gathering plentiful supplies of food for the winter. I saw one this morning, and she seemed to be doing fine.
No, I’m worried about them philosophically.
Sure, it’s a large and presumably diverse squirrel population. It’s not like there’s five of them on a desert island and they’re all forced to marry their squirrel half-sisters just to perpetuate the species.
But do they think they are the only squirrels in the universe?
The park is an island of squirrel paradise (food, trees, few predators) in the middle of a vast sea of concrete. The surrounding human-constructed environment is so big in comparison to their homeland as to be, by squirrel standards, limitless.
I doubt that any one of them has ever met a squirrel who wasn’t born there. If they did meet a bedraggled stranger who claimed to come from some other park, what would they think? They wouldn’t be able to believe him; it would go against all common squirrel sense. Their universe is all Central Park surrounded by a wasteland that they must regard with the same consternation as ancient Europeans once felt for the Encircling Ocean.
Now, you might say, there are other trees in New York City. From Central Park, a squirrel might see a line of scrawny trees stretching off into the distance along some street. True. But what does this mean to them?
Filled with a sudden restless yearning, a young squirrel must sit on a tree limb for a few moments on a sunny afternoon and gaze at that tree archipelago, wondering.
Did any inspired squirrel explorer ever venture forth, leading a small party of pilgrims to follow the trees in search of new lands? If one did, was she ever heard from again?
If some intrepid squirrel philosopher were to propose the existence not only of other parks (full of other squirrels), but of unimaginably vast parks called forests, filled with wonders and dangers and millions of squirrels wholly unknown, would the Central Park squirrels hail him as a visionary? Would they lock him in a squirrel madhouse and give him squirrel sedatives? Or would they fearfully condemn him to burn at the tiny squirrel stake?