Squirrels are wonderful creatures. Recently, I watched for several hours while a squirrel constructed a drey (nest) prior to the first snow of the season. First, the squirrel gathered or chewed off sticks from the existing pine tree to build the frame of the nest. The nest seemed rather small for a squirrel but I assumed it knew what it was doing. The next step involved mouthfuls of pine needles and leaves to fill in the frame. Bit by bit the nest began to take shape. By the end of the day the nest was completely finished.
Most squirrel dreys are six to eight inches long and about twenty feet high or more. Dreys serve as both warm lodgings and birthing center for pregnant females. Squirrels will build them in early spring and early fall to coincide with babies being born. Nests will be fortified as winter approaches. One time I was walking in a wooded area and noticed a hole about halfway up a tree. I approached and took a peek inside and low and behold there was a squirrel taking an afternoon nap. The squirrel’s tail was hanging out of the hole and I was tempted for a few seconds to give it a little jerk. Imagining the squirrel popping out and latching onto my face and biting me made me think better of it.
When I lived in Washington, DC, the squirrels were more docile than those found in woods or backyards of Rockingham County. The squirrels there were used to eating out of trash cans and having people feed them. They would approach you with all the longing of a man’s best friend. Several times I got the feeling that I was being stalked. I’m sure if I would have tripped and fell to the ground that I would have immediately been swarmed.
One time while camping in Yosemite National Park I observed what might have been the largest squirrel in history. This squirrel was perched on the outside deck of the visitor’s center. As I approached the squirrel it didn’t move. I got within just a few feet of the squirrel and still it did not move. Upon further examination the squirrel may not have been able to move. It was so pudgy that it had rolls of fat around its head and legs. This squirrel was probably used to only eating human food and probably would have turned its nose up at an acorn.
The trip to Yosemite was also the time when I tried to chase a bobcat. I was hiking along with some friends when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a bobcat. I saw it trot down into a dry river bed. For some reason my first instinct was to chase it and try to get a better look. My friend and I began the chase. As we ran it kept managing to stay too far ahead of us to snap a photograph. This was before cell phone cameras. We managed to get close enough for picture as the bobcat walked under a walking bridge and stopped to look behind itself. In retrospect it was probably really dumb to chase a bobcat. I’m sure the bobcat was wondering why some idiot was running after it with the full knowledge that there was no way he was going to be caught.
My trip to California would not have been complete without bearing witness to the mighty redwood trees. The trees that seem to be connected to the heavens above. You feel truly small in the shadows of these giants. The place where we hiked had a redwood that you could walk right through to the other side. I think John Steinbeck summed it up well when he said, “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” May it always be so.