Have you ever taken the time to observe squirrels? Perhaps this is one of the benes retirees are heir to. I frequently go to a park with a good book, and while away an hour or so. I take a pocket full of cashews along with me. The cashews are not for me, though.
There are several types of squirrel: the grey squirrel, the fox squirrel, the red squirrel, the ground squirrel, and the flying squirrel are the most common in the United States, but there are actually some 40 squirrel subspecies. I’m most familiar with the grey squirrel, although I think the pixie red squirrel is cuter.
If you have actually observed squirrels, then you know where the expression “squirrel away” comes from. These little beasts are quite prudent when it comes to warding off starvation. When they have had enough to eat — as in eating a handful of my cashews — they will take the extra nut, dig a shallow hole with their front paws, and hurriedly cover it up so that no other squirrel takes note of their buried treasure. In other words, keeping a little aside for a rainy day, so to speak.
When you toss a piece of a cashew nut — not the whole cashew — on the ground, a squirrel will locate it hidden in the grass, not by seeing it, but by smelling it. Like dogs, they have an extraordinary sense of smell. And when there are no more bits and pieces of cashew on the ground to eat, they will give the ground a good once over — sniffing — to make sure they haven’t missed anything. They are first-rate sniffers.
Once they have the bit of cashew in their mouth (they can manage to hold multiple pieces in their mouth at once), they sit back on their back leg in an upright posture with their two front paws together holding the nut as they bite into it and chew away. This posture looks like nothing so much as someone at a church kneeling and praying with their hands folded together — except that the squirrels aren’t praying but eating non stop — and fast. The squirrel takes extremely quick bites until that piece of cashew is no more, and you sense it is always on the alert.
Why the hurry, do I hear you ask? Well, it turns out that the squirrel is prey to quite a number of other animals including: hawks, owls, eagles, magpies, ravens, shrikes, skunks, weasels, martens, minks, badgers, wolverines, foxes, coyotes, wolves, bobcats, lynxes, cougars, black-footed ferrets, black and grizzly bears, domesticated cats and dogs, snakes of many sorts, possums, and humans. If you had this many predators, wouldn’t you be a nervous eater, too? I would. And squirrels aren’t just nervous eaters, but nervous in general with the motto, if in doubt, I’m am vamos! — up the nearest tree in a flash. They don’t hang around to see if you are one of the friendlies — they’re gone before you know it.
Back to my park and my squirrels. I say my squirrels because I’ve been going to this park for a while now and some of the squirrels actually recognize me as the cashew guy — their cashew guy. When I show up, I’ll be sitting their minding my own business reading when I suddenly become aware of a presence, a squirrel braving tentative steps in my direction because he knows who I am and that I carry with me a treat — the squirrel actually recognizes me. I say their cashew guy because that first squirrel to show up will try to run off other squirrels who try to horn in on the party — squirrels are very territorial that way, unless you are talking about a mate. Mates are OK, they will share with their mates, but everyone else they will try to run off by trying to bite them. So not the sharing kind, squirrels.
Apart from being incredibly acrobatic — going up absolutely vertical climbs or racing sure-footed across long telephone lines or fences, squirrels can also be downright hilarious. Their game of choice is chasing one another, and they can do it for quite a while when they really get into it. I suppose you have to do something with all that cashew energy when you prey on retirees like me.
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