Recalling Those Dandelion Days

Texas dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus)

No matter which dandelion species comes to live in the neighborhood, everyone has an opinion.

Some consider them weeds, taking the emergence of even one flower as a personal affront. For them, the wildflower demands corn gluten, digging tools, or half-used bags of Weed-B-Gon® left from previous battles. Known to curse at the sight of dandelion fluff floating through the air, they need occasional reminders to stop yelling at the children who set the seeds a-flying.

Others consider dandelions wildflowers: sturdy little delights meant for the season’s first bouquets. Some call them dinner: happily boiling the young, tender greens and serving them up alongside ham and cornbread. Old-timers still bottle a sweet, light wine from the flowers, and lucky children still learn how to weave the flowers into garlands for their hair.

I’ll confess to loving the dandelions, and consider them more wildflower than weed. But above all else, those plump, yellow flowers bring to mind one very special experience: the year the squirrel went crazy.

Anyone who’s rescued and raised a squirrel as a pet has tales to tell – especially when the relationship lasts over a span of years. Inevitably, a squirrel in the house means pecans buried in the bedsheets, gnawed furniture, scratched limbs, and a full complement of creative mischief.

It also means providing a nice, balanced diet to maintain those bright eyes and that fluffy tail: a freezer full of acorns, fresh fungi in season, a full complement of assorted greens, and an occasional orange popsicle before bed. As everyone who’s lived with a squirrel knows, if the squirrel’s not happy, nobody’s happy, and popsicles made my squirrel happy.

 

One year, about mid-January, it became obvious that my squirrel wasn’t happy. He seemed bored and lethargic; none of his usual diversions gave him pleasure. He stopped lying atop the front door, scanning the traffic in the streets. He stopped dragging around his tennis-ball-in-a-sock, or demanding ear scratches. He even stopped watching Letterman, or begging for popsicles.

At first, I assumed creeping age was slowing him down, causing him to become crotchety. Then, he became a lot crotchety. The same critter who’d loved draping himself across my shoulder and nuzzling my ear suddenly took to flying off the refrigerator, grabbing hold of the nearest passer-by and biting their ear. He scolded everything that moved, and started chasing the bird. His silent, malevolent glare took on a certain intensity. Anyone who experienced it could be forgiven a shiver of fear, or an irrational belief that a two-pound squirrel intended to take over the house by force.

Eventually, after a fit of particularly bad temper, I snapped back. Surprised by my response, he ran to the back of the house and scooted straight into a closet, burrowing down among the hiking boots and coolers. That’s where I found him, digging into a plastic bag as though his life depended on it.

A strange but pleasant odor permeated the closet; it reminded me of a brewery. Puzzled, I pulled open the bag, and found mesquite beans that I’d collected, carried home as a souvenir, and promptly forgot. Thanks to their high sugar content and perfect closet conditions, the beans had fermented. My furry little darling was flying high on a South Texas version of home-brew, sometimes called atole by those who produce it for human consumption.

Even unfermented mesquite beans appeal to cattle, horses and goats, as well as to an assortment of wild creatures. When the beans ferment in the wild, cattle who’ve sampled them will do their best to keep bellying up to the bar.

In the case of my no-longer-free-range squirrel, closing the bar was easy. Getting him clean and sober required a little more effort. It took over a week for the effects of the beans to wear off, and during detox he was belligerent, contemptuous, and confrontational.

Unpredictably aggressive, he engaged in fits of foot-stomping rage. He became particularly fond of jumping up onto a bar near the kitchen, taking the phone cord in his teeth and daring someone to do something about it. Told, “No!” by one of his humans, the previously sweet little woodland creature would curl his forepaws into fists, stomp his little feet on the bar, and chatter away in perfect imitation of a two-year old throwing a tantrum.

Eventually, the aggressiveness ended. Still, he seemed lethargic; uninterested in life. Tempted with his favorite foods, he turned away. He slept a good bit, still refused ear rubs, and generally moped around in his log house. Despite everyone’s concern, the squirrel gurus counseled patience: and so, through the rest of January and all of February, we waited.

Finally, in March, as the sun rose higher in the sky and the grass began to green, the first dandelion appeared in the yard.

On impulse, I plucked and washed it, then carried it to the large aviary which served as the squirrel’s home. Whether sleeping or brooding, he was in his log, so I opened the door and rapped on his house. When I heard a rustle, I rapped again, and a tiny face appeared.

When I showed him the dandelion, he hopped out and sat on his feeding log, waiting for his treat. Once he had it in his paws, he sampled a petal or two, nibbled on a leaf, and then, as neatly as you please, bit off the end of the stem. As the milky sap began to collect at the bottom, he lapped up the drops with his tiny tongue, for all the world like an oenophile sampling a particularly fine wine.

I kept the dandelions coming, and within days he was back to his usual self, hanging out on top of the door and hiding pecans in my shoes. Was it the dandelion that made him happy? The coming of spring? The simple passage of time? There’s no way to know. Perhaps in the end it was a combination of all three, but it hardly mattered. The dandelion gods were back in their heaven, and all was right with the world: at least, all was right in the world of one previously miserable squirrel.

Today, looking around this soft, early spring, enjoying the already-blooming dandelions, waiting for the leafing of the mesquite, I take enormous pleasure in remembering my sweet, funny squirrel. I remember my belligerent, mesquite-bean-crazed squirrel somewhat less fondly, but the experience we shared leads me to wonder about people I see around me now: people who are behaving precisely like my poor, inebriated squirrel.

What have they gotten into? I wonder. What’s left them so belligerent, contemptuous, and confrontational? What could have warped their world view so badly that their life has been reduced to a clenched-jaw, foot-stomping rage?”

In truth, I don’t know. What I do know is that spring is coming, and the dandelions will bloom. The mesquite will blossom again, and the cycle will continue. Someone in West Texas will give atole a try, and vinters around the state will bottle dewberry, agarita and grape. They’ll all be good; there’s no doubt about that.

But if someone gives me a choice, I’m sticking with the squirrel. I’ll take the dandelions, any day at all.

Comments always are welcome.

109 thoughts on “Recalling Those Dandelion Days

    1. Fixes for human issues rarely are so simple. I do think that the longer days of spring, and more sunshine, might help with some of the grumpiness and ennui that’s abroad in the land. I guess we’ll see if that’s true in a month or so.

    1. I’ve not yet seen any of the non-native dandelions ( Taraxacum officinale), but a few of our natives (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus) were appearing a couple of weeks ago. Now that we’ve traded warmth for coolth, they’ve probably ceased blooming, but they’ll soon be back: one of the first signs of our spring.

  1. I have never heard of squirrel house-pet before – and certainly never such a delightful story, with a profound link to human behaviour. Dandelions are wild flowers, I agree,

    1. It was an experience, believe me. Let’s just say the squirrel wasn’t the only one who bonded when he was a baby. We’re lucky to have two kinds of dandelions: your sort, and another that bears the name mostly because it resembles yours in appearance. Once ours start blooming, there no doubt will be a photo or two; if I’m lucky, I’ll catch an insect enjoying the early pollen and nectar.

    1. I’m especially pleased that you mow around the squirrels. They have a hard enough time avoiding the cars, and now that we’re edging toward mating season, they’re going to become even more silly and careless. I looked, but couldn’t find my favorite squirrel cartoon; it was published in the New Yorker years ago. A mother squirrel was fussing at her youngster at the side of the road, saying, “How many times have I told you to run both ways?”

  2. Your story was completely engaging, Linda. I, too, have never heard of a squirrel as a pet and your beautifully crafted passages had me wondering whatever was next. His tennis ball in a sock, watching Letterman, orange popsicles. I loved how you brought us through your mystery at the time, his uncharacteristic grumpiness. And then the discovery of the fermented mesquite beans was such an “aha” moment. And the joy of dandelions could not be any more pure than in this healing endeavor with your squirrel. Truly an endearing story and much appreciated.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed all the aspects of the tale, Jet. It wasn’t always fun and games with the little beastie, but losing him was as hard as losing any cat or dog. I had to limit the stories, but I’ll add that the tennis ball in a sock served a dual purpose. It could be a toy, but sometimes it served as a way for him to say, “Enough! I’m going to bed!” He’d carry it up to the log where he slept, go inside, and then stuff it into the hole: for all the world as though he was closing a door. I suppose that’s exactly what he was doing.

      He loved to drink from the kitchen faucet, too. He’d jump into the sink, lay upside down under the faucet, and then chatter until someone came to turn the water on. Over the course of eight years, he trained me well.

        1. Anyone who says the creatures around us don’t have personalities hasn’t been around very many creatures! They have as many quirks and preferences as any human — that’s a good part of getting to know one of them.

  3. Just to be clear, my vote goes to dandelions-as-wildflowers!

    Such a charming story to start my Friday–thanks for that! I’ve known a few folks who had squirrel pets (all rescued babies) and when I volunteered at Austin Wildlife Rescue, squirrels were among my favorite animals: so bright and funny and engaging. Great post, Linda!

    1. I’m sure there are plenty of pollinators who are happy for those dandelions, too — whether introduced or native. Watching a baby squirrel grow up is wonderful fun. Given how many orphans there are, it’s good they’re so appealing! It is a good thing that the squirrel departed this world before Dixie Rose showed up. If I’d still had a squirrel in my life, I might not have let her in the house!

  4. I remembered this story but sure enjoyed reading it again! What a memorable character.
    The old folks in Pennsylvania would cook up some dandelion greens in spring, before they blossomed, as a “spring tonic,” it seems to have worked as a great tonic for your little pal.
    One summer when I worked in Philadelphia, I was eating my lunch in a park, and a squirrel fished a half-eaten hamburger out of the trash. I’d never seen a squirrel eating meat before, and he sat square in front of me, staring at me the whole time. Despite how much I outweighed him, having a carnivorous squirrel maybe sizing me up for the second course, kind of made me nervous. I kept eating lunch in that park, but kept my eyes open, in case there was a gang of these meat-eaters.

    1. I’m really surprised by your tale of the burger-eating squirrel. Apparently I shouldn’t have been; article after article says that they’re omnivores, willing to eat snakes and lizards as well as discarded burgers. I do see them rummaging around in the trash bins at the marinas now and then. I need to pay more attention, and see what they’re finding there. I assumed they were ‘just looking’ — it never occurred to me that there might be some yummy tidbits there.

      As for large, carnivorous squirrels, here’s how things are going over at the University in Ann Arbor. Got to keep an eye on those biomedical researchers!

  5. Dear Linda,
    we don’t like dandelions as they have the tendency to take over the flowerbeds. The old boys on the allotments love to produce their dandelion wine which has a long tradition here. We don’t like it.
    We keep the squirrels away from our house as they cause fires by gnawing on the power lines. Nobody would get the idea to keep squirrels as pets because several houses around here burned down because the of the gnawing of the squirrels. Neverless we have many squirrels in our garden entertaining us with their artistic movements in our trees.
    Keep well
    The Fab Four of Cley
    :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. But think of the advantages! Dandelions in the garden beds give gardeners something to do, and making dandelion wine keeps the old guys out of the bars. I’ll grant you that squirrel caused fires are wholly negative, though. I’ve never heard of a fire caused by a squirrel, but every now and then a section of town loses power when one gets into an electrical transformer and fries itself to death. I’ve always assumed those were accidents, rather than squirrel suicides!

      They are entertaining, that’s for sure. They’re wonderful acrobats, and smart as can be: both of which make dealing with them a challenge.

  6. What an endearing story. Enraged by fermented mesquite beans, who would have thought it? And I agree with your analogy of society right now…perhaps humans need to go back to eating dandelion greens like they did in the old days.

    1. I’d come across intoxication among birds before, especially robins who’d fed on fermented berries, but it never occurred to me that my squirrel could be drunk. Believe me, it was a relief to figure out what was wrong. I’m having a harder time figuring out some people, but I’m working on it!

  7. What a wonderful squirrel story! We love dandelions here, and eat the greens. I grew up eating dandelions greens and poke shoots. An elderly friend used to cut the first dandelion blooms in spring and drink the sap from the stem.

    1. Your friend’s sap-sipping reminds me of clover sipping when we were kids. There wasn’t much nectar in a clover, but it was wonderfully sweet. Now I’m wondering what dandelion sap tastes like. I’ll have to give it a try when the flowers begin appearing.

      I’ve never tried poke sallet, and in fact never had heard of it until I moved south: that’s when I learned the song, too. I’ve tucked away a good bit of history about the plant for when I get some decent photos turn it into a post. The colors of the stems and berries are fabulous.

    1. As well it should! A grumpy squirrel’s hilarious — as long as it doesn’t want to take out its frustrations on you. Mine never bit, but when he was in a really bad mood, he’d grab my fingertip in his mouth and press down just hard enough to say, “I’m not going to bite you, but I could, and you ought to remember that!”

  8. Wonderful tale, Linda! You’re braver than I in keeping a squirrel indoors. It’s bad enough having to watch Monkey like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t chew on things he shouldn’t or get into mischief. But gee, what a great learning experience — kind of like having a scientific experiment right at hand.

    1. Believe me — he had the run of the house, but not all the time. He had a huge outdoor aviary where his log and his climbing branches were. That’s where he went at night, and whenever someone wasn’t around to supervise him. He still could create havoc when I thought I was keeping an eye on him, but we never had any real problems. He did like to ‘taste’ things, and there were innumerable pieces of furniture, laptop cases, and such that had two tiny, parallel tooth marks on them.

    1. They’re great entertainment, as well as being clever. A few of my friends battle them at their bird feeders, but as far as I know, no one ever has outwitted a squirrel. The best I ever could do was distract mine for a bit; when he remembered what mischief he’d been up to, he’d go right back to it.

  9. Not remembering whether the part of your essay beginning with “people who are behaving precisely like my poor, inebriated squirrel” was in the 2016 version, I checked back and found that it was. Now, six years later, your questions seem more germane than ever: “What’s left them so belligerent, contemptuous, and confrontational? What could have warped their world view so badly that their life has been reduced to a clenched-jaw, foot-stomping rage?”

    1. Ah, yes. I paused when I got to that section and pondered it myself. It was interesting to read it in the context of hearing a selection from Barbara Jordan’s speeches last night: speeches that ranged from immigration to entitlements to voting rights. How we moved from Jordan to Sheila Jackson Lee and her ilk is both fascinating and horrifying.

  10. I am probably in the camp of trying to get rid of dandelions, though I don’t do this very aggressively. I will pull the larger ones up from my yard when I am out mowing or whatever, but I don’t engage in chemical warfare.

    I know they are edible but I have never felt like eating one.

    To me, squirrels are something that destroys my patio furniture and makes my dogs bark.

    1. I’m not about to cook up a mess of dandelion greens, either, but I do like the flowers. When I was a kid, I always picked bouquets of them for my mom. Now, I appreciate their early blooms for the pollen and nectar they provide to the pollinators; since they’re among the first flowers of the year, they’re really important.

      Sorry about your furniture, but the squirrels do make for great ‘dog tv.’

  11. Hi Linda, I did not read this post the first time around and so enjoyed it this morning. I have never heard of anyone having a squirrel for a pet. Here in NorCal we view squirrels as tree rats. They dig everything up, carry fleas, and are downright ornery. Sorry for all you squirrel lovers out there!

    1. They are ornery, but its the ornery that can surface when a really smart and creative creature gets bored. See: eight year old boys. Here, they’re called limb rats, but it’s a different expression for the same thing. I never knew they carry fleas, but since mine lived a fairly isolated life, that could explain that. I know all the downsides, but I guess I don’t care.

      However: do keep an eye on Lagniappe. I intend to be fair and balanced, as the saying goes, and a literary giant’s view of the critters is coming up next!

    1. Dandelions, squirrels, and humans don’t make for the most natural trifecta, but like most good stories, it’s the juxtaposition of odd characters and improbable situations that make the tale. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  12. I love dandelions, and I always love your squirrel tales! And yes, I wonder what has people so enraged all the time. When I get on my high horse I usually get tired & fall off, but so many people are taking up permanent residence on theirs!

    1. You falling off your high horse made me laugh right out loud. I sort of know the dynamic. My mother used to get irritated with me because I seemed incapable of holding a grudge. I always thought it took more energy than it was worth. For her part, Mom didn’t hold many grudges, but when she found one she liked, she could hold on like crazy.

      1. I have a TERRIBLE time remembering grudges! I’ll think to myself, “Self, you are mad at so-and-so. Why are you mad? Well if you can’t remember then I guess the slate has been wiped clean.” This possibly is also related to my Enneagram 9-ness.

        1. Well, as my beloved Martin Luther said a few centuries ago, “You can’t keep the birds from flying around your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.”

  13. You got a squirrel drunk? That might be the best thing I’ve read this week. What an absolutely delightful story. I was thinking as I read about your love for dandelions that I remember when I was a teenager there was a neighbor family that made wine from them. I never had any, of course. But it does remind of the time before manicured lawns.

    1. I just found this video of a squirrel that got drunk on fermented crab apples, and I’ve been sitting here laughing myself silly. I’m glad he made it to his tree. I’ll bet he had a heck of a hangover.

      I remember dandelion, rhubarb, and cherry wine from my childhood. I liked the dandelion flowers and a nice rhubarb-strawberry pie, but I didn’t like those wines. I only got little sips of any of them, but trying them was enough.

  14. I have heard that all parts of the dandelion can promote good health. Your little alcoholic squirrel seemed to know that when he began his 12 steps and took the first flower from your hand. How lucky you were to know each other even through the down times.

    1. That squirrel was my first real pet, since I hadn’t had a dog or cat while I was growing up, and the ones I had in Liberia were a little different than what we think of as ‘pets’ here. It was interesting coming to understand the squirrel mind: at least, to the extent that any of us can. A few of my friends were sure I’d lost my mind when they’d come over and discover the freezer full of acorns, but I honestly think keeping him on as close to a natural diet as possible is what helped him to live to such a ripe old age.

  15. A drunken squirrel – who would have thought ! Great story, Linda.
    I’ve told you in the past that dandelions are not very abundant here, but we had small, pale lilac flower that from a distance look like snow on the lawn. I finally found out that they are called Oxalis.

    1. Ah, ha! We have Oxalis here, too. Most of our local ones are pink, but there are yellow species, too. I use Barkeeper’s friend from time to time in my work — it takes rust off fiberglass, for one thing — and it’s 10% oxalic acid. Strangely enough, oxalis plants contain oxalic acid, as do rhubarb and beet greens. I’ve never tried removing rust with the flowers, but it would be a fun experiment.

        1. One trick I learned is to make a paste of the powder and water. If you keep it moist, you don’t even have to scrub; it will just dissolve the rust away on a smooth surface like fiberglass or porcelain.

    1. That’s right. I was so surprised to learn there is a ‘Texas dandelion’ when l I moved here. I think it’s prettier than the European version, but the pollinators probably don’t care about ‘pretty.’ When I had the squirrel, I hadn’t yet met ‘our’ dandelion. I wonder now if he would have liked it as well.

  16. I greatly enjoyed reading about your pet squirrel, Linda, and his idiosyncratic antics. I have never had the good luck or pluck to keep a squirrel as a pet, but I imagine one would never forget that experience. I’m glad his unhappy phase ended with the arrival of springtime, sunshine, dandelions, or a combination of the above. Those gifts are all bestowed by nature, and if we humans accepted them as graciously we might not feel the need to growl, grimace, and stamp our feet.

    1. Generally, people plan to have a dog or a cat as a pet, but both the squirrel and the prairie dog who followed showed up as a result of odd circumstance. I never would have chosen to have either as a pet, but once they appeared, there was nothing for it but to give them the best life possible. As for ‘never forgetting’ the experience, my mother never forgot the day she opened my freezer and discovered it full of bagged acorns. She told that story repeatedly, always with the appropriate eye roll.

        1. I’ve often thought that’s why some people so enjoy animal/bird rescue work. While the goal is release, the chance to experience wild creatures ‘up close and personal’ is rare and delightful.

    1. Some stories are too good not to share, and when I learned there was such a thing as Squirrel Appreciation Day, I just had to pull this one out. Of course, I pulled out the peanuts, too, and made sure the furry ones got an extra ration as their treat for the day.

  17. What an entertaining story. I’ve never heard of squirrels being pets, but since we don’t have them in Australia, that’s hardly surprising.

    1. I wondered whether there ever had been squirrels there, and I found that two species had been tried.The American gray squirrel was introduced to Melbourne in about 1880, and the Northern palm squirrel was introduced to Perth around 1898. The gray squirrel’s gone extinct; it just didn’t thrive. There still are some palm squirrels, but they’re only found in the Perth zoo. It’s probably just as well that they didn’t thrive. Who knows what havoc they could have wreaked on the environment if they had.

  18. It seems we almost always had a squirrel scampering around the house when we were kids. Sometimes, it was on purpose. The cutest were the flying squirrels.

    As for Dandelions, I’m with Eeyore:

    “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”
    – A. A. Milne, Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh

    Any plant that can produce wine, adds flavor to a salad, accompanies pork just fine when mixed with other greens (and a bit of pepper sauce), enhances a child’s hair and, as Gini just pointed out, makes a mud pie look really special – well, thank goodness we have gotten to know them.

    Superb writing on a Friday afternoon has made our day a better one. Thank you.

    1. I’d never seen a flying squirrel until I started checking in on the feederwatch cam at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods. I happened to stop by one night for no good reason, and there they were. I had no idea what I was seeing, until someone in the accompanying chat provided the ID. Such fun!

      Tell Gini I like her suggestion for the mud pies. I never thought about that. We always held them under each others’ chins to see if we turned yellow and, hence, “liked butter.” Of course everyone always did. Dandelions are more than willing to share their pollen.

      Here’s a special added treat: a real-time observation of another squirrel who imbibed a little too much. All it needs a “Show Me the Way to Go Home” playing in the background!

  19. What a fabulous read. I love that you had a squirrel pet. They can be pretty engaging even while wild. I get dandelions out of my garden, but in lawns, eh, not so much. Plus, you can always eat the greens. People HAVE gotten meaner over the two years of Covid, haven’t they. It’s sort of the internet troll effect in some cases, I think: they’ve got a mask on, nobody can ID them, etc. But spring will help, I think. I’ve seen crocus cones and daff shoots, so it’s coming next month…

    1. We’re in real winter now, at least for us: temperatures at freezing or just above, and wind chills well below. I don’t mind it, actually. It’s good to feel winter in a way that will make spring even sweeter — although there are signs of spring already, including squirrels chasing one another in a way that suggests mating season’s either here or not far away.

      It’s been interesting to observe some behavioral changes since mask wearing became the exception here rather than the rule. There’s more smiling; more casual conversation; more eye contact among drivers with a consequent increased willingness to let people in to the traffic flow, and so on. Whatever benefit masks offer in terms of disease prevention, their dehumanizing effect clearly affected behavior. I don’t know if anyone’s studied that, and I’m not even sure how a study could be designed, but the anecdotal evidence is strong.

  20. What a delightful tale. As for the grumpiness of the squirrel, he got over his addiction and became a better squirrel. People’s grumpiness is their lack of appreciation in the simple dandelion and growing grasses. They walk around and wait in line for RATS, all masked and incognito.

    1. Not understanding at first what a RAT might be, I imagined your fellow citizens lined up with baskets, awaiting their allotment of rodents. Now, I’ve figured it out. It occurs to me that the whole scene could become amusing beyond words if a different sort of rodent was being doled out. Squirrels are rodents, after all; being given a basket of squirrels would take a person’s mind off any other troubles they might have, including a certain virus!

  21. A fun post to read. I’m more fond of dandelions than I am of squirrels, though!
    My drunk wildlife story has to do with backyard birds. In the fall in my mom’s Central California yard, birds would start flying into the sliding glass doors in numbers. Thump! A bit of observation suggested that the birds were chomping on pyracantha berries that fermented on the vine.

    1. I’ve seen robins drunk on berries, too. At this point, I don’t know if they were pyracantha berries, but they could have been. Apparently waxwings will feast themselves silly, too. My little guy wasn’t the only drunk squirrel in the world. I don’t know why it took me so long, but I finally went to YouTube and searched for other examples. I found one that I can’t stop laughing at, especially since no damage seems to have been done.

  22. The inimitable Ray Bradbury wrote a book called Dandelion Wine — a beautiful if slightly skewed tribute to his midwestern childhood. He used to help his grandfather make it, and the book is a delightful evocation of the best kind of grandfather-grandson relationship. Now that I think about it, I may have to get it down and read it again one of these days. Bradbury is a very evocative writer whose use of language was superb. He used to be called a “Science Fiction” writer and some of his works are that, but Dandelion Wine is what I call Norman Rockwellian magical realism, to coin a genre. . .

    In the grounds around the building where I live, the squirrels, doves and grackles put on quite a soap opera. I could watch the squirrel acrobatics all day. Those cheeky little perishers can climb straight up a brick wall!

    1. Written in 1957 and set in the late 1920s or so, Dandelion Wine is a tale that’s as reminiscent of my midwestern childhood as the film A Christmas Story. I love your phrase “Norman Rockwellian magical realism” — it’s just perfect.

      Speaking of bird/squirrel interactions, my mockingbirds are back, and they’re not happy to find squirrels in their bird feeders. Never mind that they don’t eat the same food; it seems to be the principle of the thing. Well, that — or the fact that squirrels will be given to raiding their nests for eggs in a few weeks. Those bird brains clearly remember.

    1. They are smart, clever, and blessed or cursed with strong personalities: no question about that. I do understand the irritation, frustration, and occasional obsession with eliminating their presence that emerges in gardeners, though, so I’ll pay a little tribute to that in my next post on Lagniappe!

  23. The dandelion is the first flower a child gives its mother. There is a preciousness in that.

    I don’t think I knew you ever had a pet squirrel before and I confess it’s a creature I would have never imagined was a pet. Were you young? In Texas or before? I have visions of the house (having had a squirrel or someone of similar size take over the inside of the cottage one winter!). I’m glad he had his outside space and suspect he was well supervised within. I’ve never seen a squirrel that was particularly tame and good with people but oh, I do love watching them play and run in the yard. Chasing up and down trees is such fun! I must admit, I’d never even considered the idea of an inebriated squirrel. It really is rather delicious when you think about it — although I suspect more so in the abstract that in reality!

    1. The squirrel arrived well into my adulthood — about the mid-1990s, I’d say. It was in the years when I was an avid sailor; here we are aboard a sailboat. As you can see, he’s a young teenager at that point. When he was a youngster, I’d take him to work with me so I could maintain his feeding schedule. There are stories.

      If you need a giggle, you’ll enjoy this video of a poor squirrel who had a few too many fermented crabapples. Nothing bad happens, but it’s hilarious.

  24. An amusing story, Linda. I feel just like your squirrel this time of year. Not enough light, fresh greens and flowers!
    I’m a big fan of dandelions, as are bees– the dandies often are their first meal of the season. All those golden orbs delight me, what’s not to love?

    1. After just seeing your photos of your deep cold, and all that ice, I can appreciate your longing for greens and color! Ice is nice, but flowers are better, at least in my view. I have noticed the days getting longer. One benefit of several cloudy days in a row during this season is that the change is more apparent when the sun finally comes out.

      When I first learned to love dandelions, I never gave a thought to how happy the bees would be to see the first of the season. Now, I always check the first ones to see who else might be visiting.

  25. I’ll get the negative reaction over with first: The American grey squirrel is considered a pest here and any farmer or pest controller will shoot it. Naturally, I don’t; I feed the damned pest via my bird table. the grey squirrel all over these islands (apart from Scotland which still has a small population) has evicted the native red squirrel, a much smaller, less invasive species.

    Having said all that I admit to adoring your story of the grey squirrel and its shenanigans; it’s a darling tale and well worth laying before your readership.

    As for dandelions, pet rabbits love them, the larger and juicier the better. I used to dig some up in my garden and take them to a friend and we’d feed them to her rabbit who simply couldn’t get enough.

    I have swathes of them in the lawn (lawn? hah) but I think I’ll have to follow your example and allow them garden room too. Consider myself beaten, in other words.

    1. I smiled at your tale of the invasive Grey squirrel. My pet was a Fox squirrel, which happens to be reddish, but which differs from your Red Squirrel. I’d never seen a Grey squirrel until a few years ago: long after my pet departed this mortal coil. They’re known here as Eastern Greys since they’re native to the eastern half of the U.S., and Texas is at the far western edge of their range. So, we’ve both experienced Greys moving into our neighborhoods.

      I didn’t realize your Red squirrels have ‘those’ ears until I picked up a copper baking mold at an estate sale. When I looked at the image of the squirrel embossed into the mold, I wondered why it had long, pointed ears. Eventually I figured out that it was the European Red squirrel, and my mold may have come from your part of the world.

      Your digging of dandelion greens is akin to my collecting freshly fallen acorns for my squirrel. There was a bit of a trick to it, since any that already had been invaded by insects would be rejected by my pet. I spent more than a few hours closely examining acorns before plunking them in the freezer.!

  26. I’ve never heard of a pet squirrel before, and didn’t realize they could live in a house and be so affectionate (when they weren’t under the influence, that is). But I remember being sick once and spending quite a long time laying in bed, watching the squirrels in the tree outside my window. They were very entertaining! I know some people consider them pests, but I rather like seeing them in my yard. And yeah, I do wish we could figure out exactly what has so many people acting like a drunk squirrel these days. I would blame it on the pandemic, but it was there even before that nightmare started. I think the pandemic has made it worse, though….most people are on their last nerve!

    1. Well, he actually lived in his own very well secured ‘house,’ and only came into the human house when he could be supervised. At night and when there was no one at home, he stayed in his big aviary — usually napping away in his hollow log. But he was fun to have running the house, and only occasionally troublesome. Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos of him since I didn’t have a digital camera at that point, and mostly just didn’t think of taking pictures. But there are a few, and I’m glad I have them.

      You’re right that we’ve been sliding downhill for some time. When I heard the President in Q&A session today call a reporter a ‘stupid [expletive deleted]’, all I could think was that the sniping, nastiness, and apparent eagerness to denigrate others is starting from the top, and that’s not doing us a bit of good.

  27. Linda, I’ve never known someone who has raised a squirrel. Now I have – and I’m utterly fascinated. Your squirrel had quite a personality – even when under the influence. Who knew that dandelions would return the situation back to normal. My pet rabbit loved them, and the local chipmunks stuff their little cheeks with them until you’d think they’d pop.

    If that’s what it takes to bring back some normalcy out of all this Covid Rage, then I say, “Dandelions for everyone!” ~Terri

    1. If only some dandelions could do the trick! It’s clear to me that the pandemic has been used by some as a tool to create unnecessary division and havoc, but I fear it’s going to take some time yet for leadership to come around to instituting some reasonable changes. I’ll just keep handing out pecans to the squirrels and wait for it to be over!

      As for raising a squirrel — anyone who does learns a lot, and does some apparently weird things. Still, what better way to keep a tiny baby safe and warm than carrying it around in a pouch? I certainly laugh when I think about it.

  28. I just cannot imagine a squirrel in the house. All the mayhem you described made me smile and glad it was not occurring in my house (especially with the current feline residents). Though, now come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind an aviary for the cats…. How long did you have him? I learned recently they can live up to 20 years if indoors.

    1. Well, maybe this photo will help you imagine it. This is one of the few photos I have of him, since at that point I didn’t have a digital camera and wasn’t in the photo-taking habit. He was pretty good at opening a coffee can, but I never could train him to actually make coffee and bring it to me.

      I had him for eight years, until he died of congestive heart failure. How do I know that? He became increasingly lethargic, so off he went to visit a vet in Houston who specialized in such creatures; he confirmed the diagnosis with test$$$. One night, he just died in his sleep. I missed him for a while, but he had a great life. One of his favorite things was to go sailing. A rocking boat or a rocking tree limb’s all the same to a squirrel.

  29. What a great tale! And a great discovery to solve a mystery. As you said to someone above, if only human attitudes were so simply cured. You were so lucky to have this furry friend and to experience his world.

      1. Isn’t that fun? We always knew where he’d been — on the boats or in the house — because he liked to ‘taste’ wood. We’d find tiny, parallel toothmarks here and there.

    1. Cartier-Bresson once said, “You just have to live, and live will give you pictures.” A corollary could be, “You just have to live, and life will give you experiences” — or squirrels! It was an interesting experience, for sure. If someone had said, “Hey. How about adopting a squirrel and keeping it for eight years,” I probably would have said no. But about year two I realized I was in it for the long haul, and it was worth it.

  30. The vivid color of the dandelion should be enough to make people happier! At least makes me happier! Good to know your dandelion made your squirrel more…alive. Nice story, thanks.

    I remember when my brother was student he had a squirrel as a pet, it was named “gipsy” and learned to go free in my brother’s room but not outside! Perhaps afraid of a unknown territory!

    1. I saw my first dandelions of the spring last weekend. They certainly made me happy, but not as happy as the pretty butterfly that was feeding from them; dandelions are one of the earliest and most dependable food sources for our insects. It won’t be long before the wild squirrels are nibbling on them, too.

      Gipsy is a perfect name for a squirrel. They do love to roam — but it’s better for the pets to stay inside. There are fewer cars to dodge!

  31. This has to be one of my favourites stories, and it is told so well! When our girls were little they named a few of the squirrels in our yard, but they were wild. They really are the most entertaining animals to watch, and I could well imagine them to be lovely pets. People say the same about skunks (descented, of course). As for dandelions, I tried making the wine once but it was a bust. Also, the recipe was heavily reliant on raisins, so a success would have been more like a white wine with a dandelion bouquet – which is not so bad when you think about it.

    1. There were so many tales that came out of those years. He even liked to go sailing! After all, a moving boat’s no more difficult for a squirrel than a moving tree limb! He was sweet and affectionate, except when he wasn’t, and he lived a darned good life.

      I grew up with people who made dandelion, rhubarb, and cherry wine, and to be honest, I thought it was so-so. It was exciting to be given a sip now and then, but I preferred to use rhubarb leaves as sunshades, and eat my cherries in pie.

  32. I thoroughly enjoyed this squirrel tale! He sounds like quite a character. As for dandelions, my husband always kept them out of our grassy yard. I recall picking them when I was a child, then holding them under my chin which when viewed by another was said to reveal I liked butter if there was a yellow reflection on my skin.

  33. Love your squirrel story. I had one for a pet for about 2 years. As a ten-year-old, I alone raised him from a tiny blind baby to adult hood. He was released back the wild. And yes, they do love greenery. especially tender young bud in spring. The mesquite bean affair is too funny.

    1. I’m so glad you had the experience with your baby squirrel, Yvonne. They really are charming animals, if a little unpredictable and sometimes overly frisky. As for those beans: I’d sometimes seen, and often read about, birds overindulging in fermented berries, but it never occurred to me that a squirrel would do the same. After the incident with the beans, I wondered whether squirrels and other animals might be affected in the same way with berries, but I never did any research. Then, I found this video. Question answered!

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