It is no secret that one of the great joys I reap from my walks at Council Point Park is interacting with my furry friends. Sure I enjoy going to the larger parks on the weekends, but they are often impersonal at times. There is no familiarity at those venues, like I find at my favorite nature nook where I know what trees will blossom first in the Spring, or which ones will turn awesome Autumn hues of golden-orangey-red. I know just where I might sneak up on a groundhog snacking on mulberries, or the angle where I might observe Harry the Heron before he freaks out, squawks and leaves in a huff. I know the exact location to peer between the trees to glimpse a long line of turtles sunbathing, or where the bunnies gather to indulge in sweet clover.
And … you can call me crazy, but when the squirrels come racing over to greet me I get a silly smile on my face. I am not the only one who feeds the squirrels. Arnie, a long-time walker at this venue, and I were chattin’ it up in the Park in the parking lot the other day. We both set out on the path together. This fact was not lost on the squirrels who, thanks to the cooler weather, are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed speed demons as they are now gathering peanuts in earnest. I remarked to Arnie that I could hear the squirrels’ brain gears clicking away with a thought bubble overhead that said: “Aah, two walkers bringing us peanuts – who should we go to first – we don’t want to offend either of them – never mind, we’ll converge on Arnie and Linda at the same time!” And so it was; we stopped in our tracks, simultaneously opened our Ziploc bags and watched a passel of squirrels come running to us, dancing around our ankles, clearly unsure where their loyalties should lie, yet not wanting to disappoint either of us by not rushing over.
If squirrels were trolls and peanuts were tolls …
That morning’s undying devotion by the squirrels to their benefactors was not lost on a young bicyclist who has appeared on the perimeter path almost daily since the Park re-opened after the COVID-19 lockdown in May. This young man rides many round trips on the pathway and sometimes, as he zips past Arnie or me doling out peanuts to our eager furry friends, he will wag a finger at the squirrels and tell them to save some room for later when he comes back to feed them, just before he departs the Park. He always has a bag full of peanuts hanging from his bike.
Arnie usually only walks the one loop, so on my second go-around after Arnie left, I was bending down talking to a few skittish black squirrels, who eyed the peanuts in my bag, yet I still had to coax them over to me from where they cowered under a bush. They’d take two steps forward – one step back and I said “for goodness sake – do I look like some ogre who is going to hurt you?”
Unbeknownst to me, the bicyclist was within earshot … he startled me when he said “the way I see it, the squirrels are like the trolls under the bridge, and their toll for you to enter the Park is peanuts.” I laughed and quipped “one day they’re going to gang up on me! Look at them all around, just waiting to pounce if I am not quick enough handing out treats!”
He hopped off his bike, tossed down a pile of nuts and said “well, I’m paid up now, so I’m on my way.” I laughed and said “I’ve probably got a free pass the rest of my days at this Park!” Soon he was on his way, a smile on his face.
There is not a lot of things to smile about these days and, for a brief moment, the ugly images of 2020, a nation gone awry with its wildfires, hurricanes, Coronavirus, political and racial divisiveness, I reckoned that life sometimes was simple and good. Nature is always a calming balm in my opinion.
On this last weekend of Summer, I’ll leave you with this wise quote: “You don’t have to be in school to learn things. With nature, it’s always going to be there. It’s always going to be kind of like our support system. We just need to actually reach out and accept that we’re all connected and have a role to play. We’re all on this Earth together.” ~Nicole Jackson, Environmental Educator