Now that I actually have “drive time” to and from the office, I am noticing all sorts of things I used to ignore when I lived three minutes from downtown.
First, of course, I notice the trains switching on Mankato Ave., and am grateful to the city for asking the railroad to please try to not block that crossing so often and so long.
Second, I notice that even where I live, which isn’t even at the top of the bluffs, by the time I start out for work, the fog has burned off at our house, but still shrouds the downtown. As the morning progresses, the fog drifts into the river, as if it is on a huge spool in the middle of the river being reeled in by underwater gods.
Third, I notice the squirrels. Probably because I don’t have to be on alert for students on Main or Huff streets who hide behind trees and jump out in front of your car.
The squirrels on Mankato Avenue are, well…squirrely. This morning one darted out into the street ahead of me, darted back to the safety of the boulevard, and then inexplicably darted out in front of me, nearly run over by one of my tires.
By the way, the strange word squirrel is from the Greek meaning shadow-tailed, making a shadow with its tail. But it is no wonder it has taken on several more meanings over the centuries. The first use of the verb form meaning to hoard or store away was recorded in 1939, according to an online etymology dictionary.
It’s the Eastern Gray Squirrel that runs out into the road all over town. They can also be colored black. These squirrels breed twice a year, the litters being born in February or March and again in June or July. They are born naked, and weaned at seven weeks and leave the nest (those leafy balls that you see high up in a leafless winter tree branches) at ten weeks. A litter can be anywhere from two to six or even eight. They are ready to reproduce at five and a half months.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, why we aren’t completely overrun with squirrels. I mean, an extra six squirrels twice a year from each female squirrel in the neighborhood? They do have natural predators, including humans, hawks, mustelids, skunks, raccoons, domestic and feral cats, snakes, owls and dogs.
But I think the largest deterrent to squirrels taking over the world has to be the automobile. They just don’t seem to learn!
We had a squirrel for several years on Washington St. that the neighbors nick-named “Bob,” because he only had half a tail, a “bob tail.” I think Bob finally died of old age (they can live about twelve and a half years) because none of us ever saw him dead on the street, and there aren’t a lot of predators in that area since our cat died in 1996.
At least I hope he did. Bob was a squirrel, after all, and they don’t call them squirrels for nothing.