All October last year I was in Aotearoa New Zealand, as a scholar-in-residence at the Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat Centre. It was a wonderful experience and I will share tidbits of New Zealand Pakeha and Maori culture in future sermons. People were incredibly gracious to me and showed me so much of the scenery and culture. I made wonderful friends.

Two of those friends, Rosalie and Tralee Sugrue came to visit us for four days over the last weekend in September. It was their only stop in the United States and I wanted to show them the best of everything in my three-state area. We went to Boston to ride the Duck Boats and throw tea over the ship’s rail at the Tea Party Ship, climbed Agamenticus (in a car), enjoyed the Ogunquit Museum and wandered through almost all the historic houses at Strawbery Banke. 

I wanted Rosalie and Tralee to see exciting local animals. New Zealand has no native mammals. When the Maori beached their boats in 1200 AD and the French, British and Norwegians arrived five hundred years later, there were only birds -- remarkable birds. Current other creatures are rare and are invasive. My backyard frequently has wild turkeys, a fox family, racoon, skunks, deer, a coyote and it is the escape route for ground hogs who raid my neighbor Louise’s garden.

None of them turned up while the Sugrues were visiting, but one afternoon Tralee came running inside for her mother, “Come quickly and see this animal. I’ve never seen anything like it. What is it?” and they proceeded to be amazed by ... squirrels.

My backyard is acorn-paradise so we see a lot of squirrels. And this is what I think:


            I am rarely amazed by familiar things, when in fact the simplest things are remarkable.

            I want to be open to seeing even squirrels with fresh eyes, as well as the bright sumac,

            Chinese lantern plants, the sunset, faces I know so well.


I often don’t admit to being excited about unfamiliar things as if showing my ignorance

            is something to be ashamed of. Thank you, Tralee. Do you know there are birds called tui, that have

two voice boxes and can imitate anything -- the construction workers wolf-whistle, Debussey, and a

truck engine? I could listen all day. 


            Sometimes the best hospitality is not taking someone to the finest restaurant, the breath- taking

scenic overlook or the current play/museum/concert/ballgame. Sometimes it is sitting with

someone in my own backyard.

Since they left to fly home, I have been watching the squirrels.


Jennifer Gray