In the West Country it has been cooler than of late; from the high eighties, it has fallen to the low seventies Fahrenheit. A temperature that would once have been considered to be the criterion of a hot summer’s day is now considered to be a marker of fresher weather, when the weather forecaster, who always talks in metric language, puts twenty-two or twenty-three degrees on the weather map, it is done almost apologetically. Temperatures must be twenty-five degrees Celsius before they are represented in red. Perhaps it is the onset of relatively cooler that weather that has accelerated the changes.
Along the roadside, the hips and the sloes and the blackberries are ripe. Apples are a rosy red. Horse chestnuts are ready to start dropping deep brown conkers. Acorns are reaching the point where they might soon be gathered by squirrels preparing for the darker months. It is the squirrels that seem the greatest cause for alarm.
Watching a grey squirrel in a nearby ash tree over the course of the day, there hardly seemed a moment when it was not active, rushing out to the extremities of branches before as quickly returning to a great cleft in the trunk. It seemed to be gathering ash seeds and taking them back to a store. It remained oblivious to noise, oblivious to passing human activity; its only focus was upon completing the task it seemed to have set itself. There seemed almost an urgency in the pace at which it moved, as if delay of any sort was something that might represent the loss of an important opportunity.
Lacking the skills of a latter-day Doctor Dolittle, it was impossible to know what was passing through the mind of the squirrel to compel it to behave as it did. Was it normal for it to leap around in such a frantic manner in early August, was it just a very industrious member of its species? Or did it know something that its human observer did not, did it know what lies ahead?rre
The year has been a strange one, late snows in March and a heatwave by June, sharp frosts and record high temperatures; if it has been confusing for members of the human species, it must be even more so for creatures like squirrels. A lack of caution nearly cost Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin his life, he escaped the clutches of the owl with only half of his tail; today’s squirrel is not going to be squirrel whose caution could be questioned. Perhaps its endeavours in the early days of August will prove to be life-saving in a long and cold winter.