There’s a tree standing in the park across from my house. It’s a Pin Oak, I believe, and it has been a barometer, of sorts, for the over 20 years we’ve lived here. You see, unlike many of the oaks, maples and other leaf-turning trees that surround us, the Pin Oak often holds onto its leaves, sometimes well into, and even throughout, the winter.
But not this year.
The leaves of that beautiful, well-shaped tree are almost all gone now, just into the third week of November, making me wonder just what kind of winter we’re in for.
The much-welcomed, balmy days of St. Martin’s Summer have passed, leaving steel-grey skies, sharp winds and a spattering of rain drops that have begun to sound icy as they fall. This “unique” summer/fall season has left crops in the fields, with farmers praying for a few more days of dry, sunny weather that will allow them to finish what was begun months ago.
It seems like even the squirrels are worried now.
Our neighborhood is thick with the furry fellows, with the tree-lined park hosting generation after generation of familiar brown ones, along with thriving pockets of the little black squirrels that were introduced into Galva awhile back. Every year, I try to be their benefactor, leaving daily piles of corn and other feed for them and the birds. Usually that’s a process that waits until the snow flies, as there is generally an ample supply of seeds, nuts, berries and other fruits to keep them all busy and well fed.
But they announced a change in plans just a few days ago, back, even when we were still hanging onto a last bit of warmish weather. As part of our autumn decor, I had filled an antique basket with armloads of Sweet Annie, dried grasses, bittersweet and Indian Corn and placed it on our front porch, along with a few, scattered pumpkins and gourds. It sat, untouched, until just a few days ago, when the neighborhood squirrels began a determined assault.
“We’re here for the corn,” they seemed to be saying.
Every day, we would arrive home to find a porch floor covered with the chewed remains of their bounty, as they dragged the ears from the basket, one by one. Questing for a balanced diet, they have even attacked some of the gourds, leaving meaty piles of fragments in favor of the seeds.
Even Salty, my self-tamed porch squirrel, who knows he can have a saltine cracker any time he asks, got into the act, burying himself in the basket in a orgy of corn-fed delight. It made for an amusing (to me, at least) squirrel-meets-cat incident the other day, when Max, the surly, half-wild street cat who poses as my pet, followed me out of the front door after a brief, 14-hour nap on a newly folded basketful of laundry.
At first, I feared Max would pounce at the first sight of friend Salty, but he froze, thinking, maybe, that I had placed the squirrel in the basket for him as a kind of picnic. Salty, who was blithely rummaging through the ears in search of his favorite color, ignored any thought of danger, as he assumed it was just me--his faithful bearer of crackers--coming outside. I knew that grabbing Max at this critical juncture would just result in a new set of nasty scratches, so I resorted to an alarm system devised by our friends the beavers and stamped my foot on the porch floor. It’s a cement porch, so the result was somewhat muffled, but it was enough to alert Salty to the fact that something untoward was going on. His head popped out of the bramble of weeds, grasses and branches, where he gazed upon his ancient enemy waiting just a couple of feet away.
Jet-propelled squirrel is the best way to describe what happened next, as Salty exploded out of the basket like a furry fall firework, flew onto the porch rail and into a nearby tree, all the time swearing at Max as only a squirrel can swear at a cat.
He swore at me, too, just for harboring such an evil beast.
Having missed his chance, Max resorted to his usual cat-cool persona, stretching and sharpening his claws on a nearby bench, while waiting to see what would happen next. Nothing did, of course, and the balance of nature that exists in my front yard returned.
Fearing a not-so-happy ending to another encounter, I took the rest of the corn out of the basket and tossed it into the yard. After a few more on-porch forays to see if it was truly all gone, Salty and his friends have made away with those last few ears, while promising to return when I get my act together and start feeding them in earnest.
With no cat-squirrel drama to entertain me this morning, I gazed at that Pin Oak and realized that another season is passing. They are all beautiful in their way, with each promising another sparkling chapter of life and renewal, if we only take time to look. But on this morning, I was reminded of a poem I was asked to write for a long-ago creative writing class in college. It was to be a haiku, the ancient Japanese style that consists of three alternating lines of five, seven and five syllables. I still remember that bit of verse, as I remember late-fall days that have come and gone over the years:
The wind whispers plans
To the listening winter.
Their laughter is cold.