Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Have They Been Eating?

When we went away for our three week trip to New Mexico in the latter half of October Mars and I jokingly worried that our resident squirrels -- whose supply of sunflower seeds and corn was shut off for the duration -- would suffer the pangs of hunger or, even worse, the pains of starvation during our absence.


We expected to return to lethargic, emaciated shells of their former sleek, athletic selves. Instead we were greeted by a flotilla of "Hinden-squirrels" -- fur covered zeppelins who looked more like candidates for gastric bypass surgery and Jazzy Power Wheelchairs than acrobatic performers in our front yard cirque de seed-bottle.

It was like we had gone to a concert of the rock group Heart hoping to see Nancy Wilson but could not because she was hidden behind her "big sister" Ann.

As if we stumbled into a "Subway Jared" diet commercial being played backwards.

Like we ordered "Body Heat" from Netflix and were sent "Body Fat" instead.

When we left them, our yard pets looked like Michael Phelps in a skin-tight squirrel suit. Now they more closely resembled all 12,000 calories of his daily diet, stuffed directly into a way-to-small fur duffle bag.

Most mammals put on "winter weight" -- storing up fat reserves in anticipation of the colder weather and concurrent shortage of food. Squirrels gain about twelve percent of their body weight -- about one tenth of what our guys have accomplished. Twelve percent is more in keeping with my memory of squirrel expansion in years past. So what about the other one hundred and eight percent? How did this obesity epidemic happen?

The obvious answer is exercise and diet. Without our labyrinth of high altitude eating aeries to work out on, and with no other health club or gymnasium within which to burn off calories, the squirrels became just another bunch of drey potatoes -- lounging around and lazily devouring the supply of acorns that they had been setting aside since the first oak fruit had fallen.

But lack of exercise and a diet of acorns are not enough to fully explain our yard pets' devolution from fit to fat. According to, one serving of acorns contains 142 calories of which 74 are fat. Compare that to 384 calories with 184 fat in McDonalds French fries and it is clear that our newly porcine pets had some unnatural help with their overeating orgy.

I suspect our neighbor B. She recently acquired a cat that is, she proudly told me, a great hunter-and-gatherer of chipmunks. And probably would do the same to the squirrels if they just weren't so darned agile and quick. What better way to provide food and entertainment for her feline predator than to hinder its prey by adding a few pounds and inches to them?

But truth be told, the squirrels additional girth and weight does not seem to have slowed them down at all. They still acquit themselves admirably on the jungle-gym-seed-cafeteria that hangs from our Flowering Crab -- performing pretty much all of their original moves, albeit casting a much larger shadow than before. And they scurry across the yard in pursuit of each other with pretty much the same reckless abandon and breakneck speed as in their thinner days -- although their silhouettes now more closely resemble a Low Rider car than an Aston Martin.

What we are witnessing in our front yard is similar to the unexpected terpsichorean tour de forces of football behemoths such as Warren Sapp on the television program "Dancing With The Stars" -- the triumph of natural athletic ability over the forces of gravity and inertia.

Or perhaps the overriding power of an intense and selfish desire for something -- especially food.

Thanks to their new on-board supply of cellulite, the stress of seasonal starvation is no longer an issue. Now the squirrels can devote themselves totally to the joys of recreational eating and gamboling in and above the yard -- their high fat content provides a golden parachute that allows them to take gustatory (and other) risks without any fear of failing or falling.

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.

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