We're pulling out the AOA soap box each Sunday for people to praise, complain, suggest, joke, or make an observation about things they see going on in the Capital Region.
It's been a long, hard winter, but now that spring is getting a grip on the ice and snow, things are finally looking up. Some people are waiting for the crocuses to peep their heads out, others for the red winged blackbirds to hit town.
Me? I'm looking for a squirrel, known downtown as the Earl of Pearl.
I remember when I first saw Earl.
There's a coffee shop at State and Pearl where you can watch the world go by. At lunchtime there's a parade of state workers, banker, lawyers, folks changing buses. Eating my sandwich one day, I noticed a squirrel.
It came out from nowhere and carefully darted across North Pearl Street. At the other side the squirrel jumped to the sidewalk and took a serpentine route to the front of Cravings, the candy store near the corner. Then it came back across the street with a peanut in his mouth and disappeared around the side of the building.
Nobody seemed to take any notice of the squirrel, who, in my mind, had just done something extraordinary. A few minutes later it returned and repeated the routine.
The squirrel dodged pedestrians, waited for traffic to pass, navigated under the parked cars. This was clearly an animal with skill and tenacity a cut above his suburban cousins.
After that day, I sometimes stood at the corner and watched the squirrel. Frank De John, the owner of Cravings, would toss a handful of peanuts out in front of his shop and the squirrel took them away one by one, sometimes burying them on the traffic island in the middle of State Street.
But as winter set in, Earl vanished.
"She's been coming around for about six years," says De John, who roasts fresh peanuts in the shop. "It may have been the smell that first attracted her."
"Yeah, we thought it was a male at first -- hence the name Earl -- but she'd come and stand with her paws up against the door. You could see on her belly that she'd been nursing a litter -- or whatever you call a bunch of baby squirrels."
De John has run Cravings for ten years. It's an old-fashioned kind of place that sells bulk candy and nuts -- the sort of store you'd find on every main street fifty years ago.
Earl usually makes herself scarce the dead of winter, but this year was a little different. "She showed up a few weeks ago. There was something wrong with one of her eyes; she didn't look good."
Gray squirrels live for an average of six years in the wild. Going back and forth across State Street all day can't do anything to improve your longevity.
Now there's a sign in Cravings that reads: "The "Earl" of Pearl is Missing." Frank De John looked out the window across Pearl Street. "Every year we go through this. I hope she's alright and comes back soon."
The city is a rough place in the winter. It's a frozen, sloppy mess of dirty snow and noisy buses. On a cold March day you'd hardly believe that it will ever warm up again, but I'm hopeful. I'm looking forward to the warm breeze, tulips, sunny afternoons, and God willing, the return of the Earl of Pearl.
Rob can be found at lunchtime in downtown Albany huddled near a wi-fi hotspot.
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.