A squirrel kept appearing in my backyard with different nuts. Since I, too, fancied myself a nut gourmet I decided to compare notes.
"Yo, squirrel, get over here. I want to talk to you about nuts," I said.
The squirrel got up on his hind legs and gave me the squinty look. "Can't you see I'm busy?" he said. "I've got to get ready for the winter."
I said, "I've got to get ready for the winter, too, my friend. But I'd like to find out why you choose certain nuts and not others. I've observed squirrels all my life and share with you a love for nuts. Personally, I devour any nut I can get hold of. I love them all. But you're an expert on nuts and I would like to learn from you."
The squirrel dropped the nut he was holding onto and edged a bit closer to me. He seemed genuinely interested in any conversation about his favorite subject nuts. "Sir, I can teach you a lot about nuts you never knew. Squirrels have sampled every conceivable type of nut and are considered to be the foremost nut tasters in the universe."
I said, "Are you saying that the more highly trained you are the better you can weed out the poorer nuts and develop a sophisticated nut palate? Just like wine connoisseurs?"
"That's indeed correct. You humans have your wine tasting. We squirrels have our nut tasting. Among us squirrels are true nut experts and we learn from them. We attend nut tasting in the forest and learn which nuts supply the greatest flavors and where we can find them. Without these trainings squirrels would be content with gathering bland, tasteless nuts. But with this training, we can sniff out flavor and texture and hibernate with nuts that you could die for."
I wanted to learn more. "So what can humans learn from squirrels about how to be more discriminating when it comes to nuts? What are your favorite nuts and how do you care for them?" I asked.
Just as I asked that question the squirrel excused himself for a moment and darted up a nearby tree. He sniffed around and climbed back down. "I don't trust that robin," he said. "She's always stealing my nuts. I stash some on that fourth branch from the ground. The nuts I just stashed there a few days ago are still there. But she's been known to fly off with some of my precious, aged nuts from time to time. If I catch her I'll scratch her eyes out."
I thought to myself I've never seen a squirrel so angry. Usually, they're upbeat and friendly. I'd better not mess with this squirrel's nuts.
The squirrel then responded to my question about its favorite nuts. "I personally favor pecans because they provide all the necessary nutrients squirrels need for the winter. Pecans are clear to a squirrel's palate and when added with worms and grass make for a very tasty stew."
I wasn't aware that pecans are grown in Florida. "Oh, yes," said the squirrel. "Pecans are an excellent source of protein and unsaturated fats. They're also rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which help to lower our cholesterol levels. If there's one nut we squirrels prefer over others when the temperature outside is below zero it's the ever popular pecan."
"What about almonds?" I asked. "Almonds would be our second choice," the squirrel responded. "Did you know that the word 'almond' comes from the old French word 'almande' or 'allemande'? Or the late Latin version 'amandula,' which is derived through an earlier form 'amygdala' from the Greek?"
Clearly, I was talking to a learned squirrel that could not only distinguish between one nut and the other but also knew their derivation. I was very impressed.
"How do you know all this stuff?" I asked. The squirrel raised his eyebrows. "It's my business to know the history, nutrition and availability of various species of nuts. Nuts are our life blood and the more discerning we are, the better prepared we are."
But one thing still puzzled me. "Why would you need to hoard nuts here in Florida for the winter when we traditionally have mild winters?"
The squirrel looked at me as though I was just plain dumb. "I'm a snow bird, or as I prefer to call it a snow squirrel. I own a small tree in Vermont and spend my winters there with my family, my wine and my nuts."