A Pecan for the Road

Back in mid October, a week of spring-like weather settled into our area. As a result, a tornado hit town on a Sunday evening. The days that followed brought more storms and rain. It was good to see our rehabilitated deer return each evening, and also find our Rainy Day Punkin on the back porch each morning. I marveled at how adaptive and resilient wildlife could be in the threat and aftermath of inclement weather.

The Friday after the tornado hit, the last of the heavy rains finally moved off to the east, and a beautiful sunny day ensued. Punkin showed up early that day for her pecans. She was enjoying being solo again after having raised some babies in late summer, and visited our back porch often, looking for pecans and fruit or vegetables. It is important for all mammals to put on weight to carry them through winter and, for a mama squirrel who had been lactating and keeping up with young, it was imperative to gain weight and prepare for the cold months ahead. I also noted that Punkin had been very busy gnawing on deer skulls and antlers lately. Sharpening teeth and deriving mineral from the bones and antlers is important to many species. Of course begging (and receiving) pecans is the main reason Punkin visited our back porch so often.

Squirrels are easy to raise. Punkin was all about the food from the time we took her in!
Baby squirrels need a lot of rest.
Punkin impatiently waits for me to crack some pecans. We found she ate them if they were cracked but if given to her whole, she’d bury them!
Hey!!! I SEE you in there!!! Where are my PECANS??
After clobbering herself at the back door, and climbing up to the handle to get our attention, I would find her waiting in this stance – she KNEW I would bring her pecans pronto!

That afternoon as I was finishing piling up branches and doing some cleanup from the tornado, I saw Punkin on the north side of the house where she was gathering a few acorns from beneath a young oak tree. I always marveled at how busy she kept this time of year. Back in the house, I started dinner and filled the kitchen sink with water to soak a few items. I did not return to the sink until much later when dinner was finished and I was preparing to clean up dishes.

Through the window above the kitchen sink, I could see a squirrel under the oak tree. It was moving around strangely, and something about it did not look as it should. So I went out to investigate, only to find the squirrel doing an awkward combat crawl through the chain-link fence and into our neighbor’s backyard. I tried to get a better look to see if it was Punkin, but it was getting dark and when I tried to reach over, the squirrel escaped me and made a valiant climb up a nearby tree. It was evident it took a lot of effort for the squirrel to climb the tree. I hoped it was not Punkin.

My sister Lisa, and many of our other guests, enjoyed feeding Punkin pecans and petting her lightly on the head.
Extra pecans were provided in the winter months.
Punkin was always on the lookout for predators lurking or alerts from the woodlands of eminent danger.
In April of 2018 Punkin and many other squirrels in our area contracted mange. I was afraid she wouldn’t survive it since it was a very cold and blustery month. Perhaps it was us supplementing her diet that saved her.
A very pregnant Punkin back in June 2020.
A lactating mama gets mighty thin feeding those babies for the first 10 to 12 weeks of life. Mother’s rarely leave the nest during this time. They keep busy feeding their young and protecting them from predators.

The next morning, I walked back over to the tree and there at its base was the squirrel, looking even more troubled than the day before. I took a box and gloves with me and walked around the fence to where the squirrel was in my neighbor’s back yard. After trying to slink away a couple of times, I managed to catch the squirrel and set up some cozy digs for it in our old squirrel cage. Sadly, I could see it was our Punkin. I did not see any sign of an attack from a predator and there were no symptoms of anything toxic like poison or an infection.

Safe and sound in the squirrel cage, Punkin breathed very slowly and moved under some leaves and wood I had placed in the cage with her. There, she tucked her head under her tail and rested most of the afternoon. Late in the day, I noticed her gnawing at a stick, so I ran to fetch a pecan for her. I took off part of the shell and sure enough, she nibbled a bit on the exposed nutmeat.

When I checked on Punkin an hour later, I found that she had passed away. I gently examined her body in hopes of finding some kind of reason for her death, but nothing was evident. She was seven years old, which is a long life for a squirrel. I wondered if she had suffered a stroke, or succumbed to some other condition common in squirrels, like kidney or liver problems.

A very young Punkin lazing with a pecan snack in the heat of the afternoon.
Ticks like to latch onto squirrel ears. Punkin was the only squirrel we raised who allowed us to pull them off. Of course we got about two chances and she was done with that procedure! She did seem to understand we were helping her. I bet ticks are just as irritating to wildlife as they are to us!
Sometimes it is good to simply reflect on the bigger picture in front of us!
(Sigh) Where IS that pecan lady??
Punkin loved gnawing on this old deer skull I found in the woods. Many mammals sharpen teeth and gain mineral supplement from the bone. This photo was taken in May of 2021.

I am sad, of course, but also thankful that I found Punkin and could provide her comfort in her last hours. And I am grateful for the seven years we were able to watch her grow and go on to be a mother many times. We were fortunate to observe her ways and habits, and enjoy her delightful entertainment. It does help me deal with my grief, to have closure for once in this work we do with wildlife rehabilitation. Punkin was not like the other squirrels and deer we have rehabilitated, who have just disappeared into the woods, never to return. She lived in the wild, but chose to set up digs nearby, where she could safely raise her young, and depend on having a fairly-easy-to-acquire and virtually endless supply of food from “her people” if need be.

I thought it fitting that Forrest chose her final resting place beneath a pecan tree in our little pet cemetery. I put the pecan she last gnawed on in the tiny box we buried her in… and I placed a second pecan in there too. You know, just “one more for the road” as they say.

This was always my favorite photo of a very healthy Punkin. What a delight she was.

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


48 thoughts on “A Pecan for the Road

  1. Hello, I don’t follow many blogs but your stories always touch my heart. I love hearing about all your animal friends and especially love your relationship with Punkin. Thank you so much for sharing. from Victoria BC, Canada

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    1. What a lovely comment. I appreciate hearing about touching other lives with stories about my experiences here with wildlife. Punkin was special, and a real gift and friend in my life. I’m a tad lost without her these rainy days in autumn. 😢

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      1. I am so sorry for your loss. Punkin brought us together and I thank her for each and every day of our friendship. At least you were there till the end and she was safe, warm and loved. Thank you for sharing. Hugs.

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  2. Rest in peace Punkin. We’ve had many squirrels come and go, and ours have also wanted their pecans shelled. We’ve found lots of little trees growing from buried acorns. This year (or next Spring) we are hoping to find more to replace the trees we lost in the freeze this past February. We call those little trees “Hammy trees”.

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    1. Thank you, Ellen. Punkin was the last of our orphaned squirrels, though I know she had babies this summer and I now wonder if two young squirrels I see on the north side of the house near where Punkin was last seen might be hers. We have the same situation with oaks and pecans that the squirrels plant. We’ve found that trees planted by squirrels grow much better than those we transplant. I cage many of the squirrel-planted trees when I see them popping up. We’re hoping to have lots of oaks for future wildlife!!

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  3. Your title makes sense after getting to the end of the post, but I had no idea as I read along that this was actually an obituary. It’s good that over those seven years you accumulated so many pictures, many of them close-ups. You may be saddened to see them now, yet happy to have them to look back on.

    Your picture with the comment “Sometimes it is good to simply reflect on the bigger picture in front of us!” reminds me that last year a rock squirrel (Otospermophilus variegatus) would sit for spells on the railing of our deck and gaze out into the back yard. What it looked at, and why, I have no idea. Any ideas?

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    1. I’ve been prone to tears welling up most days since October 16th when she passed. As I get older, this work gets harder for me. It’s been a difficult summer here for many reasons, which is why I haven’t written much. When I write it helps me to heal and move on.

      Punkin often gazed into the distance. I’ve seen wild squirrels do it from tree branches in the summer. I have wondered myself what they look at. Perhaps it could be they’re watching a predator, or maybe looking for nesting options. I know sometimes they are known to eat bird eggs, so perhaps they’re scoping out food. I guess we will never know.

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  4. I’m so sorry to hear this news of Punkin… losing an “animal friend” hurts deeply… thank you for sharing this with us

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  5. Very touching. I remember reading your blog when you were raising her, can’t believe it has been seven years! I’m going to go have a little cry now… xxxx

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    1. Aw, thank you for feeling the love, Ardys. These little beings have such importance in our lives. You’ll never forget your little Storm, and I’ll never forget the way our wild critters and little dogs changed my life. My heart breaks, and it will continue for a while, but I’d do it all over again to know love.

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  6. Aw, bless your heart, and little Punkin’s heart as well. Seven years does sound like a long long life for a squirrel, and sweet as well with your living care. I’ve had a challenging year as well, wishing you peace and all the very best.

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  7. I had my little guy for eight years before he died of congestive heart failure. I still miss him, and make up for his absence by being pretty free with the pecans for the ones now living around my place. Just now, we’re having a terrific acorn fall, and the cypress trees still have fruits available, so there’s a lot of gnawing going on. I have learned to hand out shelled nuts; if I give them pecans still in the shell, they bury them immediately — especially at this time of year.

    I wish I had more photos of mine, but I didn’t even have a camera when he first came into my life. Besides — when you have a hairless, closed-eyes baby squirrel who’s on a four-hour feeding schedule, who has time to take photos?

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    1. Indeed! Who does have time with the initial feedings and caretaking of orphaned wild things? It’s a lot of work. Eight years is a long time for a squirrel to live, and I’m curious how you knew he died of congestive heart failure? I always thought knowing one of our animals passed would help me somewhat, but now I find myself wishing I’d known for sure just what happened. Punkin was fine that morning and all afternoon, then suddenly, something changed. It does help to know I could give her some comfort as she quietly passed on.

      We’re enjoying a bountiful acorn crop here too, and lately I have seen wild deer at the big oak in the backyard of the rock house, feasting on acorns in the wee hours of the morning. Over the past fourteen years we’ve planted various species of oak on the place, along with many types of fruit trees for future generations of wildlife to enjoy. Squirrels are always the first to pluck fruits from the trees, and nut harvest starts early. They’re the busiest little critters I know.

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      1. Well, for only the low, low price of about $1,200 you, too, can have a Houston zoo small animal vet do the tests that confirm congestive heart failure. Some would call it idiocy, but four of us went together to pay the bill. The signs were the same as for a human: a significant lack of energy and activity, trouble getting his limbs onto a limb, and so on. He was an indulged baby, for sure, but at least he didn’t lose his life in the middle of a street!

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        1. I of all people would not think it idiocy to have tests run to discover the cause of death. It helps to educate us about many things. We’ve spent a lot of money raising orphaned wildlife, but we’ve also put a lot of time and expense in expanding facilities and special care too. It’s all part of doing better and having greater understanding about a species. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. It’s led me to think all the more that Punkin died of something that is simply natural in old age.

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  8. A beautifully wriiten heartfelt memorial that certainly brought tears of happy-sadness to my eyes. Punkin found her little bit of heaven on earth until she went safely to the place where squirrel souls go when her time was up thanks to your kindness and care ♡

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    1. Thank you for that lovely comment, Dale. Punkin certainly did have a little slice of heaven here. She was a teacher to us too – allowing us a life of observations about squirrel squirrel habits and tendencies. What a special gift she was in our lives.

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  9. I’m so sorry, but like you happy that she was in the comfort of home at the end. Caring for animals brings inevitable heartache as their lives are shorter, but also so much joy and connection.
    In our new home we have many 100 yr old + oak tress and we often see a pair of red squirrels. I’d like to provide some food for them in the winter, but as we have two cats, I suppose it’s better not to draw them nearer.
    Take care xxx

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    1. Hello, Henrie. I try to focus on the joy and gifts of learning from all wild and domestic animals. It’s funny how every living thing has distinct personality and character. It’s what makes loss so difficult. I feel like I’ve lost an old, reliable friend. I didn’t know how I’d gotten used to Punkin’s presence most days.

      How pleasing to have so many old oaks on the property! We began planting oak trees more than thirteen years ago and just now a couple of them are producing small acorns. I have also done some planting in the woods, and noticed the last few years that some of them are coming up. It’ll take many years to see them produce acorns but I’m content to know I’ve done my part as a steward of the land to secure vital nutrition for future generations of wildlife.

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    1. Aw, thank you. I’m feeling the love and hugs… so are you the one sending the cold and damp this way?? Ha ha, I think of you so much during the winters. Have you gotten any snow yet in your neck of the woods?

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      1. Not here, not yet – snow fell about 38 miles west of us a couple weeks ago, and we had some days of overcast/foggy days, but NO snow yet….thus, I haven’t had the urge to plug in the Narnia Christmas Lampost OR make cookies…. Which is the extent of my Holiday ‘doings’ – LOL. And gasp! Perish the thought I would offload our cold and damp to you! I don’t mind the cold (easier on me than the heat!) and we need all the moisture we can get!! 😀

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        1. Ha ha!! Well, the deer love the cold and I’ve noticed a lot of frisky romping and gamboling lately. Of course the rut is on too so some of that energy could be from the thrill of the chase. Glad you’re faring well, and not yet using your snow scoop!

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          1. The rut is awe inspiring and sometimes, hard to watch due to the violence of ‘to the death’ fights that sometimes occur – and I’m always watching through long camera lens or binoculars (I’s Skeered of the Rut times! :D). That said, haven’t had opportunity to view since I left the mountains… Was blessed by an Elk herd that migrated to and fro and was often in wide open area right across from my house for a few years – was awe inspiring to watch –

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  10. I’m sorry to hear about Punkin’s passing. I’m sure she was comforted that she was with you at the end. It has been a difficult and challenging year for me as well. The squirrels and chipmunks that visit for peanuts are a joy to watch and the chipmunks are very friendly, one especially will sit on my foot while eating a peanut or sit and look up and me before taking any into her pouches. I’m sure the chipmunks have a good pantry full of the peanuts for the winter and will soon be staying in their little dens over the winter. The squirrels only stay away if the weather is very bitter cold or there’s a snow storm, otherwise they are here every day for peanuts. A neighbor gave me some almonds which were a bit hit with both chipmunks and squirrels. Thank you for all you do for the animals you care for.

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    1. I got a good laugh trying to picture the chipmunk on your foot! I learned early on that thumbs and big toes (when wearing sandals or flip flops) look a lot like pecans! Punkin once bit my thumb when I was handing her a pecan – and another time she tried to grab a big toe. I learned not to go barefoot outside or hand her pecans with my thumb exposed.

      All of these wild critters we care for are a delight to watch. All of the observations you mention are part of what I love most about them. They help us understand about their adaptability and resourcefulness to life and change. I admire the toughness and pluck they have in the face of illness and injury. And of course we see how playful and silly they are at times too. Thank you for sharing about your squirrels and chipmunks. And I hope what was difficult and a challenge for you this year has improved by now. ❤

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  11. I am very sorry to hear of Punkin’s passing, but at least you were able to help her pass peacefully and loved. She knew she had a good thing going with all the pecans she could eat. Glad all is well after the tornado and storms.

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    1. The tornado did not do much damage here, but it did in several areas of town. I think for the most part, our city got lucky it wasn’t much worse. We huddled in our storm shelter for about ten minutes while the storm passed over. I’ll never forget the eerie hissing sound of the wind.

      It does help to know I did what I could that day to allow her to pass comfortably. And she did have a good life here. I’m thankful to have had the experience of learning so much from her.

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      1. You are truly blessed to be where you are and be able to do what you do.
        I was ten years old when a tornado hit Topeka Kansas in 1966. I will never forget the roar. It truly did sound like a great train passing by. Our area got damage, but most of Topeka was destroyed and hit very hard. Glad you were all safe.

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  12. That’s sad despite the inevitability of death. Nature is dispassionate about such things but we are more emotional and I am sure you will miss Punkin’s visits. She was fortunate from the start to make your acquaintance and wonderful that she continued to seek you out through the years. And finally fortunate that you discovered her toward the end and gave her a more comfortable passing than, in her weakened state, at the hands of a predator.

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    1. You summed it up very well, Steve. I do miss Punkin every day. Already I wonder if those two little squirrels I see outside the kitchen window might be her recent babies. I still have a bucket of pecans so I’ve been hiding them on the north side of the house for these two busy kids. It’s the least I can do, just in cast they’re “grand” squirrels. 🙂

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  13. What a wonderful life your Punkin had! And the joy she provided you and Forest was a gift. I have loved reading stories about her and laughing. So she, and you have shared the joy with many! Thank you!

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    1. Aw, thank you! It’s been a real delight to share our stories over the years. Sometimes it helps to reflect over those old photos and memories, and remember the joy and delight these little critters bring us. It maybe takes a bit of sting out of death. I burst out laughing mostly when I look out of our “screenless” back door. Punkin shredded that screen right off the bat… she was serious about getting our attention! If we didn’t show up at the back door, then around the house she stopped at each window, looking for us. She was a smart girl.

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  14. Dear Lori,

    When I sent you the video with the squirrel in it I hadn’t yet read this post. I’m sorry.

    You know how I feel about squirrels in my garden, but you must also know that Punkin stories have always warmed my heart… in spite of myself. And so it is, that you’ve caught me unawares at the end of you Punkin news. I cried.

    She will be missed. ❤

    Love,
    Lynda

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    1. Thank you, Lynda. I liked the video and found it delightful. It’s always good to see that folks take time for kindness. ❤️

      We’ve had a lot of overcast and dismal days lately. Those were the days Punkin showed up for sure and often made a pest of herself. Ha ha! I find myself missing her presence, but as the days grow cold and inclement, I find myself grateful that she won’t have to suffer another winter. She had a very good life.

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    1. You pegged our girl… she was a real character and knew just how to get attention. I’m a little lost without her. I have been feeding her remaining pecans to a couple of very young squirrels who frequent that tree she was hiding at the base of. I wonder if they’re her babies from this summer.

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