Shh! It’s still dark in the fall woodland. Morning creeps in among the shadows later now. Why is it so quiet? Ah, yes, many birds have gone south. No tweeting at sunrise, these days.
High in the forest canopy, someone stirs. Warm and safe in a twiggy, leafy nest lined with moss and thistledown, one eye blinks open, then another.
Two lively, shiny black eyes. Scurrie T. Squirrel is awake.
Time to get to work! Scurrie’s first litter of baby squirrels was born in the spring. They were tiny little things at first, pink and naked, but then their fur began to grow—and a few months later all four of them left the nest and set out on their own.
Even without her babies to worry about, Scurrie is always on the alert. The world is a dangerous place for a squirrel! Hawks and weasels, raccoons, bobcats and foxes, and ….
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Scurrie smells its meaty breath, and its leathery collar, and, and, and — ah! It’s OK! This dog is attached to a human walking the trails far below. In these woodlands, dogs don’t run loose, chasing and scaring and making a busy little squirrel’s heart beat fast.
Leaving her cozy thistledown bed, Scurrie scrabbles along her branch to the tree trunk. Her back feet twirl around to hold onto the rough bark, so she can scramble down her tree upside down, head first, stopping and sniffing and spying for trouble all the way.
She lands in the leaves with an oomph, sits up on her haunches and has a look around. All clear!
Instinct tells her winter is coming, and a buffet of good things to eat is all around. Scurrie sets about burying acorns, hazelnuts, and walnuts. Then in the cold, dark winter when nothing grows, she will find them — by smell and by remembering where she put them. Yum! She finds all kinds of seeds in the cones of cedar, hemlock, pine and spruce, and stashes them away, too.
The healthy forest where Scurrie lives has many old trees, and she bounds from tree to tree, flicking her tail, visiting them all, like old friends giving out treats. Trees that are too young won’t produce food for her until they grow up. And even grown-up trees won’t produce lots and lots of seed-cones every year. But most years, Scurrie finds and hides thousands of nuts and seeds – many more than she will need for the long winter.
In these woodlands, humans don’t kill trees with chainsaws, or smother the life-giving land with concrete and asphalt, or ruin the water by pouring smelly things on the ground or in the creek.
In this animal-friendly woodland, Scurrie isn’t alone. Dozens of other squirrels are hard at work, and the forest is full of squirrelly chatter. If Scurrie notices someone watching her, she pretends to bury her nut or seed — and then goes off to bury it somewhere more secret! And if anyone notices a red-tailed hawk circling or a coyote creeping, they cry out a warning!
The light is getting low. Scurrie scratches herself – first one ear, then the other. Ah, that feels good after a day at work on the forest floor. Tired, and happy to climb back up into her snuggly bower in the treetop, this little gray squirrel settles down to sleep.
When the snow comes, she’ll be ready.
Scurrie is lucky. She lives in a woodland protected by the Pocono Heritage Land Trust. The land trust works to keep woodlands natural, providing food, clean air and water, shelter, and enough space to thrive for hundreds of native animals like Scurrie — bears and deer, eagles and owls, frogs, salamanders, insects, and plants. Tracts of undisturbed forest, such as the Kurmes Preserve, Upper Paradise Preserve, Jonas Mountain, and others owned and managed by PHLT, are good for humans, too, protecting drinking water and pure air.
The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Native to eastern North America, it plays an extensive and essential role in forest regeneration. That’s because many of the uneaten nuts and seeds squirrels plant will sprout next spring, continuing the cycle of life.