Acorns Buried in the Snow

Oak trees line the short path in Memorial Park that is part of the route from home to the train station. In the fall the acorns from these trees litter the path and the surrounding ground. The Canada geese eat them, although it’s not clear if they are a good food source for the geese or a poor substitute for the grasses that the geese also eat. The geese aren’t able to break the acorns open but will eat the meat of any acorns that have been opened by other means.

Squirrels, of course, eat the acorns. Because of the abundance of food such as acorns and the presence of only a few predators, squirrels abound in Memorial Park. Squirrels are also known to cache food in preparation for the winter—hence the expression “squirrel away”—and that fact came to mind as I observed a curious thing in the park one morning after a snow and ice storm. At various points along the path it was apparent that squirrels had dug through the accumulated snow and ice to uncover and retrieve acorns. The litter from the acorns was scattered on the snow around these holes. How did the squirrels know that the acorns were there? Could they smell them? Had they hidden the acorns or did the acorns find their way into these cracks and crevices, out of reach of the geese, by accident? If they had hidden them intentionally and did not discover them by smell it means that squirrels have some capacity, call it memory perhaps, to find something that they had previously hidden and that was now further hidden by a substantial layer of ice and snow.

It turns out that squirrels can both smell and remember the location of acorns and other nuts that they hide away. A study published in the journal Animal Behaviour in 1991 demonstrated that squirrels were more likely to be able to locate nuts that they had buried several days earlier than they were to locate nuts that other squirrels had buried in the same plot of ground.

The same snow that fell and covered up the acorns in the park also fell on the raspberry canes in our backyard and in our neighbor’s yard. Snow has been called the poor man’s fertilizer because of the amount of nitrogen that it can add to the soil. It is true that a good thunderstorm can release the same amount of nitrogen into the soil, but a good snowfall can do so more gradually because the snow melts slowly and therefore infuses the ground with nitrogen at a more gradual rate. (It’s certainly melting slowly this year.) This and subsequent snowfalls should help these raspberry canes to thrive and multiply in the spring and summer. We’re already looking forward to this year’s crop even as we’re enjoying the last few raspberries frozen from last year’s harvest.

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Whether it’s His provision for the squirrels or for us, we are grateful for God’s merciful and bountiful provision for all of His creation. It is a blessing to have even these small things to marvel at during the snowy days that are upon us.

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