27 December 2012

And now, the weather pawcast

A post-Christmas storm closed in on parts of the U.S. this week as meterologists nervously assessed the patterns for various regions of the nation. But their most sophisticated tools, however well-calibrated they may have been, were clearly outpaced by some of the smallest, oldest - and yes, greyest - storm survivors known to the planet.

Forget barometric pressure: Nut-o-metric Pressure is where it's at.

True forecasting at this time of year comes from divining the truths inherent in the obsessive collection of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans. The squirrels' technique is failsafe, even if it does tax a feeder's nut budget. Squirrels have never been famous for doing anything on the cheap.

From at least 8:45 a.m. until well past 2 p.m. this past Wednesday, the outdoor scene, from suburbia to the sticks, was very much a cache-and-carry affair for the squirrels, who carried the keys to the next 24 hours of weather activity carefully between their teeth.

This forecasting system may well date back to the days of Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel whose understated glories came to the forefront in the series of animated "Ice Age" movies. Ah, Hollywood does not do Scrat's talents justice. Talk about a squirrel with overwhelming power and prescience: He not only predicted the Ice Age - his lust for a single acorn caused it!

So if you want to know the possible strength of winds heading your way, talk to the small mother squirrel with the blunted tail and the engagingly dirty nose. The size of her carry-away stash foretells exactly the speeds the region will be buffeted by in just a few hours. Curious about the rawness of the temperatures and the abundance of the downpour yet to come? The chubby, slightly tilted fellow is resolute in creating a nut larder to see him through the ordeal.

Nut-o-Metric Pressure is world-renowned for such precision.

You could, of course, try convincing a squirrel to pose on your living room mantle, replacing that heirloom barometer passed down by great-great-grandpa. But it would be far more practical (and make for a happier squirrel) if you opened the front window or back door and tossed a few well-placed pecans. Interpreting a Nut-o-metric Pressure reading is deceptively intuitive: The greater the demand for nuts, the higher the degree of preparedness is needed for the meteorological mess that lies ahead.

The 17th century English poet Robert Herrick may have exhorted us to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may," but 21st century squirrels make weathercasting, in just this way, its own kind of simple poetry.

19 December 2012

Nutcracker Suite-hearts

Finding holiday inspiration within the hard coldness of Russia's Ural Mountains, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky still should have known about the squirrels: When the 19th century composer set the magical story of an enchanted nutcracker to music in 1892, crafting "The Nutcracker Suite," he really should have done his homework first.

Squirrels, after all, don't just have an ethereal quality but were always the original nutcrackers. And as the Christmas season wraps itself around us, we are again charmed by Tchaikovsky's presentation of young Clara's romantic dream of a nutcracker prince. We watch the couple's affectionate pas de deux play out on stage.

Then, peering outside our own windows to a real-life stage beyond our homes, we see squirrel libidos engaged in a more shameless pas-de-do-it-and-do-it-again-and-again. The elegance and charm of tutus and tights have nothing to do with this rodentian wrestling match. There is nothing sweet about what these nutcrackers are doing.

Tell us, Tchaikovsky, what's a Sugar Plum Fairy to do? We could seek counsel from the squirrel-savvy Mouse King and his loyal army -- the antagonists of the "Nutcracker" tale -- but who wants advice from the bad guys?
Besides, the king gets killed off early in the story. (The classical version of the "Nutcracker" is devoid of sex but not of violence, garnering Tchaikovsky a modern-day "PG-13" rating.)

However, the dance outside our doors is more akin to "50 Shades of Eastern Grey," with a passion that might melt even Tchaikovsky's most brutal Russian mountain snows.

Wildlife rehabilitators need to forget Tchaikovsky altogether. It's time to compose ourselves instead: For the fictional Clara may awaken from her "Nutcracker" dream beneath the Christmas tree embracing her treasured wooden nutcracker toy - and the prince will have vanished back into her dream.

But when wildlife caretakers awaken (even ones named Clara), the prince hasn't gone anywhere - and neither has the princess. They are grey, bushytailed, and their hormones are in full reproductive rage.

In the kingdom of the woods, squirrels are the reigning princes and princesses. And even once Christmas has long passed, the impassioned mating dance of these nutcrackers will go on.