Head Fake

With apologies to Michael Jordan, I just witnessed the greatest head fake of all time. It was astonishing: well-prepared, but unexpected — cold-blooded. Here’s what happened.

Ernie and I were basking in fake Adirondack chairs under 52˚ winter sunshine in Denver, 6 feet from the trunk of the big old silver maple in my front yard. Beside us lay Titus — 75 lb. husky mix, off the leash — and Cleo, 86 lb. Anatolian shepherd, on a long leash on a ground tether, because she likes to wander.

Above us in the tree were two squirrels — one of them a troublemaker. I assume it was the male, because only a guy would do something so stupid, for no reason.

Here’s what that Michael Jordan of squirrels did. He crept lower and lower in the tree — catching the dogs’ eyes — staring right at them. After he’d got their attention, he’d creep around to the far side of the tree and climb down, face-first, then peek around it to let them see him on the ground.

The dogs, of course, charged him from both sides.

Were the dogs furious? I dunno. I can say they were eager.

Did they want to catch and eat him? I presume.

Was MJ Squirrel laughing as he scooted up the far side of the tree? I presume.

But not that far up.

Then he did it again.

The female — I presume — climbed a bit farther up the tree after each of MJ’s escapades. When the opera reached its climax, she was snoozing on a branch about 16 feet off the ground, catching some rays, blending in with a bare branch.

By this time, MJ had done his sneak-around-on-the-other-side-of-the-tree bit three times.

Before his fourth attempt — at what? — Why was he doing this? — I saw, with these eyes in my head, MJ Squirrel stare Cleo down from his lowly perch. He caught her eye, and stared at her.

Then he sashayed down the tree trunk on our side, all the way to the ground, right in front of and between the two dogs, all of whose eyes were upon him — 6 feet away from Ernie and me.

That’s right: He sashayed. He didn’t dart down and creep back: He sashayed down that tree like he was going to the prom.

The dogs couldn’t believe it. Now’s our time, they were thinking. That rodent is ours.

But no.

MJ gave them a head fake to his right, then took off like a mofo to his left and dashed across my neighbor’s yard and climbed into her tree.

Now, listen: These are my dogs and I love them, but I laughed to see Cleo go down on the end of her tether, chasing that squirrel, while Titus slipped on the ice and fell, chasing that squirrel.

No blood, no foul.

MJ beat their asses off the line with a head fake. But what did he stand to gain, or think he stood to gain, in the next tree over? Why did he do it?

Why did he taunt my dogs, and play against them?

It was not for food. Food was not involved. Was it just a game? At risk of his life?

Over and again, while it was happening and after, Ernie and I asked each other what was going on. Why would a wild animal risk his life like that?

To show up the dogs? To be a star in his own mind?

Ernie said the only explanation is that MJ was showing off for his girlfriend.

I suppose that could be the case.

I have no other explanation.

Whatever it was, it was the best head fake I ever saw.

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