Saturday, September 22, 2007

Give a squirrel a seed...

I think that our yard-pet squirrels are up to something.

And it is not just another variation on these bushy tailed rodents' ability to weasel their way into any and all outdoor food venues. Or their seemingly infinite array of self-serving acrobatic stunts. Instead it is something that represents an actual quantum leap in the evolutionary development of this thirty-plus million year old species. All of the above abilities, no matter how complex appearing, are really just clever methods of a species that has always depended on the kindness of strangers. Now the squirrels are evolving to a state of total self-sufficiency.

They are becoming gardeners.

As we accomplished aces of the arcane arboriculture arts are aware a garden involves so much more than simply sticking something in the dirt and seeing what happens. It is instead, as expressed so well by an English landscape architect "an assemblage principally of vegetation, kept in a preferred state of ecological arrest by the craft of gardening". This distinction is what separates those of us with truly green thumbs from those whose hands are simply dirty - the growers from the diggers.

Squirrels it seems have always been the latter - as evidenced by the myriad of tiny acorn holes they dig into my yard with their tiny gray paws year after year after year. And which I subsequently mow down week after week after week. Undeterred by this continuing lack of success generations of rat-tailed residents have repeated this ritual with little variation on my land and other's properties since time immemorial.

Then this year Marsha noticed the little gray planters carrying sunflower seeds purloined from our bird feeders and stowing them away in the soft, fertile earth of our vegetable garden and in the empty spaces of the adjacent butterfly plot. And rather than the jump-around-like-crazy random planting patterns that we had seen with acorns these kernels were being planted in little groups of four.

(In truth Marsha told me this after the fact - not as it was happening. There was no "Jim, come quick! You've got to see this. The little tree rats are marking off sections of the yard and carefully placing quadrants of sunflower pips therein!"

Perhaps she actually saw it happening and I wasn't around or, if I was she figured that I was too busy at the computer fabricating real-life gardening stories to care about what was actually happening. In any event the resultant Helianthus annus crop, most of them arranged in quartets, seems to provide sufficient forensic evidence.)

Truth be told the squirrel-situated sunflowers are probably the most successful annual crop of the current season, providing displays of large golden-rayed flowers amidst my embarrassingly shorter tomatoes and Mars' multicolored Zinnias. You could easily make an argument that the Helianthus displays are by far the most orderly part of the landscape - neatly arranged tall islands of yellow, properly spaced within and between. And at some point the cone of seeds should provide locally grown organic sustenance for our hardworking tree-rodents - unless (ironically) the birds get there first.

Some philosophers and scientists will say that it is easy to reason backwards from a situation and to imagine a pattern of intelligent design that got you there. It could be that. Or it could be that Mars and I are among those fortunate few in history who have actually been present to see a major turning point in the evolutionary development of a new super-specie.

I prefer to believe the latter - that after generations of watching me create "an assemblage principally of vegetation, kept in a preferred state of ecological arrest by the craft of gardening" the squirrels have been moved to cast aside the shackles of human-dependency and emulate my efforts towards comestible self-sufficiency.

Give a squirrel a seed and you feed him for about a tenth of a second. Teach him to grow his own and you've fed him for life.

If this crop is successful, then next year I am going to introduce them to feeders containing tomato seeds, eggplant seeds, lettuce seeds, and several other vegetables that I would like to have flourishing on my property - as well as several more containers of sunflower kernels.

Our relationship with the squirrels is already more symbiotic than parasitic - we feed them, they entertain us. Now I think the time is ripe for our partnership to become even more mutually beneficial - as well as economically rewarding.

And the best part is that they work really cheaply and, as far as I can tell, are all here legally.

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