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Outdoors: Thanksgiving

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American red squirrel midden

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of the hymn, "Come Ye Thankful People Come." And when I think of harvest, I think not of corn harvester or massive combines, but rather of the little red squirrels that live in the evergreen forests of this region. Always frenetic, red squirrels have been consumed with harvesting, so that "all is safely gathered ‘ere the winter storms begin."

For squirrels, fall is the time of gathering. Certainly all squirrels collect food. Many species bury their finds, one acorn or nut at a time. But red squirrels create middens… huge piles of cones and discarded scales left over from previous years. A midden is a combination of a food drier, a storage area, a dining room table, a solid waste disposal area and a place to live. Truly a harvest home.

Middens are damp, and I had always wondered about the wisdom of storing food in a dank place like a forest floor. Turns out, this indeed is prudent. Dry cones open their scales and seeds drop out. By storing the cones in only moist places, red squirrels ensure that each cone will contain a generous helping of seeds .

To be honest, and red squirrels aren't, there is a great deal of pilfering out in the woods, but many squirrels have scatter hoards, extra caches so if their main midden is robbed, they will still have enough to make it through the winter.

Truly industrious, red squirrels have safely gathered in, ‘ere the winter storms begin. It’s unlikely that squirrels grasp the concept of thanksgiving, but because “our wants have been supplied,” we have been blessed.... and should “raise the song of harvest home.”

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"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.