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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


"I saw a bushy-tailed squirrel climb a tree."
"Squirrels rob bird feeders."
"Squirrels build nests (dreys) of blobs of leaves and twigs high in the trees."
"Squirrels jump amazing distances."
"Squirrels dash across the street, some barely making it; others becoming road kill."
"Squirrels love Skippy peanut butter and believe any nut is a good nut."

                 Okay, Okay, that's enough to know about squirrels.

But maybe not.

There is debate and folklore as to the origins of the species we call squirrels, sometimes in earlier periods called skwerls, (Hey, nothing wrong with that.  We teach kiddos to spell with phonics, but in this case, the phonics is reversed--skwerls appeared before squirrels). Either term is much easier to deal with than earlier Latin and Greek pronunciations. Most may say squirrels, like all living matter, originated from ooze fifty or fifty five million years ago.  But the Chinese, the self-claimed originators of most of what has evolved into modern technology, say they have evidence of squirrels (i.e. their divine beasts) in the northeastern sections of China two hundred million years ago.  Some say they were created by God, others swear they "evolved."  (Where else do we hear evolution arguments?)  Some colloquially called them Chitterboxes (and don't we humans have chitterboxes?)   Although humans are known to say that someone is acting "squirrel-ly," I'll not go further into human-squirrel comparisons.

The "outerspace" origination theory has its followers as do those who think there exists Biblical references relating squirrels to everlasting life.  Englishmen imported for their fashionable estates the gray squirrel only to find out the gray squirrel holds a grudge against the red squirrel and obliterated them. In early America, squirrels lived by the thousands.  But strange to most, may be learning they were a vital economic factor. 

Let me tell you a little more personal historical fact about our ancestors' squirrel economy. 

FifthGreatGrandfather, Mordecai Ellis, lived in Clinton, Ohio.  He had a number of sons and was known as an expert on good horses, often called upon to value horses for inheritance purposes or determine the worth of a stray horse. He . . .. 

 (Oops, must get back to squirrels).  Well, back then, cash was dear-- there simply was not the where-with-all to carry on business with hard cash.  They could make their own soap, grow vegetables, slaughter beef, but not raise nails.  Plus one of the  Mordecai's farming  hardships was preserving his crops against hordes of four-footed predators (damnable squirrels).  Not unlike what today's politician would do, he and his neighbors devised a way of providing buying power by the "bounty" system (a system that worked like grandma's way of killing two birds with one stone--see supper later).  

Taxes didn't mean anything because there was no coin with which to pay; however, squirrel pelts were tangible and easily understood whether the bargaining settlers could read or write. "I'll sell you my horse for twenty squirrel pelts."  Simple, huh?

Another frontier vital, not to be taken lightly, was that young boys learned to shoot by hunting squirrels (not shooting bottles sitting on a stump.  Smart they were--a broken bottle, even if they ever had bottles--had no value, the pelt of the squirrel did).  

Note to reader:  Need to mention here grandma's fried squirrel or squirrel pie, her staples for supper with cornbread and buttermilk.

Also, there was a factor of  competitive sport involved.   Anytime after the age of nine, a  life-long hunter's goal was to learn to "bark" a squirrel.(Not to be confused with Hillary Clinton's famous election bark of 2016).

 "Ahem," you clear your throat and give me a Democrat snivel. I catch the irritation and respond, "Let us not regress to current politics. I shall continue. The purpose was not to scare the squirrel with an arf, arf like a dog, but to shoot him or her (You cough this time. Another interruption?) "Am I being too politically correct? But I must argue it could have been a she-squirrel. Oh, you were reminding me to continue?"  I nod again in agreement. "Okay. Of course. I was saying shoot the squirrel climbing a tree between its belly and the tree bark."

Competition among the settlers was stiff and disbelievers rife.  Success was only sanctioned and credit given when bark flew and the squirrel continued to scamper up the tree.  Misfired shots became supper.  Annie Oakley, and Bonnie Kate Sherrill of my historical stories, could "out bark" any of the boys and men who challenged them.

Modern Squirrels in the Nuernberger and Andrews  Homesteads

No malice of any kind against squirrels is known to exist in either Rose or Bobi's families.  The yard favorites are not hunted and enjoy being nature-loved for their backyard antics. We see little "dug out" turfs of grass and dirt as evidence squirrels hunted there for hidden seeds or nuts. The accomplishment here is that they even remembered where they had buried their stash.  Bobi has lantana bushes and a mimosa tree that have grown from seeds planted by squirrels.  The latest at her house is a perfectly peeled lemon laying on the ground under a tree with no bird pecks or bites taken.  A mystery until learning that squirrels eat fruit.  Perhaps my peeled, but uneaten, lemon was a squirrel's mistaken identity for some sweet fruit like an apple.   

Nightly, we hear their patter on the roof as they go from the pecan tree on the side of the house to the red maple tree near the bird feeder.  Our aerial acrobats jump from the very tip of a swaying branch to the roof and then hang upside down to fleece the birdfeeder of sunflower seeds. 

Now speaking of sunflower seeds--that's the second purpose of this essay:  Rose's sunflowers and squirrels caught on camera. This phenomenon occurred in Hinsdale, Illinois where she and Ken had  huge, tall sunflowers growing near a window.  The height of the sunflowers was at least ten feet, leaves huge, and the flower as big as a market basket. When the sunflowers seeded, here's what followed.

As I think of these  crafty fellows, I wonder what else abounds before our very eyes that we think we know enough about, only to learn we know so little. 

"Raise your glass with me to toast our remarkable squirrels. May their beds be soft and their tummies full of sunflower seeds."  

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