Friday, March 14, 2014

Short Loins: Red Squirrels Can't Walk

It's true.

Or maybe it isn't, but it seems like it.  Even at their most languid pace (if there exists such a thing in the red squirrel world) they don't walk very often.  They bound.  Grey squirrels will walk, especially under the bird feeders where they have little reason to move more than a foot at a time, but their diminutive crimson cousins almost always leap from start to finish, the length of their leaps being the only variance used to regulate their speed, which is most often frantic.

I know this because since moving to the country I've become an expert squirrel watcher.  You heard me.  If squirrel watching were an Olympic event, I would've been on the podium in Sochi.  There were squirrels when I lived in the city, of course, but not in these numbers.  Or at least not able to be viewed as a single scurry in these numbers. (Yes, I just Googled the proper collective noun for a group of squirrels)  I now live where there are a baker's dozen mature shagbark hickories in the yard, more in the woods, and the squirrels are surprisingly numerous.

And there remain hundreds of unfallen nuts on the trees yet
 2012 was an off year for hickory nuts here, probably due to the spring drought which hit particularly hard in this part of the state.  There were a few laying about, but almost not enough to bother with.  Last fall, however, we had a bumper crop.  Falling hickory nuts pinged of the steel roof of the pole barn with enough frequency and volume to keep me awake at night, like an especially percussive drippy faucet.  Driving down the driveway sounded like popping bubble wrap.  I picked up forty gallons of nuts, and failed to make a dent in the overall crop.

These nuts have been featured on the plate so often and in so many ways this winter, that frankly, I'm running out of ideas short of the classic brownies.  I recently chopped some up in the food processor with a handful of kale, and sauteed that up with caramelized sweet onion and apple.  I still don't know what you'd call that concoction, but it was downright fantastic on a pork chop.  Whatever the cheffy name be.

And the squirrels came from everywhere.  On a warm day this fall and winter, precious few as they were, it was not uncommon to see more than a dozen squirrels out there harvesting -- one or more for every tree, cumulatively.  Where the plow had pushed snow partially across the yard under the hickory trees nearest the house, in preparation for yet another potential blizzard, a perfect sheet of ice formed over the dormant grass.  I especially enjoyed watching the squirrels dig and pry there, slipping and flopping over as they worked.  When one of them did gain a single edge on a nut frozen to the ground, they'd poke and pry, chew and fight, sometimes even chattering in frustration, until they got the nut free.  That perfect rink of ice was soon pocked full of squirrel diggings so that it resembled a miniature minefield.

I'm comforted by that.  Let them grow Carya-fat and content that they will fill my stew pot from the neighboring woods all the more, come fall.

Surely at this juncture you've noticed that we're trying something a bit different with the above.  No sweeping panoramas of the hunting and fishing world, no waxing pansophic on the wonders of the natural universe and pike slime.  The muse has been away for quite some time now -- I heard she's vacationing in Aruba.

That's all well and good for her, but in her absence and in order to try to establish some more consistent posting around here, I'm going to be trying out a bi-weekly (ish?) format of shorter posts concerning the changing flora and fauna around here as spring comes alive.  I shall endeavor to come up with an appropriately snazzy and droll title for these mini posts as a group, like "Weekly Wildlife Journal" or "The Nature Report" or "Shit I Saw in the Yard While Waiting for the Dog to Pee" so that you may differentiate them from my regular, more sporadic stories when you see them linked on Twitfacetube, or however you usually find yourself here.

Fear not, gentle reader.  My normal, over-palaverous and wandering ramblings will still be featured here, as often as they come to me.  As soon as she gets back from Aruba.  Better bring me a t-shirt too.

Thank you for guinea pigging with me, voluntarily or not.  

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