On the serious side, yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while on the silly side, it was Squirrel Appreciation Day.

(#1) Get Squirrely (also distributed as A.C.O.R.N.S.: Operation Crack Down and Voll Auf Die Nuss) is an American animated film produced by John H. Williams (through Vanguard Animation) and Dan Krech and directed by Ross Venokur. Released on November 4, 2016 [voices by Jason Jones, Will Forte, John Leguizamo, Samantha Bee, Victoria Justice, John Cleese, Jim Cummings] (Wikipedia link)

Enthusiasm for the holiday on the National Today side:

Originally a creation of Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator at the Western North Carolina Nature Center, National Squirrel Appreciation Day [January 21st] is a day to learn about and celebrate the world’s cutest rodents. Here’s the thing about squirrels: some people hate them. Some people say they’re “rodents” [they are in fact rodents], and that they’re invasive species [that depends on where you are; see below]. But squirrels are cute smart, and incredibly athletic. Can you leap across a space ten times the length of your body? Didn’t think so. Let’s celebrate National Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Lexical notes. From NOAD:

noun squirrel: [a] an agile tree-dwelling rodent with a bushy tail, typically feeding on nuts and seeds. Family Sciuridae: several genera, in particular Sciurus, and numerous species. [b] a related rodent of the squirrel family. See ground squirrel, flying squirrel. [c]the fur of the squirrel. verb squirrel: 1 [with object] (squirrel something away) hide money or something of value in a safe place: the money was squirreled away in foreign bank accounts. 2 [no object, with adverbial of direction] move in an inquisitive and restless manner: they were squirreling around in the woods in search of something. ORIGIN Middle English: shortening of Old French esquireul, from a diminutive of Latin sciurus, from Greek skiouros, from skia ‘shade’ + oura ‘tail’. Current verb senses date from the early 20th century.

On the distribution of some squirrel species (extracted from multiple Wikipedia entries):

American red squirrels (genus Tamiasciurus), native to the US; Eurasian red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris), introduced to North America; eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), native to the US, invasive in the western US, in Europe, and elsewhere; western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus), native to the west coast of the US and Mexico, threatened by the introduced eastern fox squirrel (Sciuris niger), which is invasive in southern California

The prevalent squirrel species locally (in the SF Bay area) seems to be the (invasive) eastern gray squirrel (sometimes in its melanistic (black) variant).

Then there’s the slang adjective squirrely in #1. From GDoS:

adj. squirrely (also squirrelly): (pun on nuts adj. (2)) 1 (orig. US campus) eccentric, odd, insane [1st cite 1932 in an argot list cited in American Speech] 1938 A.J. Liebling Back Where I Come From… The women waking fretfully to claw their partners’ faces and scream. This was known as ‘going squirrelly.’ … 2 (US) reckless [1st cite in a 1966 slang list] … 3 nervous. 1987 T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities… The guy gets squirrelly when two cops come to his apartment to question him…

The dark side of squirrels. Yes, they’re acrobatic and can be engaging to watch. They are also famously ingenious and single-minded about getting what they want — notably, in defeating, often after many trials, virtually every scheme ever devised to squirrel-proof bird feeders.(There’s a rich and entertaining literature on the subject.)

They are also farm and garden nuisances, doing considerable damage to crops by sampling them. In years that favor their population growth, they can become serious pests. Like last year. On the Minnesota Public Radio site, “Huge squirrel population driving farmers nuts in New England” from the Associated Press on 9/16/18:

(#2) “A squirrel carries a walnut in Portland, Maine, on Sept. 11, 2018. A bumper crop of acorns, pine cones and other staples last year led to a population boom of squirrels this year across New England.” (photo: Robert F. Bukaty | AP)

There’s a bumper crop of squirrels in New England, and the frenetic critters are frustrating farmers by chomping their way through apple orchards, pumpkin patches and corn fields.

The varmints are fattening themselves for winter while destroying the crops with bite marks.

Meanwhile, out here in Palo Alto, they devastate my container gardens. Sometimes they just plant live oak acorns in the pots, and then I have to pull out the sprouting oak trees. But as have plangently chronicled on this blog, they also dig out new plants, tossing them onto the ground and replacing them with their acorns.

Truly effective protection is hard to achieve. For example, very hot ground red pepper works, but it’s quite expensive and has to be replaced after every rain. Fox urine — broadcasting the presence of a vicious predator — is supposed to be effective, but it too is expensive and has to be renewed regularly. So a while back I decided to try home brew (my own urine), and combine squirrel repulsion with another patio-garden goal: turning fallen ivy leaves and clippings into compost rather than trash.

Left on their own, the ivy leaves just turn brown and leathery, repelling water rather than decomposing. But urine acts as an agent for decomposition, and a big pile of ivy leaves have now decayed satisfyingly into a layer of duff (posting on duff to come separately).

So: good on composting. Not so good on squirrel repulsion.

For about ten days, this squirrel came by once or twice a day, poised at the very edge of the patio, flicking its tail and scanning the horizon for The Predator. As soon as there was noise, it scurried away.

But all this was just reconaissance. When, day after day, The Predator, sharp of tooth, never actually appeared, the squirrel decided the coast was clear and went back to treating my patio as a prime location for its nut hoard. It will bury nuts right in freshly urine-wetted duff. And of course dig deeply in the pots.

Cheeky bastard.


One Response to “Squirrely”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    It’s that fluffy tail that fools people into thinking they’re cute. I doubt that there’s a gardener alive, amateur or professional, who doesn’t hate them.

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