Signs of a coming winter are apparently not lost on our local red squirrels. Not the most sedate of neighbors at the best of times, these bossy, high strung little clowns have suddenly switched into high gear, beginning their spruce cone harvest. It’s as if they had been lulled into complacency, then jolted into the shocking realization that time is running out. Suddenly they’re tearing from tree to tree, climbing to the hanging cone clusters. They bite them free and drop them to the ground, often standing on hind legs to fling them with a two-handed toss.
This is not a welcome feature of autumn. The spruce cones, the squirrels’ chief food source, are tight, hard missiles. Dropped from heights from 50 to 150 feet, they can smart when they hit. That’s not nearly as annoying as the sound. Our roofs are metal, and I’d guess that about 80% of the cones raining down hit at least one roof on their way to the ground. Suddenly the compound is full of sharp falling and crashing sounds, beginning at dawn and lasting all day long. It sounds as if someone were pelting us with rocks.
Once they’ve dropped the cones, the squirrels will gather as many as they can find and stash them for use this winter, either buried in the ground or stowed in convenient crannies. Hundreds will be crammed between the logs of the cabin, meaning that I’ll need to go around and clear them out now and then. It seems like they would add insulation, but the danger of them molding in there and rotting the logs, especially when the squirrels add some mushrooms for drying, is too great. If the cones are dry, we’ll throw them in a bucket and set them aside. The squirrels can come get what they want, the rest can go into the hot water heater. The piles of stripped cone petals, left when the squirrels cut them up like a cartoon character mowing through an ear of corn to get at the seeds inside, will be shoveled up and saved for outhouse compost or garden duff. We benefit from our little neighbors, both from the duff they produce and sheer entertainment value. But right now, when cones are raining down on us, I could do without them.