Squirreling Away

Squirrel with nesting material.

It’s that time of year.  The leaves are turning, the days are warm and the nights cold.  I’m noticing animal behaviors changing and one of my very favorites to watch are the squirrels.  I stare in amazement at them acting strange and laugh because I can totally relate to their behavior.  I too exhibit some strange behaviors this time of year!

Observation 1:  An energetic squirrel hunts through the grass looking for a large seed which it discovers  in just a few seconds.  With seed in mouth, the squirrel bounds to another area of the lawn just 15 feet away and hurriedly digs a small hole in the dirt in which to put the seed.  As it lowers the seed into the hole, it whips its head side to side, as if scoping the horizon for spies looking to raid the cache this guy is creating.  When all appears clear, the squirrel drops the seed and bolts from the hiding spot.  The hunt for a new seed continues and the scenario is played out all over again.

Observation 2:  I hear rustling of branches and then thunk, thunk, thunk…thunk, thunk, thunk!  Sir squirrel is dropping things out of the tree onto my deck at an alarming rate.  If someone were to be standing underneath, they would be pelted by crabapples in the same manner as one would be hit by hailstones falling from the sky.  I advise anyone who walks beneath trees in the fall to be aware of this potential assault as pine cones, twigs, seeds, and fruit can come crashing through the branches at you without warning!

Both of these observations realte to food and food storage.  This has led me to think about my own behaviors this time of year.  The cold weather inspires me to start stocking up on food as well.  I find myself harvesting from the garden and preparing the vegetables for the freezer for winter months.  I start buying non-perishable foods from the market to have on hand.  I begin cooking warm and hearty meals to help give me energy and feel warm on the cold days.

Squirrel nest.

Observation 3:  Racket among the branches.  I look up to see frantic running up and down on the tree trunk and branches.  The animal is gathering leaves that it then stuffs and arranges into a big ball in the axis of many branches.  It looks like a big mess of leaves with rough edges sticking out on all sides.  This is not attractive to me at all and others have stared at these things and asked aloud, “what in the heck is that thing?”  The squirrel’s winter nest is not pretty and it does not look inviting.  In fact I have personally wanted to just climb up into the tree and pull it apart because it looks like there is all kinds of interesting stuff in this loose ball of stuff.  I will not do that of course, because this is the equivalent of my down comforter that I pull out every October.  I would be extremely upset if a squirrel decided to pull apart the thing that I curl up with in order to stay warm during the winter months!

We are not so different, squirrels and humans.  In fact all animals have habits and rituals and routines.  It is easy to watch wildlife and observe our differences and it is not so difficult to see ourselves in them.

Rainy Day Robin

Photo from oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

Dreading my 20  minute walk home I stared out the window of my office at the rain pouring down and pooling on the cement below.  Suddenly, a Robin flew toward me and landed on the skinny ledge opposite the glass.  It was holding a dripping maple leaf in its beak,  every discernable feather was curled and out of line, and water drops were rolling off its wings. With its large brown eyes, the Robin peered in at me with pure envy.  I stared back, perhaps even more envious.

You see, this bird is designed to be out in the rain.  I am not.

To cope with the inconvenience of precipitation, I have numerous rain coats, rain pants, and waterproof boots, shoes, gloves and hats.  And let’s not forget the umbrella that lives in a closet somewhere.  I have to lug this stuff around with me in a backpack every time the weather forecasters tell me there is at least a 50% chance of rain.

The Robin, on the other hand, does not have to carry any extra gear with it to deal with a potentially rainy day.  It has feathers that are slick to allow water to run off before it has a chance to soak through to the skin to make it feel cold.  This fortunate animal has the abilitity to contract its muscles and stand its feathers up to create a natural down jacket in order to trap its body heat to keep warm.  When I am cold, the hair on my body also stands up and I start to shiver, which is its way of trying to keep me warm. However, I have yet to actually get warm by sitting still and shivering.  A Robin can do this for hours!

So I stare at the Robin and it stares at me.  I wonder if it is thinking about how I can survive being contained inside the building.  I wonder what it would think it if were to come inside with me for awhile and not have to deal with the rain or snow or wind.  Would it have a preference if given the option?  Would it choose to stay indoors where it is always the dry season or go back out to the ever-changing weather it is accustomed to?

Finally one of us blinks and in that instant the bird flies off, leaving me with both the gift of the maple leaf on the ledge and the gift of wonder to take with me as I splash through the puddles on my trek home.