A quiet Sunday afternoon in the hills. The sun tries bravely to shine through dark clouds, heavy with rain, but is only occasionally successful. The peaks towering above remain ice-entombed, seeming to glower down disapprovingly, jealously, on the riot of green beginning to emerge at their feet. The stream rumbles, turbid, turgid with rain and melting snow but above it one can still hear the birds, for they are many.
A pair of gray squirrels scurry back and forth from a rocky hillside to a large pile of corn lying on the ground near the barn. They seem to be trying to shuttle the enormous pile to their den, one large mouthful at a time. But I find myself wondering, while these squirrels are gray, are they truly Gray Squirrels?
The Sciuridae family includes squirrels, chipmunks, marmots and prairie dogs. At least 67 species are known in North America. Of these, 35 are squirrels and 22 are chipmunks. Not entirely sure as to the technical distinction between the two, I make the mistake of looking it up. Chipmunks are described as small striped squirrels.
I persist. I find myself amazed by the volume of squirrelly information available online. There are three Gray Squirrel species, Western, Eastern, and Arizona, none of which are found in Utah. There are however twelve squirrel and five chipmunk species that are observed in the state. I find myself checking photographs, range maps, and reading specie reports. It’s a bit too much like work for a lazy afternoon but curiosity compels me and it must be done. At last my persistence pays a dividend. I find that I am watching rock squirrels, which are gray squirrels, but which are not Gray Squirrels. I am not sure how long it has been since they emerged from hibernation, but breeding season is already here or nearly so. They continue their trips at a frenetic pace. It is wearying to watch. The sun peaks through the clouds and warms the air, just for a few moments but it is enough. Exhausted vicariously, I fade into a few moments of well-earned slumber. Meanwhile, the squirrels work on.