Squirrels display no fear to campus ongoers

Austin Wallert, Sport Reporter

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One-two, one-two, one-two, I count my steps as I avoid the dreaded sidewalk cracks, sparing my mom’s back for another day.

One-two, one-two, one t- I look up from my normal routine, and there, standing in my way, is a squirrel devouring one walnut while stuffing another in its furry cheeks.

“No big deal,” I think. “It will move.”

I take a step closer.

The squirrel stops eating and freezes, staring right at me.

I take another step closer.

The squirrel doesn’t run. Instead, it turns to face me.

I take a half step forward and square my feet.

This squirrel was not going to move.

Time froze.

I could feel the wind across my face, my hands anxiously opening and clenching at my side.

I check my phone…it’s almost high noon.

The squirrel has not budged; it too is squaring up to face me.

The wind now seemed to whistle and hum the old western tune, as the on-lookers waited for our pistols to be drawn.

I grind my teeth, narrow my vision onto the squirrel and yell.

“BOO!”

It failed miserably.

Everyone around me is looking in confusion.

I hang my head back down to the sidewalk, then take the grass route.

A strange occurrence it would seem, but as the day went on, I would notice each and every squirrel, all of them acting as if this was their turf, and I was intruding.

I finally got to my next class and attempted to zone out as our group was already finished with our project.

Professor Tom Grier came over to meet with us, but instead of talking about class work, I had to know if he noticed the squirrels on campus too.

Grier, a professor at Winona State University for 32 years, said he started to notice the squirrels’ behavior about 20 years ago.

“I was walking on the sidewalk and a squirrel was standing on the sidewalk up ahead, and when it saw me it didn’t run away, it just stood there,” Grier said. “I kept walking and I thought to myself ‘any second now he’s going to start moving, he’s going to run away,’ but he never did. I had to actually move around the squirrel, I thought ‘wow, that dude is really comfortable.’”

If Grier noticed the campus squirrels for that long, other people had to have noticed them as well.

After class I went back down to the food court to get some Panda Express and asked others in line if they had noticed the campus squirrels, or if I was just being paranoid.

There, I met Steph Morgen and Chyann Schmidt, two seniors here at Winona State.

“I would say that roles are reversed, and campus squirrels kind of think they are the alpha now,” Morgan said. “I did see a kid from the athletic program who opened up a garbage can on campus and a squirrel jumped out and latched on his face.  He had to get stitches.”

The shocked look on my face was no surprise to Schmidt as she too witnessed this event.

“Yeah the campus squirrels are more aggressive and are more crazy-looking,” Schmidt said. “They’re just ruthless. They are not afraid to come at you.”

At this point, I am now scared to walk alone across this battlefield of squirrels that I used to call campus.

But Schmidt assured me it was not all that bad.

“One time sophomore year, I was walking to the football game, and there was this squirrel on a tree on one of the lower branches,” Schmidt said. “Someone dared me to touch the squirrel, so I went up and pet its tail. It was very coarse, not smooth, then I got scared and ran away.”

So, if Schmidt was able to earn this squirrels trust, even for the split second, maybe I could too and possibly become one with the squirrels.

I was going to pet a squirrel or die trying.

As I approached my first squirrel, I gingerly reach my hand out to touch it.

I came within a foot before my fight or flight senses told me to bounce.

Throughout the next thirty minutes I attempted to pet each squirrel I saw, coming to an outstanding percentage of zero. I am utterly disappointed in myself.

The next day I learned from a friend of an Instagram page made on the campus squirrels.

To make things better, he knew who I needed to contact.

I found the page: 481 followers and 27 posts.

There were even videos of people petting the squirrels and one video of a squirrel attached to a student’s leg.

I messaged the person who ran the account, and she agreed to meet with me.

She did request to remain anonymous so people would not be able to put a face to the Winona State Squirrels account and keep the secrecy.

So why did she start this account?

“I’m a transfer student and at my old university they had one, so I just thought it was kind of comical and brought it here,” she said. “I wanted to see if it was something that would take off. The account has gotten a little bit of public relations.”

She found it funny that college students took time out of their day to send in pictures.

“I’ve only taken one picture, the rest are random people sending them in. Every time I post I get about four or five submissions.”

Although she encourages people to continue to send in post and have fun with it, she does not recommend touching the squirrels.

I looked to see if there were other universities that had a campus squirrels accounts, and hundreds popped up.

Campus squirrels are their own breed.