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Filed under: Campgrounds & RV Parks, Nature & Wildlife, RV Campgrounds, Safety on the Road, Taking Along the Family Pet, Uncategorized

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April 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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I once wondered, well maybe it was more than once, whether squirrels were really the cute, bushy-tailed forest creatures that they make themselves out to be, or are they really something much more menacing. I first contemplated on their true nature during a stay at the CB Smith County Park outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

CB Smith is a beautiful, well-maintained county park that draws hordes of nature-seekers every weekend and holiday. Included in the park’s amenities is an RV park. Surrounded by water on three sides and accessed by a narrow bridge, it offers water, electricity, sewers and clean laundry and restrooms. The RV sites are large and sheltered by a collection of handsome oaks and flowering trees. We chose a site shaded by several good sized oaks. And that was our mistake. Based on whatever climatic conditions trigger these things, the oaks were loaded with acorns.

So what, you might ask. Well, that’s where the squirrels come into the story. You see, with that many acorns to be had, squirrels were there in droves, busily harvesting the nuts. In fact, there were so many squirrels that we thought that they were coming in by bus every morning. Not having any way to carry a lot of nuts around while up in the trees, the squirrels pry them loose from their shells and let them drop to the ground, to be collected and hidden away later.

And that’s where we come into the story. Parked right under an ongoing acorn harvest, there was a constant sound of nuts pinging off the trailer’s roof; especially on the AC and other hard covers up there. Ping! Ping! PING! Which was a little annoying for my DW and I while we were in the trailer and terrifying for Rocky, our Australian Terrier. Poor Rocky (God rest his soul) flinched at every ping and ran around inside the trailer; ears down and tail between his legs. He just couldn’t find anywhere to escape from the bombardment.

Did I day bombardment? Just wait for what comes next…

But first, some facts about the regal Sugar Pine. Just bear with me…

One of the tallest largest trees in the world, these beauties are second in size only to the giant Sequoia. Months later, after we had left CB Smith Park far behind, we were camping just west of Yosemite NP in Arnold, California. We had been invited to spend a week or so camping next to the mountain cabin of our wonderful new friends, Vicky and Jeff Casto.

Towering over the cabin and our trailer were majestic Sugar Pines. These trees can grow a long, long time; reaching 4 feet or more in diameter and over 200 feet in height. They also have one of the largest pinecones in nature. And, I’ve read, the sweetest sap; maybe more so than even traditional maple syrup; or so said Teddy Roosevelt, or maybe it was John Muir.

So what, you might ask again. Well, this is where squirrels once again come into the story. Just picture those huge pine cones hanging in clusters out at the very end of the branches; way, way up in the tree. And squirrels love them. But the squirrels have a problem: the cones are so big, up to 20 inches long, for example, and heavy, let’s say several pounds each before they dry out, that the squirrels can’t harvest the cones and carry them all the way down to the ground. After all, the cones are often bigger and weigh more than the squirrel.

So what do the squirrels do? The same thing they do with acorns down at CB Smith Park. They chew away at the stem of the cone until it breaks free and falls to the ground. The first time we witnessed this technique was right after we arrived and were saying our hellos. In the midst of hugs and kisses, there was a loud crack from far above, immediately followed by someone screaming INCOMING! As our hosts and their children ran off in all directions, Maureen and I stood frozen in place; perhaps murmuring something intelligent like, “HUH?” A moment later there was a loud WHANG from an arms length away as a huge pinecone struck our host’s Volvo, glancing off the rear door window glass and putting a sizable dent in the door.

WHAT THE HECK! Holding our arms over our heads, Maureen and I finally began running for the safety of the cabin roof’s overhang, joining our hosts and their kids. They were yelling a warning that the “attack” might not be over and that we should run for cover! A moment later, sure enough, a second loud crack sounded from far above as another cone came rocketing down. That one struck the ground just a few feet away. Hey! We thought, are they aiming at us?

So that you don’t think I’m exaggerating (How dare you!), I’ve included some photos. That’s me holding a monster cone that spiraled down through the tree over our trailer from about 100 feet up. It went right through our AC cover and embedded itself in the copper pipes that connect the cooling vanes. After that attack and realizing there was nowhere to move the trailer that didn’t have a Sugar Pine overhead, we covered the roof of the trailer with spare plyboard and two-by-sixes from our host’s storage building project.  While hefting all those boards up onto the trailer’s roof, it occurred to me that it was one of those rare times when I was glad I had a small (18’9”) trailer.

The other photos show how the cones hang out at the ends of the Sugar Pine’s branches and how big the cones are after they dry up and become pricy collectibles. Heh, heh, you believe me now, don’t you?

This brings us back to the squirrels. We kept our eyes on them for the rest of the week, trying to keep track of them whenever they seemed to be going up into the trees to start another bombing run. I also watched them return to the ground and, after trying to drag a pinecone that might be as big and/or as heavy as themselves, they’d settle down and strip the cone of all of its seeds right where it lie; ignoring the nearby humans who were glaring at them. I’m still too amazed by nature to get too angry with the squirrels, although I do see them as more then a cute rodent with a bushy tail; in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a sinister gleam in their eyes.

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