Smiles, Squirrels and Strangers: Life Lessons & Scenes from a Stroll

One of my favorite parts of living the freelance life is that I can move at a slower pace.  I don’t need to be at the office at any given time.

And I can walk there.

I can avoid the rush, the stress of traffic and lights that makes being in a hurry worse.

Instead, I can savor in small moments.

I can take my time.

I can say “I can” a lot more often.

Take this afternoon for instance, I left the house a little later than I usually do on a Monday. I usually leave in the morning, in fact.

Kevin didn’t have to be at work until 1 p.m., so he slept in. I spent the morning playing fetch with my cat (yes, cat), had a cup or two of coffee and did some cryptogram puzzles until Kevin got up. Then, we enjoyed coffee and conversation together. He left, and I followed out the door a few minutes later.

Asplundh was trimming trees along my street, so instead of taking Walnut down toward Prince, I opted to make a left on Lime and walked toward Musser Park, past the Lancaster Art Museum and then turned right down Orange. This section of town is gorgeous; I stopped to take a picture of some old rowhomes and a sidewalk decorated with yellow. It was a cloudy, November day, slightly chilly — but who says it needs to be sunny to be a beautiful day?

north lime near musser part fall houses and leaves on sidewalk

North Lime, headed toward Musser Park. Nov. 9, 2015

Lots of leaves on the ground, which means lots of big trees.

Which also means, SQUIRRELS.

I stopped in front of Lancaster Art Museum when I heard a rustle above. I admired the little guy in the limbs, and then saw another scurry across the yard.

squirrel in tree near lancaster art museum

Can you see him?

I continued up, and I noticed a stone monument topped with a ball featuring a small plaque I hadn’t noticed before. I read about this man, John Wise. He was a pioneer aeronaut, and flew hot air balloons for most of his life before he finally ended up in Lake Michigan in 1879.

A man, a lawyer I think judging from the building he walked out of, came over and commented on the tale… and then another man who was out for an afternoon walk saw us pausing to take in a piece of local/American inventor history, so he stopped too. I mentioned that it was a sad story and then lawyer said, “He died with his boots on, though.” What a positive perspective! If you have to go, why not tumble out of the sky, down past gorgeous scenery, in a basket attached to a balloon and plunge into a Great Lake.

john wise lancaster plaque tells story of hot air balloon accident

John Wise, a famous aeronaut, was born in Lancaster.

The other man said that he’d never read this sign before. The lawyer went his way, I went mine and we left behind the other curious man, who had his own moment to take in a story. To take some extra time to get where he was going.

Now, just a few steps away, I heard a rustle again. Another squirrel, feeding next to one of the most beautiful houses on the block. As I tried to capture a picture of him, I heard another squirrel. And another. Here, this home has branches crawling up the side, perfect for climbing! I stood there, quietly, taking photos of these friendly creatures.

squirrel near foot of treet in lancaster



As I turned to walk away, another man, in a cap and satin or nylon jacket (like the promotional jackets we had back when I worked in radio) over a shirt that matched the leaves, was walking toward me and he stopped and posed like a swimsuit model.

“Well, you’re taking pictures!” he said, grinning.

“Of squirrels!” I exclaimed. “They’re climbing up the branches.” I pointed back behind me, toward the house.

The good-natured man walked toward the home and looked, as I continued on my way. He called back to me, “I see them. Look at these guys!”

I opened my camera again and said, “OK. I’ll take a picture of you looking at the squirrels.” Mostly because I wanted to capture the moment of bonding with a stranger, so I could remember it.

man admiring squirrels from sidewalk

My new friend, and fellow smiler/squirrel-watcher.

As I turned back on my way he yelled, “Hey! Ain’t it good that we’re smiling today? You keep smiling.”

“You too, friend!” I replied.

And I did. And I have been.

Two weeks ago, I was waiting to cross the street, at the corner of King and Prince, during a lunch-time walk. Another man, from his spot on the bench in front of the 99-cent (and up) Store said, “Hey. Keep smiling. It’s infectious!”

These men made me realize that as I walk around downtown Lancaster, alone, I do smile. Always. I’m happy. Life is good. Budget is tighter, income sporadic (that’s the freelance life) – but I’m happy. I’m smiling.

At strangers. At squirrels. At this life.

I continued on my walk and crossed the street. Now, by the YWCA, I heard rustling again from the leaf-covered lawn. Another squirrel, out feeding. A woman saw me looking and she stopped and commented that the “squirrels around here are just so friendly.” I told her that I’ve been running into them during my walk. We watched the little guy dig through the leaves before smiling at each other one more time, going our separate ways.

squirrel hopping into leaves by YWCA in lancaster

Furry friend, hopping along near the YWCA in Lancaster.

Then, I came up to St. James Cemetery. I stopped of a moment, thinking about going in. The gravestones there are old and cool, and then I heard it. A rustle. I popped my head over the stone wall and, of course, I saw a squirrel.

squirrel in small tree at St. James

I peeked over the wall and got a glimpse of this guy.

Then I admired the rest of this beautiful, perhaps eerie if it was closer to dusk, place:

bench and graves at st. james cemetery in lancaster and american flag

St. James is beautiful. I walk around this place from time to time as I mosey my way somewhere.


I watched that one for a while before decided to walk down the sidewalk and enter the cemetery—why keep a wall between us when I can go inside this historic downtown gem? Right in front of me was another little gray friend, sitting atop a headstone, munching on lunch. Perhaps paying his Veteran’s Day respects a little early? As I took a picture, another scurried by. These guys were out in full force on this November afternoon.

squirrel on grave at st. james cemetery in lancaster pa

I continued on my walk to the office, almost sad that there were no more yards or even tiny patches to catch another squirrel in action. Then I went deeper and thought about how the only reason I took the path I did was because the limbs were being sawed off trees, the sidewalk blocked off. And that made me sad for my squirrel friends; there’d be fewer branches in Lancaster by dinner time. But I tried not to dwell on that, and I started smiling again, just like the strangers encouraged me to do, trying to appreciate the beauty I had encountered: the houses, nature, animals, people, smiles, monuments of those that came before me.

As I entered the old tobacco warehouse where I rent a small office, I realized that my walk had taken longer than I anticipated, but I quickly reminded myself that it didn’t matter that I took the long way. That I made extra stops. I created this new life for myself so that I could do this sort of thing. (Not all the time, mind you. I still need to hustle so I can meet my personal and professional goals.) I can go at my pace. My time is mine now.

Such simple moments. And four strangers today paused with me. They stopped for a minute or so to take in what I was taking in, taking a break from their day, their travels.

That’s something you just can’t do when you’re frazzled, bumper to bumper, face in phone at every red light.

[What small things do you notice when you take your time? Please share below. I’d love to know!]

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  • Such a great snapshot of a day in the life of Donna! Your friendliness to both squirrels and humans is evident by their equally friendly interactions with you. I’m so glad you are spreading the happiness that you’ve found. 🙂