BY JUDY OSMAN
Copyright is held by the author.
IN THE FALL a hail of stinky golf ball sized artillery rains down from two enormous black walnut trees on our country property. For two or three weeks, I waken every morning to the sound of continuous thuds on the ground outside my bedroom window, and this din becomes the soundtrack to my day.
I have my breakfast and enjoy my coffee while I watch two opposing military brigades of squirrels battle for dominance in the collection of walnuts. The grey squirrels, larger, and decidedly more organized tend to run the show. They know how to get the job done. They exhibit teamwork and communication, and great precision. I could be watching an instructional video on best factory practices.
The much smaller red squirrels operate guerrilla warfare tactics, much the way the Boers tried to defeat the British in the South African war, but with better results. They operate in small units, taking advantage of the terrain, concealing themselves under rocks and in trees. From these bases they launch raids, ambushing the grey squirrels and making off with the booty. They attack quite viciously. They have speed on their side and they are almost always successful.
This is how it goes. The grey squirrels break up into three teams. Team A ascend and take over the upper branches of the trees. Team B place themselves three to four feet apart on the ground over an area about 10 feet larger than the tree’s canopy. Team C take up positions around outlying fir trees.
SHOWTIME! Team A shake those upper branches, vigorously. Team A members are a bunch of teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert. They squeal, they dance, they gyrate. Man, they are having fun. Team B quivers in anticipation. Team C assumes the lineman’s stance, waiting to leap into action. Down come the walnuts, thud, thud, thud. Extra loud thuds — some of them hit the roof of our bungalow.
Team B members sweep into action, their razor sharp teeth grasp a walnut and they race it across to a Team C member. If the Team C member is temporarily unavailable, Team B members will balance the walnut carefully on a tree branch. Team C members are the runners. Grabbing one walnut at a time, they disappear like lightning to places unknown, secret winter stashes hidden in the crevices of the woodpile or underground burrows.
At least that’s how it should work and it does until the Red Brigade swing into action. Anytime after the walnut becomes the property of a Team B or C member of the Grey Brigade, the ambushes start. The red squirrels each target a grey squirrel and take off in pursuit. Grey squirrel picks up speed and sweeps up a tree, mouthful of walnut. Red squirrel is on him in no time. He chases him down the tree and round in circles for a couple of minutes. This is all part of the fun — red squirrel could have grey squirrel anytime, but hey, its all in the chase, right? Soon enough red squirrel rips into grey squirrel and grabs the walnut.
Meanwhile I have finished my coffee and it is time to get into battle fatigues. Helmet is essential, have you felt the weight of those walnuts?
My intervention is necessary. No matter the efficiency of The Great Squirrel Harvest Company, the abundance of the crop is more than they could hope to manage.
I collect my nut gatherer, a football size circular contraption with evenly spaced wires that I roll along the ground. A full load is something in the order of 20 nuts. I fetch the wheelbarrow and I start to gather. I fill the wheelbarrow and cart my load to the very back of our property where I dump the contents amongst some old rubble with lots of interesting cracks and crannies — luxury high-rise winter accommodation, if you are a squirrel. Trump Towers for rodents.
Thirty loads later and I am done for the day. My back and my neck ache as I gratefully collapse into my Lazy Boy chair — oh what bliss! Alas, the squirrels will be right back to work early tomorrow.