By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
I don't remember seeing squirrels very often on Lord Street when I was growing up. Times have changed; now these furry rodents seem to be everywhere.
A bold local squirrel enjoys a nut gifted by a human friend.
My mother enjoys watching them. Often she will catch a glance of one capering in a tree or walking along a high wire and will stop what she is doing to watch. She especially laughs when two are chasing each other around and around our maple tree. I think it is their energy that appeals to her. They also seem to have a knack for comedy.
That's why I bought her a squirrel crossing sign for Mother's Day for our maple tree. My husband fastened it to the tree, making sure it will stay put.
Mom calls them wiewiorki. Wiewiorka means one squirrel. In my quest to learn Polish, I learned to say I see the squirrel. I can also count the number in Polish.
It turns out that Mom is not the only one in the fourth ward who enjoys squirrels. Joyce Tarnowski who lives on Nevins Street also likes to watch them, as well as the birds. She says the critters make her day brighter.
"My grandson asked me if I am friends with everything," Tarnowski said. "I told him yes."
The Palmatiers, who live across the street from my mom on Lord Street, also are squirrel watchers. One of their adult daughters, Amy, even feeds them.
She said, "I get the little corn cobs for them."
Obviously, Amy is not the only one who feeds them. I found a pile of peanuts in the shell on Lord Street as well as any number of peanut shells in my flower beds and garden. Squirrels are notorious for raiding the birdfeeders in the neighborhood. Many people just give up and put food out for the squirrels.
In addition, natural food is quite abundant. There are any number of oak trees and maple trees. The squirrels seem to like the "spinners" from the maple trees in spring as well as the acorns in fall. My friend Mollie Staley calls it "squirrel heaven."
Amy, while admitting to feeding them, pointed out, "My dad is the one who names them."
Al Palmatier and his wife Donna explained that he named one squirrel Henry and another, Blackie.
That latter name is fitting since our area now has an abundance of black squirrels. I saw one in Westfield in 1967, and it was sufficiently unusual that I told my dad about it. Later on, I saw them in Canada during the yearly trips to Stratford, Ontario, that my husband and I took. My husband's joke was that they needed to go through the "squirrel wash" because they were dirty. I am now surprised to see so many black squirrels in my neighborhood. To my untrained eye, the number seems on the increase.
It turns out the black squirrel is a melanistic form of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Melanistic means that the animal has an increased amount of black pigment in its fur. Melanism is the opposite of albinism.
I have to confess I also participate in squirrel naming and watching. Last year, I noticed a black squirrel with part of its ear torn off scampering on my lawn on upper Lord Street. I named him Van Gogh for the Dutch artist who cut off his ear. I started watching the squirrels to see if I could spot him. I saw Van Gogh often last winter but I haven't seen him in a few months. I hope he's OK.
There is another interesting individual I often see in the park on Franklin Avenue between Doughty and Courtney streets. It is a black squirrel with a reddish tail. I have a vision of it dipping its tail in dye. So far, I haven't come up with an appropriate name.
Now that most of the leaves are off the trees, squirrel nests (dreys) are more visible. These are quite abundant in the Fourth Ward. Without looking very hard, I found seven on the block of Lord Street where my mom lives, a testament to the large population of the critters. While they can be a nuisance, they also bring pleasure to many.
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