Friday, October 10, 2014

Squirrelly Thoughts

With summer now gone and fall slowly taking over, the squirrels that visit our yard are becoming a bit more numerous and frantic. It's not that I blame them - the fault is entirely ours. For many years, as we fed the birds, we had at least one feeder that was an easy-access one for squirrels. We had not planned this, it's just that squirrels are nearly impossible to outfox outsquirrel. After a few visits by a wandering black bear in the last year or so, we've cut back on the bird feeders and rigged them so they are difficult for land critters to reach. This has frustrated the squirrels to no end and they have quit coming around so frequently, which is probably better or them in the long run. They are not really visitors; the Douglas squirrels, or chickarees, occupied this territory long before any of us were here and they favor native foods, especially seeds of the Douglas fir. Still, who doesn't enjoy an easy, free meal now and then? They continue to venture in to check the ground beneath the feeders. They need to store up some food for later, especially if it is a female who's expecting a second litter.
Abert's squirrel
NPS Photo by Sally King
I've always enjoyed watching squirrels. I have no recollection of them being in the town I grew up in on the high plains of Montana, but we always saw them on any trip to the conifer-cloaked mountains. After we married and moved to the woods of Colorado, we enjoyed watching the Tassel-eared or Abert's squirrels which are found in ponderosa pine forests in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado plateau. The longer tufts of dark hair covering the tops of each ear make them stand out from other squirrels and definitely up the cuteness factor. They mainly feed off of the seeds, tender buds, and inner bark of the ponderosa pines there, but they also came to our feeders. 

We lived for a time in the hill country of Texas where there are Eastern Gray Squirrels. Active year-round, they live primarily in trees and feed on a great variety of foods; they regularly pilfered all the seed in our bird feeder. My husband kept trying to out-smart them and once mounted the feeder at the top of a tall, narrow pipe in the middle of the yard away from trees. One squirrel learned to climb the pole so I greased it with Vaseline. I still can picture him running up about half way, and then sliding back down like a miniature, furry fireman. After a number of failed attempts, he got even by blatantly grabbing and eating the ripe peaches on the tree next to our kitchen window. I do believe he smiled the whole time...

There is much we can learn from squirrels. They teach us to plan ahead, to store our energy for times of need, to help us get through the bad times and to prepare for the future. Prepare for seasonal changes; in periods of plenty save a little something. The squirrel's stash is no guarantee, however, because sometimes others rob the goods or they forget where they hid them. And squirrels sometimes go way overboard with their saving; reasonable saving and hoarding are not the same thing. For anyone who, like a squirrel, has been hoarding things - be prepared to release and let go.

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provision in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
Proverbs 6:6-8

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." - Luke 12: 15
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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out noun:  a person who differs from the other members of a group.

I only noticed it recently, looking out our second-floor bedroom window as I do first thing every morning. I enjoy looking out, checking on the current weather, the temperature, the subtle change of seasons reflected in the surrounding vegetation. That morning, well beyond what we consider summer, it stood out like a bright pink sore thumb. A lone kousa dogwood bloom, at the tiptop of a delicate branch, blooming away like it was the most natural thing in the world - never mind that it was surrounded by leaves gradually turning color and bright red fruits poking straight up as they do. What!? Certainly this bloom was terribly confused...
We planted this tree some years ago after seeking one that would provide blooms, fall color, something to attract birds, and not grow too tall. It has met all of our expectations and more, especially the bright pink blooms that begin appearing in late spring/early summer and last a good month or more. But this is the first time it has ever had a bloom in the fall, at least that we have ever noticed.

Weather-wise, it has been an unusual year many places so that might account for this anomaly somewhat. There was one other similar incident this year when our magnolia bloomed a second time in late summer. I don't know for sure, but I assumed the blooming was in response to a rather severe pruning I had given it. But now with this single dogwood bloom, I have to wonder.

As we all know, there are always exceptions to any rule, and nature is full of anomalies. Indeed, there are times we each can feel like the odd man out. From the time we are small, most of us are told that we don't need to always follow the crowd; that we should think for ourselves and become our own person is often drilled into our heads. We all learn, however, that going against the flow can be a difficult and challenging route. Young children want to be liked and accepted; going against the majority can result in uncomfortable comments and behaviors towards those who are different. Many just find it easier to give in and go along. For teens, it's all about fitting in and finding out who they are. A mean-spirited dig or being shunned can feel like the ultimate rejection. Young adults are still trying to find their niche and the work of finding their adult role in life can seem overwhelming at times. Often, they last thing they want is to stick out as being very different - even the "different" ones hang out together. This insecurity with not falling in line is not something we necessarily out-grow as adults, either. Politicians and businesses pander to the masses for a very good reason - more often than not, it works.
As I consider this lone dogwood bloom, still blushing rosily against the backdrop of dark trees, I see what an extraordinary statement it makes. It attracts my attention because it is different, standing alone when the others have all gone. It boldly takes a stand against the season and serves a purpose of providing food for the late-season insects. Are there risks for this late-bloomer that stands alone? Yes, I suppose there are, but in the greater scheme of things I believe it is well worth it - for each of us.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.   - Romans 12:2