As the first snows begin to fall here in Minnesota, I found it appropriate to watch the BBC’s Yellowstone, a documentary on our nation’s first national park set in three parts: Winter, Summer and Autumn.
I know, where’s spring? Did someone lose a job over this? But after watching the three hour series, I now know it wasn’t a mistake for Yellowstone is like no other part of the world. First, the park lies on a high plains plateau nestled snugly in the Rocky Mountains. Second, it sits on an active volcano that blew sky-high two million years ago and created a magnificent crater. From a satellite photo the park looks like a jagged bowl. The bowl shape and elevation create a landscape that is a rich and vibrant and usually covered in snow nine months out of the year. This is why spring has been eliminated. By the time winter lets go in June all of the residents are more than happy to move onto summer.
But summer is fleeting at best. With the waning days of July, the residents again need to prepare for winter. Where I have to locate my winter coat and possibly buy a new ice scrapper, the residents of Yellowstone must spend every waking moment thinking about food. It’s time to get ready or get out. Those with legs like the pronghorn and elk start to migrate for southern Wyoming. Those with girth like bears and bison start to eat like they are at an Old Country Buffet.
One of the more fruitful places to find nutrition is in the cones of the White Bark Pine. With pine nuts that contain more fat than a bag of Cheetos, every resident covets these little nuggets. The problem is they can only be reaped by animals that can cling to the White Bark Pine’s slender branches.
Take the Pine Squirrel. If it was a Smoothie Squirrel, it would hang out at Dairy Queens 0r Starbucks. Instead, it spends its autumn days knocking the pine cones to the ground and storing the nuts under the roots of the pine tree. Hundreds of thousands of nuts are gathered and stored. That’s unless a grizzly bear happens to walk by.
That’s what the BBC captured: a mama bear and her cubs trudging and sniffing and moving in like mafia capos looking to shake down a neighborhood grocer. But instead of looking for the Don’s share, the bears uproot the squirrel’s entire stash and take everything.
In one indelible shot, the BBC cameraman captures the Pine Squirrel sitting in the tree with its tiny jaw dropped. It just sits there and starts squeaking. I’m sure in squirrel it sounded like, “YOU MOTHER @#$&*! I JUST SPENT AUGUST WORKING ON THAT STASH !”
Whether the squirrel had enough time to replenish its winter reserve was up in the air for there was another resident on the scene.
The Clark’s Nutcracker has the amazing ability to tuck 150 pine nuts in a special sack behind its tongue. And after filling itself with pine nuts 1/5th its body weight, the little bird lifts off to travel some 50 miles to store the seeds throughout the park.
Where the squirrel stores its bounty in one spot, the nutcracker scatters its future reserve everywhere. Methodically, it upchucks and places ten seeds into the ground before placing a small rock to mark the spot.
The narrator stated the Clark’s Nutcracker will disperse up to 300,000 nuts this way over an area of 100 square miles. He also said the bird will be able to recover up to 70% of its original effort.
How? First of all, how does it get through the three feet of snow that will likely be dumped in the next week? Also, doesn’t the ground freeze? Does the bird show up to collect its food with a mini ice pick and shovel?
Let’s assume the Clark’s Nutcracker visits its aunt in Arizona during the winter. Even when it returns, how does it know which rock has the stored pine nuts? Isn’t a rock a rock? Does the Clark’s Nutcracker arrange rocks in a certain way, much like gang members tag bus terminals with their own graffiti? Maybe when the bird shows up for summer, it starts turning over every rock it sees. Most of the effort is probably for naught, but every once in a while, nature’s pile of Cheetos is waiting for it.
Still, it seems like lot of work compared to my winter list.
You know, I still need to get that ice scrapper.