Monday, March 25, 2013

Natural defenses

Storm Virgil may be messing with us now, but Saturday could not have been more beautiful. And Friday wasn't so bad either.

Not to squander the opportunity, I spent the two day winter respite in a marathon of yard work. I felt the pain Sunday, but it felt good to make some progress on the spring to do list.

First up, clearing the downed trees in one of the new pastures. When we built the barn last fall, we probably cut down 15 trees in the near vicinity. One or two, a beautiful mature pine and a nice tulip poplar, had to go because they were smack dab in the way. But the rest were sacrificed for safety reasons -- wild cherries (poisonous), a black walnut (can cause founder), some honey locusts (the thorns from hell). (Not to worry, we still have dozens of each left. Sigh.) We didn't get them all cleared away before winter hit. Three cherries still lay in the new pasture. I managed to clear two completely. One remains.

In addition to clearing the downed trees, I was able to prune an ancient apple tree and two old peach trees. I think the peaches will have to go, there just wasn't much to save on either tree, but the apple tree is huge, healthy, and produced very tasty apples last year. I also took another stab at shearing the thorns of one of the honey locusts out in the pasture. The thorns came off like a dream with my new pruning saw, but created quite the nasty pile on the ground that I haven't cleaned up yet.

Those thorns on the honey locust are just frightening. When I was researching ways to deal with them, I read a theory that the tree evolved the thorns to keep wooly mammoths and other tall prehistoric creatures from eating them.  Apparently the thorns don't appear any higher than 15 feet or so, even on a 40 foot tree. So the theory goes. As I wound up my work, with the evening settling around me, I checked out my trees, trying to decide if I believed that theory. I discovered this.

It's a squirrel's nest, buried in the middle of the thorns about 10 feet off the ground. Truly this has got to be the Fort Knox of squirrels' nests. I would never have recognized it under all the bristle, save for catching the gleam of one small squirrel eye, watching me as I worked. Unfortunately, my iPhone doesn't capture that detail.

The squirrel was frozen in place while I scrabbled around the tree and at first I thought maybe it was some ancient petrified remains like I find every so often around here -- somehow impaled or imprisoned in the tree. How on earth could it have gotten up that scary trunk and into that hidey hole?

I found out soon enough. When I walked away, the poor squirrel, feeling stalked maybe, dashed up the trunk, across the high, thornless branches, into a neighboring tree and down to the ground as fast as he could. I watched him go. He eventually evicted a downey woodpecker from a hole high in a smooth-barked silver maple behind the house.

Apparently Fort Knox wasn't his taste. He preferred a penthouse suite.