I think it’s safe to say that Spring has arrived in Rowntree Park. There is birdsong to be heard and the sun is shining onto the waters of the lake that were solid ice only two short weeks ago. Everything looks very fresh and green, and the air is noticeably warmer. There are buds on the trees, but still only very wee ones. This means that if you stand still under one of the very tall trees along the Ten Tree Trail and lean your head back as far as you can and peer up to the very tip top of that very tall tree, you can still see the squirrels running about up there. It’s worth a try – your neck might ache after a while but you’ll be rewarded with the sight of some pretty amazing furry-tailed acrobatics that will be hidden later in the season by a thick screen of leaves.
I did this the other day with my four-year-old son, and we saw a couple of the squirrels scampering about up there, seeming to defy gravity with their crazy leaps, never falling although the skinny branches they chose to dangle from bent and swayed dramatically. They criss-crossed back and forth between two trees, having a shouted conversation as they flew past each other in the air. We stood still and craned our necks as far as we possibly could, and listened in. This is the gist of what they were on about.
‘Cyril! Look out below – there are some people watching us!’
‘Never mind, Beryl – they’re too far down below to hear us. And they probably don’t understand Squirrel-ish anyway.’
(Ah, but the wind was blowing at just the right angle to carry their words down to us – and we do understand a fair bit of Squirrel-ish. It’s not unlike Weasel-ish if you want to know the truth, though it sounds quite a lot furrier.)
‘Where have you hidden the last of those acorns?’
‘Well if I knew that I wouldn’t be leaping about between these two trees trying to find them, would I? I know it was somewhere near here. Now keep looking please, I don’t want Errol and Daryl scoffing them all.’
And the two squirrels kept jumping around between the two trees in search of their hidden store – too well hidden! We kept looking up and listening in although our necks were pretty stiff by now.
‘Oh Beryl, I nearly forgot!’ said one little furry voice from above. ‘I did dig a bit at the bottom of the tree like you suggested.’
‘Well then?!’ shrieked Beryl. ‘Did you find any nuts down there?’
‘Not nuts’, replied Cyril coyly. ‘But I did find – this…’ and he produced a lumpy brown thing from a hole in the tree trunk and threw it to his companion in passing. ‘Do you think it’s edible?’
‘Hmm, no, I don’t think so’ – and she gave it a little chew to make sure – ‘No, definitely not. Yuk! It tastes like it’s been buried for a hundred years!’
‘Ok then, chuck it away,’ said Cyril. ‘Better keep searching for the acorns.’
And with that, he scampered away, making a daring leap to a further-off tree top which swayed wildly as he landed.
There was a thud as Beryl dropped the lumpy brown thing onto the ground at the foot of the tree, where it landed right next to my boot! My son picked it up immediately before I had a chance to wonder if small boys should handle things that squirrels have chewed recently.
And what was that object? Well, here are some photographs of it – what do you think it is?
Beryl thought it tasted like it had been buried for a hundred years, and in fact it really might have been. The land where Rowntree Park now stands was a dump in Victorian times, and many small objects have been dug up in the park that were indeed buried in that dump a hundred years ago or even more than that!
If you’d like to see the object that Cyril and Beryl dug up and threw down at my feet – and also get ready for Spring and welcome the new season to the park officially – then come along to the next meeting of the Very Young Friends of Rowntree Park on 6th March ! We meet at 12:30pm on the first Tuesday of every month at the pavilion [to the left if you come into the park through the big gates on Terry Avenue, just behind the tennis courts]. We have themed woodland trails and a picnic with songs, stories and arty activities. For under fives and their parents/carers. Bring your lunch! More info from Lara on 07941 448594.