Squirrel vs. Cymbidium

(Not about language or about gender and sexuality.)

And it appears to be a knockout victory for Squirrel every time. A report on two recent bouts — from mid-December (involving the yellow cymbidium that is the first to bloom in my little garden, in the late fall) and from yesterday (involving a cymbidium that’s the palest of pinks, so that in most lights it looks plain white).

Cymbidium background. Cymbidium orchids — there are lots of species, and a host of hybrids and cultivars — are genuine winter plants. In my garden, the first flower shoots typically appear in early October, the first blossoms around Halloween. New plants come into bloom throughout the winter and spring, and the last flower shoots die back by early in June, in the dry heat of summer.

For me, the cymbidiums are Jacques plants. I gave my husband-equivalent the first one — a plant he had openly admired at a local florist’s — as a birthday present in 1987. He would have been 80 on his birthday this year, back on 1/22. More cymbidiums came every year, and then I got new ones just because they were beautiful and they reminded me of J, who died in 2003.

Not only is this a cold dark midwinter while I’m isolated with a respiratory infection during the pandemic, it’s also a time of deep sadness, with Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s death day (in 1985) on 1/17 and then Jacques’s birthday. In the circumstances, I find it almost impossible to write about cymbidiums, but I press on regardless.

What remains of the squirrels’ second victim sits in a vase in front of me, on my desk:

(#1) From the left of three pots of cymbidiums right outside my window, just behind the bird-feeder pole; yesterday, two days after the blossoms had opened up, I left my work table to use the bathroom, and when I got back the top foot of the flower stalk was lying on the patio, cruelly sliced off by rodent incisors

From 12/14/21, a gauzy view of the scene through the blinds on my window:

(#2) A squirrel feeding in the tray on the bird-feeder pole; the three pots of cymbidiums behind it; an ivy-covered wall behind that

I was concerned that the squirrels would snip the flower stalk on the right, because it was so thin; it seemed so vulnerable. The stalk on the left was impressively thick and so was, I imagined, unassailable. But then it turned out that big guys fall hard.

Meanwhile, on the patio south of that scene back in December, the squirrels had just finished decapitating the very first cymbidium to send up a stalk of buds. They lopped off the top half one day, and then the rest of it two days later. And either ate or carried off the remains, because I never saw any.

That stalk would have produced yellow blooms, like these from 2017 (in my 11/13/17 posting “Orchids on the march”:

(#3) Actually, greenish-yellow

Squirrel background. First came the bird feeders, to bring birds to my window, to provide life and activity during endless days alone. But then: you got bird feeders, you got squirrels.

For quite some time, exactly four squirrels. The same four squirrels. Two gray in color, two black in color. I could observe them closely enough to see them as individuals. The two males worked especially aggressively to get at the bird feeders mounted on my windows, even though the nuts and seeds that they adored were piled up all over the place.

When they failed to master climbing up a glass wall, or leaping six feet from a fence, they did excellent enactments of little kids having tantrums: they chittered at me through the glass, rushed around knocking things over, attacked other squirrels, and chewed on stuff — things like the wooden garden furniture and, alas, the plants.

They bit pelargoniums (“geraniums”) off close to the ground (these are tough plants; they send new shoots up from their base of those stems). They devastated my succulent gardens, bit leaves off the hydrangea bush (and dug up all the sprouting callas).

And snipped off flower stalks of the cymbidiums.

Squirrels have frequent litters (they also die off and get killed, but, locally anyway, they seem to be a steadily shifting but expanding population, eight or ten of them now, engaged in confrontations both aggressive and sexual, on top of their antics in getting at the bird feeders.

Two days ago, one the very young black squirrels made a stunning, applause-worthy, absolutely perfect 7-foot leap from a fence onto the pole of the bird feeder, apparently intending to use the momentum from that leap to pivot from the pole onto one of the feeders. The little squirrel failed utterly in the second part of this maneuver, dropping to the ground like a stone — but then recovered by leaping back onto the fence and sitting there quietly cleaning its paws, in effect pretending that absolutely nothing had happened, nothing to see here. I was expecting it to wreak some kind of havoc, but no. Like I said, they’re all different.

I did think, through my laughter at the whole performance, that Jacques would have loved it. He was, in fact, fond of squirrels, as you can see from this photo:

(#4) A boy and his squirrel

2 Responses to “Squirrel vs. Cymbidium”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Squirrels are evil. That is all.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Yes, they’re evil, but they’re also entertaining, and fascinating to watch. The scrub jays are similar (though mine are extraordinarily well-behaved, being given to neither shrieking alarm cries nor murdering smaller birds in their territory — two things they’re famous for. The thing is, the squirrels are wild animals, and they have their own ways, which have nothing to do with human morality. Wild bunnies are evil too, and in their own way opossums, ground squirrels, raccoons, skunks, crows, and coyotes, not to mention larger animals like deer, moose, bobcats, and bears.

      Some I tolerate, or even welcome, for their engaging characteristics. They’re the wildlife counterpart of the Difficult Friends who’ve been part of my life since I was a teenager: engaging companions who are also inclined to fall into the grip of obsessions, addictions, compulsions, manias, phobias, delusions, depressions, dissociations, aggressions, what have you. (I am of course inclined to be a Difficult Friend myself, so I try to be generous to others.)

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