Can I Forgive the Squirrels?

Squirrel relaxed and resting on the railing of our deck

This morning, I watched out my window as a squirrel climbed into the branches of the peach tree, going up and down several branches until she or he stopped at a bagged peach. She nibbled through the small branch it hung from, cutting the branch right off. I could see the leaves and twigs fall to the ground, even though the squirrel was hidden by other branches. Then, she took the unripe peach in her mouth–still in the bag–and carried it down and away from the orchard to some other roosting post in another tree. I didn’t yell or bang on the screen or try to stop her, as I have done on other mornings, because all the peaches have already been destroyed.

Over the last couple weeks, I had to remove over twenty of the bagged peaches after birds or squirrels left bite marks and the fruit had dropped off its stem, to the bottom of the bag. Some of the peaches had only a c-shaped mark that made me wonder about curculio. A couple seemed untouched. But I had seen the squirrels in the trees going after them. Then, a couple days ago I discovered that virtually every peach in a little protective bag had dropped to the bottom of the bag, and all of the peaches that I hadn’t bagged had disappeared completely. The peaches were all still green and hard, nowhere near ripe. I had just read about people using a spray made with peppermint oil and cinnamon sticks to deter squirrels, and was about to try it, when I discovered there were no peaches left to save.

Green peach with a bite missing, dropped to the bottom of a mesh bag, with another nearby.

I’ve been grieving the last few days. I put so much effort into this peach tree all through the spring and summer. Pruning it carefully. Six holistic sprays with beneficial nutrients. Three “Surround” kaolin clay sprays. Picking off leaves with peach-leaf-curl one by one. I was so hopeful when hundreds of little peach-lets started growing! I thinned the peaches so that none was too close to another. I put 80 little protective mesh bags on individual peaches. I even bought toy snakes and an owl to try to scare off the birds and squirrels. None of it stopped them. I had gotten only 3 cherries from the cherry trees, but the peaches seemed to be the saving grace for the little orchard I have been tending so carefully. Last year Margy and I had been able to eat only one ripe peach–and it tasted so good. So this year, I tried all the things to care for and protect them, imagining that taste in my mouth. And now they are gone.

I’ve also felt deeply shaken in my capacity as a permaculture gardener. Here is this little food forest with 2 cherry trees, one peach tree, and two baby apples. And no food. (Well–the raspberries did fine–but I already knew how to tend raspberries. And there were a few blueberries on our young plants. We thought we might get some hazelnuts but the squirrels also grabbed those before they were even close to ripe.) I do come away with a deep respect for organic gardeners and farmers.

But I have been harboring much anger and hate in my soul for these squirrels, and I feel very troubled about that. The original purpose of tending this land–this small place on the earth–was about finding our way home to earth community. Putting into practice the desire for healing the broken relationship between our society and the natural world. But when I try to grow food, so many critters become my enemies. Well, they probably don’t share the enmity–they probably think I run a fabulous restaurant. But meanwhile, I am watching them and hating them.

This morning, after the squirrel ran away with the bagged peach, another squirrel started playing with a stick on the path in the orchard. Literally playing–rolling over and over, turning the stick this way and that, chewing on it, then rolling over again. In a very cute way.

There is a lesson in this, I am sure. So I am trying to grieve, to let go, to open my heart. But I am still not sure I know how to forgive the squirrels. I am trying to listen to the deeper lessons.

4 thoughts on “Can I Forgive the Squirrels?

  1. Oh, how devastating! I’m so sorry–you’ve put in so much love and work to get those peaches. (Maybe there’s some sort of squirrel deterrent that could be installed at the bases of trees??) It does seem like some sort of metaphor, and it makes me think of social justice work and the “tragic gap” between the work we do and the results we may never see in our lifetime. But there’s a need for faith that at SOME point, our efforts will “bear fruit…” this time literally. 🙂

  2. I understand your frustration and also deep appreciation for the farmers that succeed at actually producing enough food to share with us all. I spent some time, energy and money this spring to try and grow some snap peas and tomatoes. In the past the squirrels and ground hogs have eaten everything I grown including attempts at sunflowers and if I’m not quick enough to snip the tulips and bring them inside, they eat the tops of those off too. So I decided I would grow them on our screened in sun porch and envisioned so many tomatoes we wouldn’t know what to do with them all. And how fun it would be to nibble on fresh snap peas from the vine. But the plants did not thrive. And when there was one tiny tomato growing on one of the plants someone told me that squirrels would bother a tomato plant, and I took it outside one day to let it get some sun, The next morning the tiny little green tomato was partly eaten laying beside some shag bark hickory nut remains on the railing of our deck. And there have been a total of about ten snap pea pods between three buckets. Tiny ones. I ate one the other day and it didn’t even taste good. And the squirrels like to dig up the little flowers I plant anywhere. I am letting go to the forces of nature that are beyond my understanding and control and again I am overwhelmingly grateful to the people who grow our food.

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