Sunday, November 29, 2015


I wear a hat these days on my bench rounds to keep the sun off. I think it’s called a fatigue hat: a soft crown and floppy brim, olive drab. For some reason, the manufacturer incorporated two little zipper pockets at the base of the crown. I have no idea what they were originally intended for, but I use them to carry peanuts for the squirrels I meet on my walks.

If you’re inclined to assign human attributes to animals, squirrels are among our best citizens. Thrifty and hardworking, they seem to be tending to business all the time, and always hurrying. You never see one just strolling around; they’re purposeful -- the animal world’s equivalent of real estate agents.

I’m always surprised to meet people, and there are some among us, who consider squirrels to be no better than rats. (I wonder if the rats aren’t even getting a bad rap. They help us out a lot in pharmaceutical laboratories.) They’re usually people who don’t like having any animals around. But it balances out: I don’t like those people being around.

I feed the squirrels, but surreptitiously, because it’s against the rules here. The thinking is that you’re fattening them up for the coyotes, and the better the hunting the more coyotes, the longer they’ll stay, and the more residents’ chihuahas will disappear.

I can’t refute that. But watching our squirrels go up trees, I’d think a coyote would have to surprise one out in open ground, and even then would have to be pretty fast on his feet to catch one. The little guys are no slouches as they ripple across the ground. I notice, too, that they’ll stay in the shade as much as possible, where their coloring gives them some protection. There is another threat, however; this week’s newspaper reports, with photo, the death of a squirrel by red-tailed hawk. The hawks come over from the nearby fields occasionally, probably when they tire of an all-rabbit diet.  

I have wondered why there are times when our squirrels are out in numbers and other times when they’re nowhere to be seen. Not trying to make it a scientific inquiry, but what would be the parameters that would correlate with those phenomena? Cooling weather? Shortening days? Fruit ripening? Arrival of pensioners with trick hats?