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Mother Nature Keeps the Juices Flowing

Read on for winter relief in food forests, seed catalogs and squirrely tales

January seems the grayest of times. But nature is at work, nurturing new life in often-invisible ways.
    In this week’s paper, we turn to some of those ways. You’ll read about a new frontier in local eating, a food forest. Planted last spring at American Chestnut Land Trust in Calvert County, it is taking root in earth’s magical soils in preparation for its first burst of growth this spring.
    More visible are the seed catalogs filling gardeners’ mailboxes. This week the Bay Gardener explains the benefits — beyond the beautiful pictures — of ordering early.
    Squirrels are also keeping the juices flowing.
    In response to Dennis Doyle’s January 12 Sporting Life column, Bay Weekly readers are reporting back on black squirrels and their antics throughout Chesapeake Country.
    Your everyday squirrel is an acrobat, flying through the air from branch to twig with the greatest of ease, racing along electrical tightropes and hanging upside down to eat from your bird feeders.
    For many a year, outdoors writer Bill Burton roused the empathy of Bay Weekly readers with his love-hate relationship with squirrels. Plain old gray squirrels, as Burton reported no blacks among his Riviera Beach bushytails.
    As Burton died in 2009, we’ve long been in deprivation from his squirrely tales. So here, for more January entertainment, is a sample from February 28, 2002.

Matching Wits with Squirrels
When you’ve tried and have not won, never stop for crying.
All that’s great and good that’s done is just by patient trying.
    Among the two score or more bushytails that romp on my side lawn up here on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County, there is one quite familiar with that advice.
    This particular squirrel took the message to heart, practiced it and made a fool of me.
    Almost daily, friend Alan Doelp of Linthicum and I update each other on the latest maneuvers bushytails have taken to outwit our attempts to keep them out of bird feeders — at least to make it difficult for them to feed.
    Alan shares with me a reputation for trying time and again, only to be outsmarted by persistent creatures that could fit in our pockets if we dared put them there. I cringe at the thought. Ouch!
    It’s not that we don’t like squirrels or that we don’t want them feeding on our lawns. It’s just that they fascinate us. We like the challenge, and we’ve learned time and again they will eventually have the last laugh — also a bellyful of bird feed. And peanuts.
    As well as trying to keep the thick-tailed rodents from getting the lion’s share of birdseed, we also work on squirrel feeders — but with a built-in hitch. Whether it’s corn on the cob on a propeller-type device, peanuts and sunflower seeds secreted in a homemade feeder with a maze of baffles within or some other contraption we devise in our workshops, we challenge squirrels to get their breakfast, lunch or dinner.
    We get much enjoyment watching them work out our puzzles, and obviously they get as much pleasure out of this game as we do. Probably they get more pleasure because they usually win. And long as it takes them to claim the prize the first time, from then on it’s easy.
    So much for the old claim among squirrel hunters that the creatures have poor memories. They well remember the route to a snack. And use it.
    For us, it’s back to the drawing boards.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com