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Susan Braudy

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The Wild Bird and Squirrel Whisperer of Central Park

Posted: 03/23/2012 10:52 am

Good Things Come to Those Who Watch

Jan Yan clucks his tongue and a gray squirrel lands on the stone wall inches from his face in Central Park. They are pals and frequently meet at Mr. Yan's concession booth filled with photos of the Chrysler building and the John Lennon Imagine memorial.

The squirrel wriggles impatiently until Mr. Yan strokes her from head through tail with a small twig. "Everyone likes a massage," he says. He discards the stick as she snatches a half peanut from his other hand. Now he's stroking her head with his bare palm.

This amazing sight is part of the parade in the great city. Mr. Yan can be found here daily not far from the pile of automobile tires that is an art installation. But sometimes city life trumps art. For my money, Mr. Yan and the squirrel are cooler than the tires.

Yan knows his squirrel well.

He explains, "She fights for her territory, he waves his hand at the trees and lawn around him. "A week ago, she was big in her stomach. Now she's got mouths to feed, her babies are in that tree trunk." He points but only he and she can see the holes that are the entrance to the nursery.

As soon as the squirrel darts away a small gray and yellow crested tit willow lands on Yan's outstretched palm. The bird hurriedly pecks at Yan's blanched almond.

For six years this gifted man from Tibet has been feeding and massaging squirrels and birds--and he's never been bitten or scratched. Grinning he breaks a peanut in half for the bird. I bet there's not a happier man in Manhattan.

Visit Susan Braudy's blog manhattanvoyeur.com for photographs of Jan Yan and his wild friends.