Usually, at least a few times a week, my wife will come to me and say: “Here’s something for your squirrely friends.” Then she’ll hand me a bag of stale bread, old corn chips, or something else she thinks my ‘squirrely’ friends might like. In most cases I agree and happily present these gifts to them.
You see, my wife is not calling my friends squirrely, exactly. This is because they are, exactly that … squirrels. For many years I have been feeding the squirrels that live in the trees around our house. I’ve tried to be fairly consistent in at least doing this during the fall and winter months. They seem to appreciate it. I’ll tell you something strange about that in a minute.
It is funny, the reactions I sometimes get when I mention to someone that I feed the squirrels. You see, most people, (not all but most) are polite and try to say something positive about this little thing that I do. Still, I can usually see it in their faces if they are just being kind and actually think there is something wrong with me. I do not tell them that there IS something wrong with me; I just let them squirm a little while they’re trying to be polite.
I get it. I understand that for many folks squirrels are just pests that invade their bird feeders and try to gnaw their way into other things, like basements and attics. In those little gray guys’ defense, it gets cold outside this time of year, and there isn’t much food. If I was in their shoes, (Yes, I know they don’t actually wear shoes) I might try to get inside too. Also, admit it. Your kids get into your house and eat all your food all the time, and you don’t think of them as pests. Well, maybe you do, but that’s a different issue. Anyway, how much gratitude have you sensed from all those birds that you feed, (or all those kids?). Truthfully, my squirrels do seem to show some. Like I said, I’ll tell you something strange about that in a minute.
Yes, I have heard my little squirrely friends referred to as tree rats, vermin, nasty rodents, and even future roadkill. (That last one, even when joking, seems cruel.) I also ‘get it’ that some people hunt squirrels for food. To me, hunting for food is no worse than buying meat at a store. So there is that. Plus, isn’t food hunting what those squirrels are doing too?
I believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion about squirrels, and most other things. (Notice, I used a plural pronoun there, against my better judgement.) I guess it’s all in ‘their’ point of view. Just to confuse the issue a bit more, let me relate that I have purchased mouse traps many times in an effort to get mice out of our house. I have also helped my wife attempt to nurse a baby mouse, that she found in a parking lot, back to health, and have seen children oohing and aahing over gerbils, hamsters, mice, and other things behind glass at the local pet store. So, are they cute little furry things or vermin?
I used to buy big bags of peanuts in the shell to feed the squirrels. I liked watching them turn the things over in their little hands, (Yes, they are hands) deciding if they will eat the nut there or take it home for dinner. That is actually what they’re doing if you see them rolling a peanut over and over. I read that someplace. (How anyone knows what a squirrel is thinking is way beyond me.)
It’s fun to watch ‘my’ squirrels (getting possessive here) stuff a peanut shell into one side of their mouth, and another in the other side to make easy traveling up the tree to home. It’s also funny to hear my little friends scold each other and chatter with their mouths full like that. Everyone knows at least a few people who do that too … I know one who sounds like she’s storing up nuts every time you talk to her on the phone. When she does it, it’s not so funny.
Feeding the squirrels is actually a lot of fun, if you’d like to try it. It is easy to be creative in how you feed them, too. I once did a column about how I made a squirrel feeder out of the dish antenna I had ripped from the roof of my house. For once I got something worthwhile out of that thing. Also, one time my sister Jan sent me a tiny ceramic coffee mug for the squirrels to use. She knew how much squirrels appreciate being fed. I don’t know if they like coffee or not. Yes, I’ll tell you something strange about that in a minute.
Okay, so the minute’s up. The strange thing is that my squirrely friends, at least some of them, seem to want to thank me for the food. Now you REALLY think something’s wrong with me, and you’re right, but that’s another different issue. For years now, believe it or not, after feeding the squirrels, I have often found a nut, cracker, or piece of bread on the top step at our back door. Several times it will have been placed on the railing near the doorknob. The very last time was only last Sunday after a snowstorm. The only footprints on the steps were those of my friends, and a cracker was right there with them. No, I’m not kidding, and I would never lie to you.
Whether the squirrel involved was thanking me, asking for more, or left the bit of food there for some other reason I can never know. I do feel that we humans tend to underestimate the level of consciousness, and even of caring that animals may possess. Look your dog in the eyes and tell me I’m wrong.
So, try feeding the squirrels this winter. Doing it is rewarding. You may even get a ‘thank you.’
(Vermont author George Shuman, a long time Barre resident, novelist, and newspaper and magazine columnist, is excited to announce that his latest novel, “Cemetery Bridge,” has just entered publication.
“Cemetery Bridge,” Shuman offers: “is a work of historical fiction that also delves into the metaphysical. The book’s main plot spans many years of our country’s history.”
The story takes place both in the present and the past; its many real and fictional characters live their lives today and long ago, each adding to the story as fate would dictate. Those characters, including an ‘ancient’ lady, an aging motorcyclist, a ‘snake oil’ peddling traveling merchant, and even President Abraham Lincoln himself become timelessly entwined in ways they can never know.
“Gilead is an unassuming little village on Route 2 in western Maine, and the real-life timeless home of a small, quite unusual cemetery. That cemetery is the centerpiece and single, invaluable inspiration for the book,” according to the author.
“Cemetery Bridge” joins Shuman’s other novels, “A Corner Café” and “The Smoke and Mirrors Effect” in publication. The books are all available on Amazon and are published in both Kindle and paperback versions. “George’s World,” a large compilation of Shuman’s columns written over the years for The World newspaper, is also available in paperback. Check out the books by title or search George E. Shuman.)