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In the far far past a tribe of squirrels lived in the great forests of the north in what we now call North America. It was a warm time in the history of world, and they fed well on chestnuts, acorns, and pine nuts. They were fat prosperous squirrels. Somewhere along the line they decided that fatness was a sign of prosperity, and prosperity was a sign of superiority. Naturally the fattest squirrels became the leaders, and married the fattest wives, and had the fattest children. Oh they had enemies like owls, hawks, and eagles, but their gray fur blended into the forest nicely and made them hard to find. Also the thinnest squirrels were always the ones that had to do the most dangerous food gathering, and therefore were the ones most likely to be eaten. So over the long passage of years being fat was no longer something that happened after they were born if they ate too much. They were born to be fat. We call that genetics. Eventually they became so different from squirrels in other places that they became their own special kind of squirrel. We call that differentiation of species.

Then over the years the weather became colder. For a long long time the change was slow. Gradually some animals developed white fur or feathers so they could hide in the snow or hunt without being spotted. Those that did survived, but those that didn’t like the squirrels began to dwindle. Many animals moved southward where it was warmer, but not the squirrels. The oak trees and the chestnut trees began to die too, leaving mostly the cold hardy evergreens, which reduced the available food. Then somewhere in the world a narrow part of the ocean froze solid and completely blocked the great ocean current which brought much of the warmth to the north. Then things became much colder, and huge mountains of ice, called glaciers, began to push into the forest, knocking down even the tallest and strongest trees.

For ages the squirrels resisted moving, even as they grew fewer and food became ever harder to find. But now they had no choice but to move south and look for a new home. Over many generations they kept moving south, but other animals had moved there long before them, leaving no place for the squirrel tribe. Over time, as they traveled they changed. The fattest squirrels were no longer the most likely to survive, because they were slow and easy prey for the hunters. The squirrels were often near starvation, and oddly, although they all lost weight, their skin did not shrink. It just became kind of loose and flabby, like a big wrinkly overcoat. To tell the truth, bedraggled, starving, and wrinkled, they were not a pretty sight. They became known as the ugly squirrels, and were chased out of forest after forest.

Finally they came to the swamps and thick forests of the South Carolina low country, and they settled on Johns Island, one of the many barrier islands along the coast. That was not an ideal place for the squirrels to live because it was filled with mosquitoes and ticks  and snakes, and many other dangers. However there were lots and lots of rotting trees with old woodpecker holes that could be easily enlarged to make shelters. Anyway by that time the once-fat-squirrel-now-wrinkled-squirrel tribe was desperate for a home, and Johns Island had room for them.

Most of the other animals shunned the squirrels. However the equally ugly possums welcomed them. That is how a young male squirrel named Abrandadorenta, which in the classical fat squirrel language meant he who climbs trees quickly, became a close friend of a possum named Steve. The squirrels had lost all of their past grandeur except for their grandiose names. So they clung to those. Maybe their pride had supported them through all their troubles. Different things prop us up. However when it came to names, the local possums weren’t so highfalutin.

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So one day up high in an old oak tree, Abrandadorenta hunted acorns while Steve hunted insects. Steve’s favorite food was ticks. There is no accounting for tastes. Suddenly a bobcat started climbing up the trunk, trapping them, a bobcat named Bob. All male bobcats are named Bob. That’s how they got the name. Bobcats liked to keep things simple — hunt, kill, eat. Abrandadorenta ran to the thin outer branches. Steve thought about playing dead, but playing dead high in a tree is not recommended. So he tried one of the other possum tricks. He started shaking all over and foaming at the mouth. Bob took one look at Steve and decided to go chase the squirrel. He’d never cared much for possum anyway. That gave Steve his chance to escape.

Unfortunately for Abrandadorenta, Bob was a very agile young bobcat, and thin branches or not, he kept working his way closer and closer. Finally there was no where else for Abrandorenta to go, and Bob was approaching striking distance. Although he was certain he would die from the fall, the brave squirrel leapt from his branch. As he fell he instinctively spread out his four legs. The wind caught his open flabby coat and he glided lower to the trunk of next tree and escaped. Once the rest of the tribe learned that trick, it greatly improved their ability to escape predators. From then on they flourished in their new home. Instead of the ugly squirrels, they became known as flying squirrels. A much nicer name don’t you think?

Moral: Not all gifts come gift wrapped, and sometimes they open themselves.