Things get squirrely

Hopping about

Lately, I’ve been wondering a lot about squirrels.

You know those busy bushy-tailed rodents, whether you have the gray kind, or the black or the red or some combination thereof. Hereabouts, they’re gray, they nest up in the trees (at least, I’ve been told those are squirrels’ nests up there, the big messy ones), they run up and down the trees and along fences and across porches and decks and tables.

Occasionally, if you have a bird feeder, they raid it.

Young squirrel inside a wooden bird feeder with clear plastic face. The squirrel is standing on a couple inches of seeds, one paw and face poking out through the opening between the plastic front and wooden roof of feeder.

Never enough birdseed for these little guys.
“Happy Young Red Squirrel” by Dave_S. is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Whatever they’re doing, they always look purposeful. Have you ever seen one strolling along like some Parisian flâneur? I sure haven’t. They hop along the ground like they’ve been spring-loaded; they scramble decisively up trees; they execute acrobatic leaps onto those bird feeders; they dash across my deck like there’s a fire somewhere. They hurry here and scurry there, lacking only briefcases to round out the impression of urgent mission. But as far as I can see, they accomplish nothing.

When they stop at all, it is usually to dig. And dig. And dig.

The digging seems indiscriminate. They’ve been leaving divots in what’s left of the lawn after a parched summer. They start excavation sites every time I lay down new mulch. Sometimes they’ll bury a nut, but I doubt they ever find them again (having a digging fork, I often do).

At one with nature

I’m feeling a lot like those squirrels myself lately. About a week ago, I even left some random holes for a couple of days before I thought better of it and filled them in. Not that I have been out in the garden as much as I should be, but whenever I am, it seems that I’m constantly busy, hours at a stretch, hauling this around back, lugging that to the front, setting everything out and then putting it away or moving it 10 yards east or west, rummaging through boxes in the garage looking for the clippers, the spray bottle, the cayenne shaker, the hose nozzle, the wire, the twine, the tape, the wire snips, the loppers. You get the idea. But it doesn’t feel like I’m getting much, if anything, done.

Everywhere I go in the garden, my mind goes squirrely-gigging off somewhere else. I know this is partly caused by the inexorable and increasingly rapid march towards winter. A light frost last week, another heavy one forecast for later this week. We may have seen the last of fall’s days in the sixty-degree range, and I fear it’s permanent sayonara to the seventies after last Thursday.

Garden tools laid out on lawn next to flower bed, along with several coneflowers ready for transplanting

So many plan(t)s, so little time…

So, I have to get the rest of the mulch spread, but first I really have to weed the north bed, but before I do that I need to set up the raised beds in the veggie-herb strip but before I do that I have to transplant the sage and the tarragon and the oregano and the geranium (what’s left of that after Tamerlane the Woodchuck decided it would make a nice lagniappe), but before I do that I need to find pots for them but I don’t have the right size so I have to run to the garden store…. And did I write enough voter postcards or is there time to send more?

Of course, now that I have started reading up on the leave-it-be approach to fall cleanup, I’m wondering whether I should be doing anything at all. I’m aghast to think that I’ve been wreaking havoc or worse for those garden denizens we should try to keep around.

The bee all

Close-up photo of a solitary ground-dwelling bee, dark brown abdomen with golden fuzz rimming head & thorax, sitting on a tan fragment of wood or bone, dark soil and some lighter crumbly material underneath and in background, and the initial leaves of a dicotyledonous seedling below and slightly behind bee

“Ground-dwelling bee” by Rob Cruickshank is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This week I worry about ground-dwelling and other solitary bees, a concern precipitated by reading yet another of Margaret Roach’s wonderfully informative interviews. If you’re a gardening fan, you probably already know about Margaret Roach, but if you don’t, read to the bottom of this post and you’ll find a link to her site. Sign up for her newsletter; it’s pure gold!

This week M.R. interviewed Heather Holm, a bee expert and a fount of information. After digesting that interview, I dug around a bit on that handy old internet and found a bee-centered site with more info (see below for links).

I already knew that the honeybees we amateurs tend to see as the bee standard are not even native to North America; they’re European imports. But I never imagined that we could have nearly 4,000 native species of bees in the USA! Most of them do not hive together in large numbers up in trees. There are digger bees, tunneling bees, bees that make nests in hollow stalks, bees that nest in old logs or dead branches, bees that hibernate under fallen leaves. Many of them, individual female heads-of-larval-household.

Now I hesitate not just about raking leaves but also about clearing fallen twigs, cutting back dead perennials (except daylilies, which apparently are useless, for bees at least), and digging anywhere. Maybe the two bumblebees I disturbed yesterday, atop the seedhead of a new coneflower, were discussing plans for their hibernation home.

Which brings us to…

Funny how much damage you can do to others in your environment when you don’t even notice they’re there, or know how much your careless actions might endanger them. Well, not funny, really. Yesterday I participated in a two-hour anti-racism training workshop via Zoom. It confirmed what I already felt in my bones. I have to keep stopping to ask myself what I’m assuming without knowing enough. To remember that however normal I may look, I am not the norm. Nobody is. Maybe if we all recited that mantra to ourselves often, even put it into practice a bit, we’d have a better environment for all humans to blossom to full potential.

It does takes attention and energy and effort. What garden doesn’t?

Spice jar of cayenne pepper powder, topped with shaker head, in garden bed next to coneflower plant with one pink-petaled flower

Saying it with spice

In case you’re wondering, though: yes, I did get the new coneflowers in, and liberally sprinkled their leaves with cayenne to ward off toothy pests. It shouldn’t harm the pollinators or any beneficial insects, and it should repel Thumper and maybe even Tamerlane with no harm done but a capsicum kick. And the flowers’ pollen and nectar could help those bumblebees fatten up enough to get themselves through the winter ahead. As long as the squirrels steer clear.


Those links I promised:

And you? Please post a comment below, or reply to others. If it’s the first time, it may take 2 to 24 hours for your comment or reply to show up (I have to approve it–to prevent spammers), but after the first time, anything you post using the same email address should load automatically. Your email address does not publish with your comment. If you can’t think of what to say, try one of these questions:

  1. What do you do to keep yourself on track to finish all the fall garden tasks?
  2. Any assumptions you’ve been making, in the garden or out of it, that you’ve recently started questioning? Why?
  3. Do you have any idea what on earth those squirrels are always so busy about? (And what kind of squirrels live near you?)
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