FRENCHGLEN, OREGON--With a male squirrel on each shoulder and a barrel of acorns at his side, Curtis Whitney is visibly paternal. Referring to his "sons," Whitney claims, "Victor and Julian here have been inseparable for three years now. In fact, their situation more or less inspired me to establish a refuge for gay squirrels."

Sitting on his porch at The Rocket J. Squirrel Ranch in the high desert of Eastern Oregon, Whitney tells his story.

"Back in Portland, I was hiking in MacLeahy Park one day when I first saw Victor here," Whitney said. "He was scurrying up a fir tree with a pair of hoop earrings in his mouth. I knew immediately he and Julian would hit it off--primarily because of their identical taste in shiny objects and meticulous grooming habits."

When Whitney brought Julian over to the Westside from Pier Park to meet Victor, the two immediately fell in love. "It got me thinking," he said. "Thinking of all the other like-minded squirrel-couples that may never find one another simply because they're separated by the mighty Willamette."

How can Whitney truly know what these squirrels want? By simply talking to them. "It was Julian's grandmother, in fact, that taught me my first twitter of Squirrelese."

Whitney rejects the moniker "Squirrel Whisperer" (preferring "Squirrel Matchmaker"), and boasts that he underwent second-language immersion decades before such programs were conventionally offered.

"It's actually easy to pick up once you learn the grammar," he adds. "And, like Chinese, tone is very important."

Speaking their language, Whitney naturally earned the trust of the wary-to-a-fault squirrels. Long a friend of all squirrels--gay and straight-- he fell out of favor with some of the hetero-squirrels once he started fixing up gay couples. Soon Whitney and his mother found the windows of their St. John's home smashed by hurled acorns. There were even instances of gay squirrel-bashing.

Michael, a squirrel in Irving Park, had his ear severely maimed in a tussle over his "lazy chirp" (comparable to the human "lisp"), and Stephen, who lived in Laurelhurst, lost an eye in a scuffle purportedly begun over mockery of the length of his talons. A dumbfounded Whitney remembers, "And to think all that happened in a town as progressive as Portland."

In the Spring of 2002, Whitney and an initial convoy of 12 male squirrels (six already partnered) embarked upon a journey to their new home--25 acres in Harney County, 45 miles southeast of Burns. Being high desert, the refuge lacks the trees and nuts the critters grew accustomed to in Multnomah County--but "squirrels are very adaptive," affirms Whitney. "And it's more about the freedom to love." Whitney admits he keeps a hefty stock of acorns handy, though.

After two years, Whitney has returned to "rescue" 12 more souls from Portland's parks (and hopes to add some lesbian squirrels after a planned trip to Eugene this fall). Naming his ranch after the world's most famous gay squirrel was automatic, he says.

"If only I'd established the ranch during the run of Bullwinkle, Rocky wouldn't have had to hide in the Hollywood closet."

Less famous gay squirrels, however, don't have to hide now. Humble as ever, Whitney concludes, "I simply provide a safe place where gay squirrels can burrow into holes and nibble on nuts."

Isn't that what we all want?