Stew the squirrel

The folks at Vermont Journal/Shopper give me the freedom to write about anything that strikes my fancy. I take advantage of that freedom this week and offer a different story.

Two weeks ago, a Chester Historical Society member and gardener prepared the historical society flowerbeds for the winter. She cut back all of the flowers and when she was done she turned over the mulch to give the gardens a fresh look.

A couple days later I stopped at the historical society to meet with a Green Mountain Union High School student regarding the Daniel Heald scholarship. Arriving early I went to unlock the building. I noticed something had recently dug potholes in the fresh mulch next to the front door. I figured neighborhood cats were using the mulch for a cat-box.

It was cold in the unheated Academy Building so I decided to sit in the warm car and wait for the student. As I sat there I noticed several gray squirrels running around. As I watched I noticed the squirrels had different habits, markings or size. Able to distinguish one from another I gave each a name.


Stew the squirrel eating a walnut. Photo by Ron Patch.

Chip was a smaller squirrel probably born this year. Stew was a large old guy with battle scars. Stub was missing a chunk of his tail and Gert was a slim female.

On the Hugging Bear lawn, bordering the historical society lawn is a great old black walnut tree. This year there is an abundance of walnuts. The squirrels were busy gathering walnuts for the winter.

First, I noticed Chip carrying a walnut in his mouth. He bounced across the historical society lawn and headed for the fresh mulch. He sat on his rear legs and with his front paws he rapidly dug a hole in the mulch and buried his walnut in the mulch. He then scurried across the lawn back to Hugging Bear to find another walnut.

Stew came along from Brookside Cemetery, found Chip’s nut and dug it up. Stew ran back into the cemetery and climbed an ancient maple tree with a knothole. Here Stew hid Chip’s walnut. As I watched Stew sitting on a limb of the old maple I realized he was able to preside over his entire kingdom from this position.

Stub came from behind Hugging Bear with a walnut in his mouth and began digging a hole in the fresh mulch next to the Academy Building entrance. Out of nowhere Gert arrived on the scene and dug up Stub’s walnut and ran toward the information center. Here at the end of the flower garden Gert dug a hole in the mulch and buried Stub’s nut.

Stew scrambled down from his throne and dug up Gert’s nut and put it in his mouth. Again he scampered up the old maple tree to hide his nut in the knothole.

At one point a flock of 20 or so starlings showed up and were eating crab apples that were lying on the ground. Stub who had a walnut in his mouth saw this as a threat. Stub dropped the nut and rushed the starlings chasing them away. Stew took advantage and rushed in and stole Stub’s nut.

I watched this show for about 20 minutes. As one squirrel dug and buried a nut another would steal it and hide it elsewhere.

It was a classic example of the shell game. Where is the walnut? Watching I concluded Stew did the least amount of work, yet he seemed to have gathered the most nuts.

The natural world is something that I have always been close to. Watching these enterprising squirrels reminded me of my father. He taught me many things and to always be aware of animal behavior. My father would have chuckled had he witnessed these squirrels stealing walnuts from each other.

Every year, in the historical society gardens we have to dig up a few baby walnut trees. Now we know where they come from.

This past week the town installed a new historical marker on the lawn of the Academy Building near the sidewalk. This marker is for the old Chester Academy established in 1814. One side of the marker is dedicated to Chester Academy while the other side is dedicated to the current brick building built in 1881 and home of the Chester Historical Society. Tourists love these historic markers, as do I.

This week’s old saying. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.”

Side one of the Chester Academy sign. Photo by Ron Patch.
Chester Academy sign on side two. Photo by Ron Patch.

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