Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About Squirrels and Autumn Inspiration

WALKING through the early October woods one day, I came upon a place where the ground was thickly strewn with very large unopened chestnut burrs. On examination I found that every burr had been cut square off with about an inch of the stem adhering, and not one had been left on the tree. It was not accident, then, but design. Whose design? A squirrel's. The fruit was the finest I had ever seen in the woods, and some wise squirrel had marked it for his own. The burrs were ripe, and had just begun to divide. The squirrel that had taken all this pains had evidently reasoned with himself thus: "Now, these are extremely fine chestnuts, and I want them; if I wait till the burrs open on the tree, the crows and jays will be sure to carry off a great many of the nuts before they fall; then, after the wind has rattled out what remain, there are the mice, the chipmunks, the red squirrels, the raccoons, the grouse, to say nothing of the boys and the pigs, to come in for their share; so I will forestall events a little: I will cut off the burrs when they have matured, and a few days of this dry October weather will cause every one of them to open on the ground; I shall be on hand in the nick of time to gather up my nuts." The squirrel, of course, had to take the chances of a prowler like myself coming along, but he had fairly stolen a march on his neighbors. As I proceeded to collect and open the burrs, I was half prepared to hear an audible protest from the trees about, for I constantly fancied myself watched by shy but jealous eyes. It is an interesting inquiry how the squirrel knew the burrs would open if left to lie on the ground a few days. Perhaps he did not know, but thought the experiment worth trying... The tails of the squirrels are broad and long and flat, not short and small like those of go­phers, chipmunks, woodchucks, and other ground rodents, and when they leap or fall through the air the tail is arched and rapidly vibrates. A squirrel's tail, therefore, is something more than ornament, something more than a flag; it not only aids him in flying, but it serves as a cloak, which he wraps about him when he sleeps... His career of frolic and festivity begins in the fall, after the birds have left us and the holi­day spirit of nature has commenced to subside. How much his presence adds to the pleasure of a saunter in the still October woods. You step lightly across the threshold of the forest, and sit down upon the first log or rock to await the signals. It is so still that the ear suddenly seems to have acquired new powers, and there is no movement to confuse the eye. Presently you hear the rustling of a branch, and see it sway or spring as the squirrel leaps from or to it; or else you hear a disturbance in the dry leaves, and mark one running upon the ground. He has probably seen the intruder, and, not liking his stealthy movements, desires to avoid a nearer acquaintance. Now he mounts a stump to see if the way is clear, then pauses a moment at the foot of a tree to take his bearings, his tail as he skims along undulating behind him, and adding to the easy grace and dignity of his movements. Or else you are first advised of his proximity by the dropping of a false nut, or the fragments of the shucks rattling upon the leaves... The red squirrel is more common and less dignified than the gray, and oftener guilty of petty larceny about the barns and grain-fields. He is most abundant in mixed oak, chestnut, and hemlock woods, from which he makes excursions to the fields and orchards, spinning along the tops of the fences, which afford not only con­venient lines of communication, but a safe re­treat if danger threatens. He loves to linger about the orchard; and, sitting upright on the topmost stone in the wall, or on the tallest stake in the fence, chipping up an apple for the seeds, his tail conforming to the curve of his back, his paws shifting and turning the apple, he is a pretty sight, and his bright, pert appearance atones for all the mischief he does. At home, in the woods, he is very frolicsome and loqua­cious. The appearance of anything unusual, if, after contemplating it a moment, he concludes it not dangerous, excites his unbounded mirth and ridicule, and he snickers and chatters, hardly able to contain himself; now darting up the trunk of a tree and squealing in derision, then hopping into position on a limb and dancing to the music of his own cackle, and all for your special benefit...The cheeks of the red and gray squirrels are made without pockets, and whatever they transport is carried in the teeth. They are more or less active all winter, but October and November are their festal months. Invade some butternut or hickory grove on a frosty October morning, and hear the red squirrel beat the "juba" on a horizontal branch. It is a most lively jig, what the boys call a "regular break-down," interspersed with the squeals and snickers and derisive laughter....  

From my copy of Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by John Burroughs, Houghton Mifflin and Company, c1900, read entire chapter "Squirrels" here at The Baldwin Project
...We then noticed what looked like two crow's nests among the upper branches of the trees. Upon climbing up to them, we were greatly surprised when two adult gray squirrels hastily fled the nests. One nest was too high for us to reach, but the other one contained three young gray squirrels, about half grown and possessing very sharp teeth, as we learned to our sorrow. This nest was built on a framework of small sticks, into which were woven numerous dead leaves from a near-by beech tree. It was domed above like the nest of an English Sparrow, and had the entrance at one side where the squirrels could run out on to a limb. The nest was lined with vegetable fibers, moss, and other soft materials. We were afraid the squirrels would desert the nest on account of our having thus disturbed it, but they remained there all summer and we soon became well acquainted with them. The following Sunday we cracked a pail of hickory nuts and strewed them about on the limbs of the trees near the nest....After all the nuts had been eaten, the male, whom we named Bushytail on account of his beautiful undulating tail, approached the place where we were sitting, jumping gracefully from branch to branch, until he was only eight feet away. Here he paused, as if afraid to approach nearer. After hours of patient waiting, he finally induced to come and eat nuts from the ground near where we sat. The next day he and his mate both came and from that time on were always on hand whenever we found time to carry nuts to their favorite grove...It was a real joy to listen to Bushytail as he barked and chattered in the tree tops and to see him rush through branches to see what we had brought...Late in October of that season there came a storm of sleet and snow, followed by a high wind. The gray squirrels did not enjoy this taste of winter at all and forthwith abandoned their nests in the tree tops wherein they had spent the summer, and moved into a safer and warmer quarters in a large, hollow limb of one of the tall maples standing in the grove. Here they made their winter quarters...One day in early October we caught glimpse of Bushytail as he was burying some nuts. He would first dig a hole about two inches deep, then put in a single hickory nut and cover it with dirt, putting leaves and grass over the place so that other squirrels would not notice it. While Bushytail was busy burying his nuts, we had a good chance to watch him with a field glass and could not help admiring his beautiful though modest coat of silky gray, variegated with light brown on the face, sides, and feet. He was about nine inches long, and his graceful, wavy tail about the same length, and beautifully edged with white...  

From my copy of Friends of the Forest by Frank North Shankland, illustrated by Ferm Bisel Peat, Saalfield Publishing, c1932. More about Frank North Shankland here.
...When Skippy was not eating or resting, he was making trips all around the neighborhood. Sometimes he used the telephone wire as a highway, balancing himself easily on the thin cable as he ran along it. One day he made a tour of the vacant lot next door, and from there wandered into another garden. He jumped to the rim of its swimming pool, sat back on his haunches, and looked around. The squirrels in the garden did not go readily into water... The weeks went by and Skippy grew fat on acorns and other tree nuts. He enjoyed dogwood berries and mushrooms, too. And when he found an insect cocoon, he ate that. He also saved food for future use by tucking it into the crevices in a tree's bark. Now Skippy was ready to face the cold days ahead. He was not yet quite as big as his mother, for squirrels do not reach their full growth until their second year. Next year, Skippy would measure about twenty or more inches from nose to tail tip, with his tail making up half his length. And he would weigh up to one and a half pounds. Barring an accident, he would live to be a least ten years old. By the time winter came, Skippy seemed to have outgrown his nickname. Now, his family name Sciuridae fitted him well, and so he was known as Shade Tail. His tail almost covered his body when he curved it over his back. The white-tipped, blackish-gray hair on it had grown long and was bushy, instead of being scanty as it had been in midsummer. The coat of thick, dark gray hair on his back had a rusty sheen to it. His side, legs, and head were paler gray, and his underparts were white...  

From my copy of Squirrels in the Garden written and illustrated by Olive L. Earle, William Morrow & Company, c1963. More about Olive L. Earle here.
Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the dawn, coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house, as if sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the winter I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had not got ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by watching the motions of the various animals which were baited by it. In the twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would approach at first warily through the shrub oaks, running over the snow-crust by fits and starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, with wonderful speed and waste of energy, making inconceivable haste with his "trotters," as if it were for a wager, and now as many paces that way, but never getting on more than half a rod at a time; and then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were eyed on him — for all the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl — wasting more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk the whole distance — I never saw one walk — and then suddenly, before you could say Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch pine, winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators, soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time — for no reason that I could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I suspect. At length he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable ear, frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the topmost stick of my wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in the face, and there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear from time to time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked cobs about; till at length he grew more dainty still and played with his food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the ear, which was held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from his careless grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting that it had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again, or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to hear what was in the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and plumper one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the while, making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizontal, being determined to put it through at any rate; — a singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow; — and so he would get off with it to where he lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about the woods in various directions. 
~Henry David Thoreau~, Walden, Winter Animals
"Squirrel Habitat" From my copy of Wild Babies, A Canyon Sketchbook written and illustrated by Irene Brady, Houghton Mifflin Company, c1979. More about Irene Brady here. Image used with the artist's permission. This illustration from Irene Brady's Wild Babies, A Nature Sketchbook, see more information at Wild Babies. Image used with the artist's permission.
What is a Rodent? by Alice C. Wescott and Carlotta M. Scott, illustrated by Gregory Orloff, Benefic Press, Chicago, c1962 From my copy of the What is a...? nature series. More about the What is a....? nature series here.

...After the great storm, Ekorn wandered far and wide as before. But now there was a change in the summer woods. The blueberries were over-ripe. The trees were changing color. Ekorn had been away from the evergreen forest for a long time. Now he returned. It was nutting season. Ekorn, Erl, Ena and Grandfather ate and ate and then played... The days were still sunny but the nights began to get cold. Ekorn built a strong nest for himself high up in a big fir tree. Everyone in the forest who was not going south for the winter was building a house... From my copy of Ekorn the Squirrel adapted by Ruth Orbach from Ekorn by Haakon Lie translated from the Norwegian by Claes Leonard Hultgren, illustrated by John Hawkinson.
...In the last weeks of autumn, squirrels become very busy gathering nuts and acorns to eat during the winter. They carry them in their cheek pouches and hide them in all kinds of nooks and holes roundabout the trees they live... From my copy of Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith, Frankliln Watts, c1974. More about Brian Wildsmith here.

The word "squirrel" derives from two Greek words "skia", which means "shadow", and "oura", which means "tail" -- "tail that casts a shadow" -- a squirrel is a creature that sits in the shadow of its tail.

The Song of Hiawatha ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~ And the squirrel, Adjidaumo, Frisked and chattered very gaiyly, Toiled and tugged with Hiawatha Till the labor was completed. Then said Hiawatha to him, "O my little friend, the squirrel, Bravely have you toiled to help me; Take the thanks of Hiawatha, And the name which now he gives you; For hereafter and forever Boys shall call you Adjidaumo, Tail-in-air the boys shall call you!"

THE SQUIR-REL "Squir-rel, squir-rel, brown and brisk, High a-bove me in the tree, I can see you bound and frisk, I can see you peep at me. "Squir-rel, squir-rel, you can play; Mer-rier beast is none than you; Yet you are not only gaiy, You are wise and mer-ry too. You can play till sum-mer's o'er, And the nuts come fall-ing free, Then to hoard your win-ter store You are busy as a bee. "Squir-rel, squir-rel, I would bound Gai-ly at my sports as you, And, like you, I would be found Care-ful for the fu-ture too."
The Squirrel ~Mary Howitt~ In the joy of his nature he frisks with a bound To the topmost twigs, and then to the ground; Them up again, like a winged thing, And from tree to tree with a vaulting spring; Then he sits up aloft, and looks waggish and queer, As if he would say, "Ay, follow me here!" And then he grows pettish, and stamps his foot; And then independently cracks his nut.

Squirrel stories, readings and lessons online:

 The Red Squirrel or Chickaree --Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock

 The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel by Thorton Burgess

 Little Bessie, the Careless Girl, or Squirrels, Nuts, and Watercress by Josephine Franklin

The Tale of Frisky Squirrel by Arthur Scott Bailey at The Baldwin Project:

The Nuts of Jonisgyont from The Red Indian Fairy Book by Frances Jenkins Olcott

A Family of Squirrels by Arabella B. Buckley from her Wildlife in Woods and Fields

Meeko the Mischief Maker by William J. Long from his Secrets of the Woods

Mr. Red Squirrel Comes to Live in the Forest by Clara Dillingham Pierson from her Among the Forest People

The Squirrel pages 72-73 by John Muir

The Mountain and the Squirrel by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Squirrel Tracks Gray Squirrel
Free printable Squirrel pages and hand crafts:

color page and another color page

How To Draw a Vintage Squirrel


Paper Craft Squirrel

Number Matching Activity

Acorn and Squirrel Lined Writing Paper 

Hooverizing in Squirrel Land

Gussie Ground Squirrel

Vintage Squirrel Image

Squirrel Finger Play

Recycled Glove: How-To Make a Chipmonk - This is for a Chipmonk but could easily be turned in to a Squirrel.

Pattern for Filet crochet or cross stitch from Antique Pattern Library

Bookplate from The Graphics Fairy

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