Things I am learning about the fox squirrels of Lake Merritt: They are apparently very visually-oriented, and they are clever little beasties.
Last week, Pirate hied himself up to REI and bought a two-person pocket hammock with extended straps for putting up in trees. Late Friday afternoon I was at my desk when I got a text message from him: "Stop! Hammocktime." As soon as I could get away from work, I headed over to Lakeside Park to meet him and spend some time in the hammock before we headed out to the East Bay Bike Party ride.
We had been in the hammock for maybe 10 minutes when up pops a squirrel on the tree stump nearby, giving us an intent look. I grabbed for my container of trail mix and rattled it at the squirrel while making a tch-tch-tch! tch-tch-tch! noise. It looked at me, looked around, looked back at me, then jumped off the stump and moved over towards us. I put some trail mix in my hand and lowered it over the edge of the hammock, only to find that we had the hammock mounted high enough that I couldn't reach all the way to the ground. No problem — the squirrel reached up, grabbed my hand in its paws, and nosed through the nuts in my palm until it decided upon a walnut. It let go of my hand, noshed its way through the nut, then reached up again for another. We went through a couple of rounds of this before it took an almond and buried it, then climbed up in the tree and stretched out on a branch where it could see us and relaxed for a while. (The sight of a squirrel stretching and yawning is SO CUTE.)
Why I say these are clever little beasts: None of the squirrels had ever seen us in the hammock before, yet it recognized us quickly as being the same monkeys who've been up in the tree feeding them before.
And then yesterday I stopped by the tree on my way home from work because I was feeling antsy from being indoors under fluorescent lights and air conditioning most of the day. (Also feeling dissatisfied and out-of-sorts over the change of seasons and the shortening days, which probably means I should be spending more time on the meditation cushion.) As I wheeled my bike over to prop it against our favorite tree, I saw a brownish lump on the ground under one of the other trees. It moved, confirming that it was a squirrel and not a piece of wood or the like, and looked over towards the tree I was under. Again, I made the tch-tch-tch! tch-tch-tch! noise. This time, it looked at me for a moment, then turned and darted up the tree nearest it and quickly made its way through the branches over to my tree. Monkey! it seemed to say. You got nuts for the squirrel, mon— OH SHIT HERE COMES HONEY BROWN TO CHASE ME AWAY! I spent a little over half an hour in the tree, and by the time I headed down had had three different squirrels coming by to get nuts and chase each other away. Pretty sure one was Nervy Nose (who's getting bolder), one was the new male, and I think the other was Honey Brown.
What delightful little creatures they are.