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By Dave Coulter
We received our first snow in the wee hours of Friday morning delivered by the Great Non Blizzard of Ought Twelve. Not one to dilly dally I recognized that this snow could be our only snow so I'd better get out and do the somewhat annual Holiday Nut Toss, aka HNT.
Diligent readers of this blog may remember that the HNT is an eagerly awaited tradition within the local squirrel populations. In these challenging economic times squirrels in Oak Park seem to be weathering the storm. There's a half dozen or so that forage in the dumpsters out back and they seem as robust as ever. To see them all hopping about, in an out, dumpster diving.....well, it borders on science fiction. But I digress.
The HNT doesn't "just happen". There are strict parameters. It has to be cold and snowy (check). There has to be some nuts to toss (check). In the winter of 2011 for example, it never really got that cold, so Santa figured the little scamps could forage for themselves. Goodness! St Nick wouldn't want to breed a culture of dependency, so last year's HNT was scrapped.
Tranquil Austin Gardens was the venue for the 2012 HNT. Scoville Park, as we all know, is under construction. (Don't even get Santa's readers going about that project - or the switchboards at the North Pole will light up brighter than Rudolph's nose!) In the midday sun the park glistened.
The squirrels however seemed wary. I did my best to cluck and whistle at them, as to lure them down for the photo spread. "Spread" is the word we journalists use to describe a story layout, or a type of hummus. I don't know if they were as cold as I was, but hunger finally trumped fear, and they were off to the races. They were really off to the races when another visitor released two (two!) dogs to run at will in Austin Gardens.
This is the way of nature, I reasoned. Squirrels being fed by humans must make way for dogs to engage in unstructured nature play. In Oak Park we surely recognize this is the Golden Age for Dogs, and therefore we all must find that balance to get along. The squrirrels seemed to find their balance about 30 feet above grade.
So, the cavorting canines cut the HNT 2012 celebration a bit short. The few remaining hazelnuts and pecans were left at the base of an old Catalpa where they can be consumed in a more relaxed time. I and my empty plastic bag headed out towards Lake Street where the sun shone brightly on the busy midday scene.