Henningsen: Squirrel Season

Oct 24, 2018

It was a tough year for apples on this side of the hill, but a banner year for squirrels.

We have a lot of apple trees, but the two closest to the house are the elder statesmen of the neighborhood: well over a century old if we’re to judge by my neighbor’s trees, which we know were planted in 1918. After a hot, dry summer, one of ours bore fruit; the other struggled just to hold on.

As the early morning mist lifts off the nearby fields and pond, I watch the advancing sun pick out a pair of red squirrels busy in the upper story of the fruiting tree. One detaches an apple from its branch and carries it elsewhere to be devoured or stashed. The other prefers letting the apple drop to the ground, where it can be rolled or carried to its final destination.

In most cases, that destination turns out to be a broad, flat branch on the tree that has no fruit. This squirrel seems to be a planner: reasoning (if squirrels reason – I have no idea) that others might give the non-bearing tree a miss, making it the ideal place to hide an apple stash in plain sight.

It’s a lot of work: the squirrel has to knock the apple to the ground, run down to pick it up and then transport it across the lawn and up the trunk of the adjacent tree to deposit it. I’ve noticed that it then takes a break to admire its handiwork – just looking at the apple – and returns often to make sure it’s still there. Only occasionally will it take a small bite.

It’s hard not to admire this effort, though the way the squirrel cozies up to the stored apple bears a striking resemblance to Gollum nuzzling his “Precious” while casting suspicious glances far and wide.

But having watched this enterprise for a while now, I’ve come up with another name for my busy little friend. Given how often the apple has been stolen or devoured by larger grey squirrels or pecked apart by birds - he’s had to repeat his laborious quest a lot, so I’d have to call him (if it is a him) Sisyphus.