Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Grandma Meets Mr. Bushy, 1951

Mrs. Bushy Comes to Call
The Neighborhood Squirrel


I’m not an expert on squirrels but I have a great fondness for them despite the fact that many people regard them as pests. For me they are an endless source of entertainment whenever they are present and I tend not to trust people who don’t like them. I suspect my fondness of them is genetic; my maternal grandmother could have been the patron saint of squirrels because her love for them was so great. The photo above says it all: Grandma kneeling roadside somewhere in the mountains near Crestline, CA, making nice with a squirrel. I imagine she either spotted one and shouted at my grandpa to pull over quick or they had stopped at a lookout viewpoint and one scrambled up to say hello. Either way, Grandma was always welcoming.

I remember, too, all the family outings to Crestline, Big Bear, Lake Tahoe, and Idyllwild that included a healthy dose of squirrel feeding as an activity, with—you guessed it—Grandma leading the way. To this day I swear I am channeling my grandmother whenever squirrels are around and they will often come to me and not others.

The first day of work here at UCLA I was walking down from the parking structure through the sculpture gardens and saw some movement in my peripheral vision. I turned my head just in time to see a squirrel coming up out of a trash can with an entire bagel in its mouth. He looked like he was struggling to control it, but he managed to get into a nearby tree and up he went with his prize. It’s just like that with squirrels—always good for a laugh.

A few weeks ago I was having lunch on one of the patios under some large Canary Islands Pines and Jacarandas and spotted a squirrel climbing down the trunk of the pine head-first. I can usually hear them before I see them because their little claws make such a racket when they move over tree bark. So here comes this bushytail down to the ground and it immediately starts foraging around in the grass. It was not long before it came up with a large piece of toasted and buttered French bread toast that someone had discarded. It picked up in its tiny paws, spun it around while sniffing and tasting it, then clamped down on it and carried up the tree. I watched it happily munching away in the safety of its tree branch al fresco snack spot, and I am quite sure that that little feller thought he’d struck the mother lode!

Speaking of squirrels eating, I was down in the botanic gardens yesterday at lunch, where there is a significant squirrel population. There is a veritable army of squirrels and they look like they've been livin' large--some of them are just the fattest little butterballs! And no wonder: a lot of people eat their lunches here and no doubt some of it falls prey to the squirrel’s wiley charms. I'm glad I took a bag of peanuts myself, because these guys come barreling out of the bushes and just stop right in front of your feet, sit up, and look you in the eye. You can almost hear them saying via mental telepathy, “Alright lady--hand over those nuts or I’m gonna run up your leg and scare the hell out of you!” It would be downright unnerving to someone who didn't like or understand them, but I find it delightfully amusing. Not sure about the running up the leg part though...

There is one squirrel activity that makes me smile more than any other: the ring-around-the-tree trunk chase. Again, I usually hear it before I see it; the clattering of little claws on bark. Then you see them going round and round, sometimes squawking at each other. Usually I can tell if it’s a playful chase or something territorial—but since squirrels are solitary animals, my guess about play is probably way off the mark. It is still pretty funny to watch.

This morning I got to see four squirrels mixing it up in the bushes and trees near Royce Hall. Up and down, across the branch of one tree into another, down again. It was a squirrel rodeo! It lasted a full five minutes (and who knows how long it had been going before I stumbled across it) until a couple of them scampered down into the ivy, looking like they’d just come to their senses.

There are squirrels around my house that come occasionally to sit in the big Twisted Chinese Juniper Tree out front that is near the living room windows. There is one that will sit and harass the cats, scolding them and swishing its tail wildly. The boys get a big charge out of this of course; they can’t figure out if the squirrel is a small cat or just what it is—all they know as it’s in their yard and they want to chase it!

Another little female has been coming around lately, one that has taken up residence in the eucalyptus trees across the street. She is very unafraid of humans, so I suspect she is fairly young. She often comes scampering across the street (which makes me nervous—our street is sometimes like Daytona on raceday) when she sees me in the yard. She comes right up to my feet, sits up and looks for food. I have a bag of roasted unsalted peanuts in the shell that I keep for them and she knows this now.

I take some out of the shell for her to eat, then giver her whole ones which she takes off to bury. At one point I had quite a few craters in my lawn and flower pots. After a while I just line some up on top of the brick wall. She comes and picks one up, sniffs the next one in line as if to take inventory, then runs off to bury the one in her mouth. She will repeat this activity until they are all gone and I cut her off (otherwise I’m sure she’d do it until the bag is empty).

Today I read this interesting little tidbit online:

“Gray squirrels play an important role in forest regeneration because the nuts they bury have a chance to sprout into trees. Across the Midwest, however, gray squirrels are being replaced by a different species, the red squirrel, which hoards nuts in piles rather than burying them. This type of hoarding prevents those nuts from sprouting and may affect the future composition of forests.”

And people just think they are pests!

So be kind--Share your lunch with a squirrel today!


P.S. (Nearly) everything you ever wanted to know about squirrels can be found here:


[This post was created to the tunes of B-Tribe "Sensual", Nick Drake ("Things Behind the Sun", and Traffic ("Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys"]

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