I found this odd object growing in a midden at the base of a spruce tree.

A midden? It’s a tree squirrel’s go-to spot for just about everything: winter den, pantry, kitchen, garbage dump.

Middens pass down to successive generations, so as years go by the detritus piles up — old cones, new cones, twigs, spruce needles, small bones.

At times stuff begins to grow in the rubble.

That’s where I found them: Two white “things” lying on the midden. It took me a minute to puzzle them out.

Of course! I was looking at the remains of dried puffballs. Fungi. Mushrooms.

The grey wrinkled “head” was the actual puffball — the spongy little thing that squirts out a cloud of mushroom “seeds” (spores) when you touch a ripe one.

The white part — the “shoulder pads” on these little guys — is the part you never see. It develops from a spore. Microscopic at first these tiny threads grow and accumulate until finally the mass is large enough to see.

If you know where to look. Until now I never have.

Looking more carefully I spotted a single puffball, still embedded in the midden. A slight tug and up the whole thing came: head, neck and shoulders.

Nature always has something up her sleeve. Some times I’m smart enough to notice.





Black Holes

Okay. Best guess: What is this?

If your hand shot up and you shouted: “That’s the lower jaw of an elk and those holes are where its front teeth used to be!” go right to the head of the class.

This bone sits on a pile in our yard. On rambles through the woods we’ve picked up jawbones, vertebrae, ribs, skulls, shoulder blades, pelvises, teeth and long bones.

Not sure why. Kind of a packrat thing.

Red tree squirrels love it all. It’s where they come when they need a calcium hit.

Squirrels, like us, need calcium for strong bones.

They get it from several places — eggshells (think birds’ nests), mushrooms (fresh or dried, which they dry themselves), other plants, insects and bones.

Note the fresh white scratches on this bone: Squirrel nibblings.

Me? I prefer milk.


Elk   Cervus canadensis
Red tree squirrel    Tamiasciurus hudsonicus