September 22, 2021

Squirrels and thistles

Surrounded by corn, soybeans, and pasture, our two-and-a-half acre Empty Nest Farm was devoid of squirrels when Ginnie and I moved here five years ago. Both Ginnie and I had previously lived in residential areas with lots of trees and squirrels. So the absence of squirrels was somewhat of a disappointment, but other factors far outweighed this deficiency — like the stunning sunrises and sunsets we were privy to.

I brought a squirrel feeder with me when we moved to the Empty Nest Farm. It was in need of repair but with the absence of squirrels, I didn’t need it so tossed it on the burn pile.

Lo-and-behold this spring we noticed a young squirrel prancing about the yard, searching for food. It looked lonely all by itself. We do have one fairly young oak tree that produces acorns, so I knew there was at least a little food. I thought about cobbling together some sort of squirrel feeder, one that would hold an ear of corn — you know what they look like.

Then I was picking up some downed tree branches and tossing them on the burn pile. There was the old squirrel feeder I had chucked there five years ago. It looked like it still might hold an ear of corn.

I screwed it to a large maple tree that we can see from our kitchen window, then looked for some ear corn. I could sort of remember bringing a bag of corn with me when we moved here. I found it on a shelf in the garage, but the corn was moldy. “Cheggars can’t be boozy,” I said to myself. “If he’s hungry, he’ll eat it.” (I was assuming he was a he.) I put the least moldy ear on the nail of the squirrel feeder.

A week went by. The moldy ear of corn was still there. I sort of forgot about it.

Then one day I noticed the kernels of corn had been stripped from the cob, “Well, I’ll be danged,” I said to Ginnie. “When you’re in town, get a bag of squirrel corn.”

We now have a regular visitor to the squirrel feeder that we can see from our over-the-kitchen-sink window. (With hands in soapy water, we look up to see nature and nurture.) Where there is one squirrel, there is bound to be another. And then you know what happens — kits.

Last fall, when Ginnie and I were sitting on the yard glider under our back-yard maple tree, we saw a hen pheasant step out from the aronia bushes. The aronia berries were ripe and the hen pheasant was no doubt eating her fill. I reached for my camera, but the movement spooked her. With a hop and a skip she was up and away.

When I was working in the garden this spring, I saw a rooster pheasant cross the road. I knew now the hen pheasant wouldn’t be lonely.

I also noticed occasional deer tracks in the garden, with a bean or pepper plant bitten off here and there. Dues have to be paid.

We don’t have a lot of flowers on the Empty Nest Farm, but we have our share. There are lilies, peonies, iris, roses, hostas, trumpet vine, morning glory (farmers call it a weed), lilac, hollyhocks, black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and of course a zillion dandelions. Ginnie has her annuals outside the kitchen door: geraniums, petunias, snapdragons and a hybrid patio tomato plant she keeps an eye on. The squirrel likes to scratch in the potting soil.

Thistles are always a nuisance. I try to dig them out by the roots so they don’t spread. Thistles are murder on grandkids’ bare feet. I did notice, however, the thistle flower, in my estimation, has the prettiest flower on the Empty Nest Farm. Ha! Thorns and beauty, like guns’n roses. The thistle seed also feeds a lot of finches. I might just keep a few thistles around, as well as plenty of ear corn to, hopefully, propagate a colony of squirrels.

Contact Curt Swarm at curtswarm@yahoo.com