LOCAL VIEW—FLYING SQUIRRELS

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(Click map to enlarge and clarify)

Last week’s storm has finally drifted up off the upper, right hand corner of the map, and the weak storm that followed it is has floated up to Labrador, with its cold front dangling down off-shore to a weak low in Georgia. That weak low will be invigorated by the first low plunging down through the Great Lakes and second low in the Mississippi Valley, and the merging low pressures are expected explode into a gale off shore.

All week long there has been worry and fret about the strength and track of a gale that doesn’t even exist. On Monday it looked like we could get a foot of snow, but by Tuesday it seemed the storm would go out to sea. Often the European model differed from the American GFS model which differed from the Canadian JEM model. Joe Bastardi pointed out where the models tended to go wrong, and what to look for and be wary of, and held a view all his own.

I was wary anyway, as the ghost of the Pacific hurricane Ana is in the Mississippi Valley, and I’ve always noticed such meteorological “ghosts” tend to add energy to storms. It is one of those cases where a sixty mile difference in where a storm forms and tracks makes a huge difference in the local weather. Considering the storm hasn’t even formed, the skill of forecasters is taxed to the limit.

Then last night’s computer models came out with a solution I wasn’t looking for at all. Rather than a single storm there would be two. This divides the energy and weakens the effects (until the two storms combine north of here, up in the Canadian Maritimes.   We might get  howling northwest winds after the storm passes, but the storm itself would be more diffused, with lighter east and northeast winds as it approached, which would be less likely to drag down cold air and make snow, and we’d be more likely to get cold rain.  Maine might get buried in snow, but we would dodge the bullet. (Maybe.)

That would be fine with me. I’m not ready for snow.  I still have potatoes to dig, and with the clocks changing next week it will be dark when the parents pick up their children at my farm-childcare, so I need to prepare to have bright fires out in the pasture for the children to gather around, with the emphasis of our childcare on the outdoors, as it is. Our kids tend to head home smelling of smoke, but have experiences children at institutional childcares miss, such as roasting potatoes in a fire, and learning to be careful near flames.

In a way I was helped by the last nor’easter, as it blew down a dead tree, which smashed into another dead tree as it fell, snapping the second tree’s trunk and making a sort of jumble I need to clean up in order to clear a much used path. That will supply some free wood.

However it also created an interruption, as the second dead tree turned out to be hollow. A member of the staff tapped on the side of the trunk, as this can bring life that was hiding within out, and sure enough, the faces of flying squirrels appeared above. We had no camera, but this picture gives you an idea how their faces look. (Photo credit: http://photovide.com/flying-squirrels/ )

Flying-Squirrels-2 Flying squirrels are quite common, but seldom seen because they are nocturnal, which is why they have such huge eyes. Most people don’t even know they are around, until they get into an attic and start gnawing everything they can get hold of, including electrical wiring, in which case people do not find their big eyes cute. (Photo credit: http://www.zappwildlife.com/flying-squirrels-athens-ga/ )

Flying Squirrels 3insulation-damage

However when they are out in the woods where they belong, they are definitely appealing creatures, if you ever see one.

I’d been telling the kids they were out there, because there were signs. I’d point out that the  pine cones were stripped of their scales, and were reduced to nothing but a central spike, and that beneath certain branches there were drifts of pine cone scales. Or I might find an owl pellet, and open the oval of fur to show the bones and teeth, and speak of dark events in the dead of night. However for the most part this was just a fairy tale told by the old coot who  watches over them. Small kids live in a dream, and fairy tales are real and reality is a fairy tale, in many ways. In some ways that may be a sort of wisdom, for reality does contain some strange marvels, such as a squirrel that glides from tree to tree in the moonlight.

Flying Squirrel 2 MM278_3

(Photo credit http://www.zappwildlife.com/flying-squirrels-athens-ga/ )

The forest is very alive at night, with many creatures preferring starlight to daylight. Besides owls, flying squirrels need to be wary of foxes and raccoons and skunks, as, like many rodents, they are near the bottom of the food chain. However an old foe, which only recently has returned to this area because it fur was so valuable that it was hunted to local extinction, is the American Marten, which is as at home in the trees as any squirrel. When I recently saw one early in the morning I thought it was a squirrel at first, and then did a double take.

American Marten am_marten(Photo credit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/45531.html )

When I’m walking in the woods, pointing at various signs and telling tales of how a flying squirrel can escape a marten when a red squirrel can’t, because they can leap into the air and glide to another tree, the children sometimes roll their eyes, as if I’m telling another one of my tall tales. I can hardly blame them. (One boy once confronted me with his hands on his hips and announced, “My Dad says there is no such thing as walking trees!”) However I find that introducing a bit of Tolkien wonder increases a forest’s enchantment, (and it also keeps kids from running off, if they think there might be a few orcs about.)

When they realized there was actually such a thing as flying squirrels, it made a bit of extra trouble for me, as they wanted to take their parents to the tree, rap the trunk with a stick, and have the two faces of the two squirrels peer out from above.  (At first the squirrels emerged and scampered about looking alarmed, but by the tenth time they only poked their heads out, and I think I detected some irritation in their faces.) What’s more, the parents wanted to see as well, even after a long day’s work.  They seemed to  forget I’d also had a long day’s work, and might want them to skedaddle and let me go put my feet up.

However I’ve got to admit it is a fine sight to see a parent and their child walking hand in hand, when the sun is so low it sits on the horizon and sends long stripes of gold beneath the boughs and between the trucks of the pines. I can’t help smiling, and thinking that maybe my childcare does some good, after all, and is something more than a predatory way of squeezing scarce cash from the skinny wallets of overworked parents half my age.

 

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