From the November 2000 Idaho Observer:

What is the sweetest poison of them all?

A Sandpoint squirrel is smart enough to know the difference

by Don Harkins

A close friend and I had a late lunch at the Edgewater Restaraunt overlooking beautiful Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint last October 4. Ordinarily we would have dined on the deck outside as the tables were all set with tablecloths, silverware and glasses, but fall was in the air and we decided to be served inside. Apparently fall had settled heavily enough on the Edgewater deck to keep all of its patrons inside as none of the tables were occupied -- by paying customers, that is. One was occupied by a very busy squirrel.

We were seated at a table that allowed us to look beyond the deck and admire the view of the lake. Errol and I slipped easily into our usual conversational mode which is a flowing exchange of news and ideas regarding alternative health care and the true nature of politics. We changed gears when Errol drew our attention to the antics of a squirrel who was hopping about on the empty deck table closest to ours on the other side of the glass.

The squirrel hopped, as squirrels do in their uniquely squirriline manner, to the center of the table and began sniffing about the little white ceramic box universally used by resturaunts to hold paper packets of sweetener options: Refined white sugar, NutraSweet (aspartame), Sweet and Low and brown paper packets of “raw” sugar.

The squirrel was very entertaining as he would pull a packet out, sniff it momentarily, then quickly throw it a few inches to the left or the right then sniff test a different packet. He rifled through all of the packets in this meticulous manner until he came to the brown one that contained “raw” sugar.

This one he held in his little squirrel hands and sniffed it over and over again, turning it several times to sniff the entire packet. Apparently satisfied with the sniffing, he licked it a couple of times, nibbled at it, licked again, threw it off the table, jumped down off the table, picked it up, put it into his mouth and hurriedly disappeared under the deck with his booty.

Errol and I were stunned and amused. The entire operation took about five minutes then became our topic of conversation for several minutes afterward. We even told our waiter what had happened, but he seemed more concerned about the squirrel's impolite behavior than the implications of what we had witnessed.

We presumed that the squirrel, while performing the yearly task of gathering food for the winter, had chosen the raw sugar over the other options because he was smart enough to realize, with one quick sniff, that they were poison and not appropriate items to store for use in the coming winter.

I remember how my big, beautiful white dog Harper (who died almost exactly two years ago at the age of 14) used to love french fries and fried potatoes so long as they were cooked in olive oil. She would sniff and disinterestedly walk away from fast food fries cooked in canola and other cheap (poisonous?) oils.

Errol and I reflected for a moment on people and how they have become so far removed from their food supply they can no longer discern what is poison and what is not; they trust the advice of “experts” who would sell them arsenic if they could do so at a profit for their shareholders.

These examples redefine the concept of a “dumb animal,” don't they?

(Please take offense to the previous statement if the shoe fits; then, in your anger, flatter me by becoming more discerning about what you eat).

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