Despite the fact that most researchers agree that multitasking is inefficient, it has been a way of life for a long time. In the early days, multitasking consisted of walking, talking and chewing gum. Now we are more sophisticated. We have technology to help us multitask more effectively. Today, we walk, text and chew gum. The art of unitasking, doing only one thing at a time, has become a quaint throwback to the days before electricity.
In 1976, at the tender age of six, my unitasking skills were at their peak. By doing the dead man’s float longer than anyone in my age category, I earned a gold medal in the Featherbed Lane Camp Olympics. I had mastered the ability to do one thing at a time, in this particular case it was floating face down in the pool without moving.Many years have passed since my unitasking heyday. The shine may be off my genuine replica gold medal, but the memory never fades. Just like everyone else, I now multitask my way through most days. I often wonder if I’ve lost my ability to be as still as I was on my gold medal day. Recently, I had an unexpected opportunity to learn the answer to that question.
Hoping to savor one of the last sunny afternoons of summer, I grabbed my book and relaxed on the loveseat in my garden. The bright blue sky had a few puffy white clouds for decoration. Birds were chirping and butterflies were floating from flower to flower. I had been enjoying the luxury of a lazy afternoon for an hour when I felt a scratching sensation on my right hip. I thought that a goldfinch might have landed on me, but assumed it would fly off. The scratching sensation continued towards my lap. Without looking up from my book, I lifted my hand to shoo away the bird. As I began to brush my hand back and forth, I realized something was amiss. I wasn’t touching feathers. I was touching fur! When I looked down into my lap, the beady eyes of a squirrel were staring back up at me. I froze in terror. He froze with his jaws stretched open holding a black walnut pod slightly smaller than a tennis ball. Our eyes met. I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised; me at the sight of a squirrel in my lap or the squirrel at the fact that he had seriously miscalculated me as an inanimate object.
On a trip to Banff National Park in Canada, we were given a pamphlet with rules for encounters with large critters: moose, bears, wolves and mountain lions. Nowhere in the literature had there been any information on squirrel etiquette, so I did what felt natural; I screamed like a lunatic and began flailing my arms. This was probably not the proper behavior to exhibit when face to face with a squirrel, but it felt like the right thing to do in the moment. The terrified squirrel dropped his booty and leapt over my shoulder. He raced through the yard and scampered to the safety of the highest branch of a nearby tree. Now squirrel-free, I too leapt up. I began shaking my arms and legs then felt my shorts to see if he had stashed any nuts in my pockets.
Never, in all the time I have spent outside, have I had such a close encounter with a woodland creature. Insects and I have been intimately involved for years, but this was my first face to face meeting with a member of the rodent family. I’ve napped in my hammock and been pelted with acorns from squirrels perched in the tree branches above me, but we’ve always maintained our personal space.
After I finished my squirrel dance, my heart rate returned to normal and I called Oregano to tell him what had happened.
When his shock wore off and his laughter died down he said, “You must have been sitting so still he thought you were a piece of furniture.”
Apparently age hasn’t diminished my gold medal unitasking skills. Next time I head out to my courtyard for a luxurious afternoon of relaxation, I’m going to sing and clap while I read. Maybe multitasking isn’t such a bad thing after all.