I was in college when I was first exposed to Economics being applied to nontraditional topics. One of my professors at the time  was researching the topic of “envy.” It was many years before the book “Freakonomics” became popular, but that small exposure helped me to look at economics in a broader way. When it came time for me to write a dissertation, I drew from the knowledge that economics can be used to explain many things besides the workings of business firms to begin my research on nonprofit organizations and on volunteer labor. I thought of that professor’s research recently when I realized that, while we do not live in the most expensive part of town, there are aspects of our neighborhood that I would not trade for anything. Among these are a close-knit group of children who like to play together and some huge old trees that are the remnants of a nursery that used to occupy the land on which our homes are built.
A few weeks ago, my daughter and her neighborhood friends, some of whom also play volleyball, spent the afternoon bumping balls at each other, with some landing and bouncing off our roof. I grew used to the constant sound of “thump” when the ball hit the roof of our house. At one point, however, another sound was heard in our yard, as something other than a ball fell from the high trees there and landed on the ground. It was a squirrel, and it was obviously injured.
The children came to find me, but by the time I got outside, another neighborhood mom had reached the scene. She is a nature enthusiast, and was familiar with the wildlife rescue center at one of the nature parks in our county. She carefully helped the squirrel into a big box, and we decided that she would stay to watch the younger children while I would take the squirrel to the nature park, where they know how to care for injured animals. Before I left on my mission, the children named the squirrel “Sandy”, after the squirrel character from the cartoon Sponge Bob.
I drove the injured squirrel to the nature preserve, where they greeted me with more respect than I have sometimes experienced upon entering an emergency room. They told me that the squirrel was walking as if it had a head injury, as it was stumbling around. It was disoriented and was not able to walk in a straight line (although I did wonder how it knew that it was supposed to walk a straight line…). The park official had a sound in her voice as she told me this that warned me that “Sandy” might not make it, but they told me to call back in a few days to see how she was doing.
When I returned home, I told the neighborhood children that the squirrel was being cared for, and that we could call back in a few days to see how it was doing. They were very concerned about the creature that had suddenly become “their squirrel”, and my daughter kept asking me when it would be ok to call and find out how it was doing.
When I did call back a few days later, I was saddened to learn that the squirrel had only gotten progressively worse, until it had to be euthanized. I told my daughter and the other neighborhood children that Sandy had died. They, like me, were sad.
I am glad that the children in our neighborhood were able to experience interacting with nature this way, and I remember a visit from some of her cousins a many years ago. These cousins were growing up in a modern, new development of large homes where the only trees were short ones that had been planted in the past few years. When they visited us, they looked at the tall trees in our neighborhood, some at least a century old, and gasped in astonishment. “Wow” they said, as they watched squirrels drop acorns down to the ground, sometimes barely missing their heads, from trees that towered over all of our homes. I suppose that some would say that we should envy the people who live in their neighborhood with large, expensive homes. However, while our homes are not as fancy as theirs, we have the opportunity to have our children grow up in closer contact with nature. I hope that experiences such as the one that involved trying to save “Sandy” will give my daughter memories that she will carry with her as she grows up, especially if she someday ends up moving into a neighborhood without tall, old trees.