justpaperskater and I exchange stories by giving each other a word which is the seed for the next correspondence. This is my response to her choice of “Squirrels.”
Boy Scout camp in south-central New Hampshire felt like home. I spent three full summers there, and being a nature buff I learned most of the local flora and fauna. Gray squirrels, what I think most people in the US think of when they hear the word “squirrel” (Up not withstanding), were rare. These were pretty thick woods with a mix of pines, softer hardwoods such as birch and ash, and an increasing population of beech, hornbeam, and oaks. This environment favored the red squirrel.
Red squirrels are much smaller than gray squirrels, with rust-colored fur, and a diminutive tail. They spend most of their time clinging to the sides of trees, upside down of course, though it’s not hard to find them scolding you from a branch twenty feet above. Oh, and they want your nuts.
All squirrels are known for their curiosity and ability to puzzle-solve, but the red squirrels of New Hampshire do it with style.
The camp had a commissary filled with all manner of over-priced scouting equipment and junk food. Most afternoons, I could be found with a rainbow-flavored Slush Puppy and a bag of sunflower seeds.
One day, I was called away to the waterfront as I left the comissary. I ran to my tent, one of those wall tents with a wooden platform – think M*A*S*H, and threw the seeds on top of the mosquito net cage that protected my bunk.
After wresting with a watermelon in the lake (don’t ask), I came back to my tent to dry off and found my bag of seeds on the floor. The bottom had been very neatly nibbled off, and there were about three seeds left in the bag. I heard chattering from the trees above.
A bit disappointed at the loss my seeds, but also realizing my own carelessness, I bought another bag. This time I was smart – I put them under the net to keep them safe. I went off to evening activities and returned well after dark. We were about to have a campfire, so I grabbed my seeds and… no I didn’t. I grabbed an empty bag with a very neat hole in it. This time, there were no seeds at all in the bag.
Camp life means insects and I spent time each day maintaining the integrity of my net. It was tucked under the matress, and I checked for holes frequently. So did the squirrel, and apparently not finding any she decided to make her own. I found not one by TWO quarter size holes in the netting. Why two? I’d like to think it was the squirrel’s way of saying “Ha ha /Nelson” but I think it was simply easier for him to chew a new hole than find the original.
I sewed the holes with dental floss and once again bemoaned my lack of a snack. To add insult to injury, two mosquitos tormented me during the night.
A few days later, I once again had seeds that needed storage. I didn’t travel with a footlocker, but I did have a nice nylon backpack. I put the seeds in a zippered pocket, and then in a moment of unexplained wisdom, I realize that if the squirrel could get through nylon netting, she could chew through nylon backpack fabric as well.
In Boy Scouts, we were taught that the safest place to store food was to hang it from a tree. And while that was out of the question in this particular case, it did give me an idea. My scout shirt – the nice one, with all the patches sewn on correcdtly – was hanging from the center pole of the tent. It was made of smooth wood, and the canvas stretched taut over the top, preventing anything from walking up there.
I smugly put the seeds in the breast pocket of the shirt, and went off to afternoon activities. When I came back, I peeked in the tent and smiled when I saw the bag of seeds still sticking out of my shirt pocket. Congratulating myself for outsmarting the beast, I headed off to help prepare dinner.
About an hour later, I came back to dress for the evening meal. I put on my official boots, socks, shorts, belt and finally my shirt. As I reached in to remove the seeds, half the bag poured onto the floor of the tent. The other half was either eaten or fermenting in a squirrel’s cheek pouches.
I didn’t seem him do it, but apparently the squirrel shimied up a perfectly smooth pole, and crawled upside down underneath the ridge pole to finally drop into the pocket of my shirt. I must have interupted him from finishing off the entire bag.
I know when I’m beat.
I swept up the seeds, and placed them in a neat pile on a rock just outside the tent. Since he had managed to get to the bag without chewing a hole in my shirt, it seemed like the least I could do.
They were gone in less than half an hour, and I heard some gleeful chattering soon after. I’d like to think he was saying thank you, but I’m pretty sure she was trumpeting in triumph.