As the once-simple task of grocery shopping becomes more taxing, we can take comfort from an unlikely source.
Red squirrels are a common sight in this region’s woodlands, chattering, scampering, and occasionally scolding with their high-pitched chirp. They are also notorious pests, for once having chewed their way into a home, their rampage continues—electrical wiring, pipes, drywall, insulation, and storage boxes are all at risk in the face of their perpetual energies.
The same energy making red squirrels unwanted creatures of destruction also makes them extraordinary food gatherers.
Though their diet is remarkably varied, their staple food is, of course, pine seeds. While that fact itself may not be surprising, what is astounding is the industry it takes to maintain their pine seed diet year-round.
As anyone admonished by the aggressive prattling of a red squirrel while on an otherwise peaceful walk might guess, red squirrels are territorial creatures. They tend toward a solitary life, each claiming for itself anywhere from 2 to 5 acres of forest. Feeding is a solo activity within that sizable domain.
Red squirrels do not hibernate, staying active year-round and surviving the winter on accumulated pine-cone caches. You may see them perched on a favored limb to eat, the inedible bits falling into haphazard “middens” on the ground below.
To amass their caches, red squirrels work all fall. Climbing trees in their forest range, they cut green pine cones down by gnawing them at the base, allowing them to drop below. They then collect the cones one at a time and stash them in large piles throughout their territory: in the ground, under logs, and at the bases of trees.
One squirrel can stash more than 10,000 pine cones in a single year.
More than 10,000.
As those of us who do the food shopping contemplate our trips to the market—bemoaning having to think ahead, pay attention, and exercise vigilance each time we leave the house—we might consider the life of the red squirrel and take a bit of comfort: at least we need not engage in the astounding survival routine of this erstwhile pest.
We need not stash away 10,000 of anything.
Not even toilet paper rolls.