By G. E. Shuman
Some of you probably already know that I like to watch, and feed, the gray squirrels in our neighborhood. I know that many people think these little creatures are pests, in fact, I once heard a very famous person refer to them as ‘tree rats’. I don’t happen to agree with that person. I think they’re cute, and why should they not be given food? Anyway, it’s a free country, at least so far, and I like feeding the squirrels, so will probably continue to do so.
I feed the squirrels peanuts, mostly. Those little guys in the gray fur coats are also good at using up stale bread, cookies, and about anything else made of carbs, that we would normally throw away. Lately a few of our neighbors have also contributed to my squirrel feeder, and that’s fine with me. The peanuts I buy are pretty inexpensive. They are the in-the-shell ones, and I limit my purchase to one five-pound bag a week, for $5.99, at my favorite grocery store.
As I said, I feed the squirrels, and I also watch them. They remind me of the old Chip and Dale cartoons I watched as a child, as they scamper all over the back yard trees, attempting to chase each other away from the feeder, I presume. Those cartoonists of my day must have watched the real things even more closely than I do, to mimic them so precisely. I don’t think my squirrels can talk, but, after all, they’re squirrels, and although Chip and Dale talked, they were chipmunks. Maybe that’s the difference.
My little gray friends eat many of the peanuts right in the feeder. I enjoy watching them do so. Also, as you know, squirrels store food away for the winter. Because of this I have found peanuts buried in my small vegetable patch, in my potted tomatoes, on the floor of our front porch, and even underneath the barbecue grill. That’s all okay with me.
When I first began buying the peanuts it seemed like the squirrels would just grab one in their little hands, spin it around and around for a few seconds, then dive into the job of getting the shell off from their prize, and eating it. They did all of this very quickly, just as our old dog gobbles down her food so fast she must not even taste it. After the squirrels had eaten their fill, they would grab a peanut, and, one at a time, carry them off to their nests, high in the neighborhood trees After only a few days from when I began feeding them those nuts, I noticed that something seemed to change, at least with some of the squirrels.
What changed was that, after dining at my feeder, the squirrels seemed to become pickier about the nuts, and the quantity of them that they would carry home to the kids, or for winter. I noticed that they seemed to go for the double nut shells, which were common, but also the big shells with three peanuts in them. I thought this was smart. Then I noticed that many of the squirrels could put one of the shells in the back of their mouth, and squeeze another in, in front of it. This made a lot of sense, and allowed them to get twice as much food back to the nest, for the same amount of work. They sort of doubled their gas mileage on those trips, if you know what I mean. That probably sounds strange, but they really did get the most energy stored up in their nests, for the least amount of energy expended in making the round trip. (Am I the only one who thinks of strange things like this?)
To me, watching these ambitious little creatures is just fun. To them, storing those nuts that I give them is very serious business, and may mean the difference between their family surviving the winter, or not. I think that we can learn from almost anything we encounter in life. Now don’t laugh, but feeding those squirrels has made me reconsider the value of a peanut. You see, to some people, your income or mine might be just that, only peanuts. To us it is what we have been given, and we should be grateful for it. We gather it in, as efficiently as possible, to provide for ourselves and for our families. When it comes to peanuts, as with many other things, I guess it just depends on y