Well, 2020, you have been quite a crazy year. And you are not even over yet!
Most readers are fully aware of (and most likely completely fed up with) coverage of the year’s events on the national stage. We’ve had our share of challenges locally as well, with drought, tornados, falling trees, power outages, car thefts and house fires – all in one neighborhood! Last night a number of high-power circuit breakers tripped with an enormous bang that sounded like a bomb going off, which prompted our newest neighbors, a lovely couple from New York City, to quip that it felt like they had “left ‘Corona City’ for Newark!”
We are experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases locally, and anxiously awaiting arrival of vaccines that can help put this health threat behind us. Greenwich Hospital is one of only six hospitals in the nation offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat the disease, and our local government, led by First Selectman Fred Camillo, is taking reasoned and balanced measures to encourage our citizens to adjust behavior in support of limiting the spread of the disease. For most of us, that means spending more time at home. Again.
One benefit of spending more time at home is the development of a greater sense of awareness of the all-too-often overlooked blessings we have in the physical beauty, variety, complexity and vibrancy of nature surrounding us. The leaves are down, but the sun is out and the air, though chill, is clear. It is actually another beautiful fall in New England.
I am used to seeing squirrels zigzagging across the lawn, foraging for nuts. But in keeping with the theme of 2020 as completely “nuts,” I’ve observed a very different, and curious, phenomena.
The squirrels are eating the pumpkins!
I have never before seen squirrels eating pumpkins. And they are not just nibbling – they are consuming the whole pumpkin. It makes you wonder – is this a sign of impending apocalypse, zombie or otherwise? Is nature finally fed up with our imperfect stewardship of the world we have been given? Do the animals know something about the upcoming winter that not even the Farmer’s Almanac could have predicted? Could they be the harbinger of the End of Days, symbols of the Third Horseman, the food merchant riding on a black horse symbolizing Famine (note that some local squirrels are all black)?
No. Calm down. To the great disappointment of conspiracy theorists and interpreters of prophecy, the explanation lies in the rather dull and pragmatic realm of science.
The squirrels are thirsty.
It appears, not surprisingly, that the drought severely impacted the staples of the typical squirrel diet – fruits, nuts and vegetables. With less rain, they contain less moisture, which is the principal way in which squirrels satisfy their need for water.
Pumpkins are very thirsty fruits (yes, they are actually fruits, not vegetables; check it out yourself), requiring 1 to 1-1/2 inches of water each week (1-inch equals approximately 16 gallons). Since most of the pumpkins you see on lawns and front stoops around Halloween and Thanksgiving have been farm-raised, they were not directly affected by the drought and are chock full of the moisture that the squirrels crave. Hence the little rodents’ feeding frenzy and the mass defacing of pumpkins and Jack-O’-Lanterns across Fairfield County.
While they do make a mess, I have to admit that my wife and I have intentionally left our pumpkins out for the squirrels to feast on. Our motive is not completely rooted in our concern for wildlife; we just get a really big kick out of watching them. We’ve become enamored with the sight of them sitting on their haunches, bug bushy tails upright and alert, nibbling on a juicy morsel, climbing over and even into the pumpkins, day in and day out.
We’ve been tempted to give them names, but they all look so much alike, and we can’t tell the males from the females. The one big distinguishing feature is their size – they have gotten very, very fat. Enormously fat. Amusingly fat. (We are not indulging in “fat-shaming,” but if you saw them for yourself, you’d admit it is an apt description). Most squirrels do not hibernate, but the fat they build up during the fall helps them get through the winter. Our squirrels should do just fine.
So now we turn to getting through the rest of this crazy year. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a warmer-than normal winter in our area, with near-normal precipitation and below-normal snowfall. The coldest periods will be mid-December and early and mid-January. There are no reliable signs of impending apocalypse, though 2020 has had a knack for unexpected surprises.
Let’s take a lesson from the squirrels and take action now to prepare for the future. Let’s all follow reasonable steps to protect ourselves and others from this very contagious virus. But let’s also remember that, like the seasons, this too shall pass. In the meantime, let’s focus on those things that are good and right in the world, and work to make them even better. Now is a time to realize that, like the squirrels who take extraordinary measures to get what they need, we need to find creative ways to stay together, to feed the sense of community that we crave, to be mindful of the fact that others are suffering through these very difficult times and could use a caring reach-out, even if just a “virtual” one.
It is said that we can get through this together. “Togetherness” has not exactly been a theme of 2020. Let’s all commit to making the remainder of this year one in which we do the unexpected and work to heal the wounds in our relationships, personal, local and national.