As I drove past the large pumpkin that graced the entry of a neighbor’s driveway, I noticed something unusual. A length of bushy tail was hanging out of the recently excavated Halloween fruit. I stopped the car and the tail whisked into the hole and was replaced by the head of an alert gray squirrel.

The rodent dashed for safety up a nearby bur oak. The squirrel had been mining the pumpkin for its treasure of flesh and seeds. No paring knife had sawed into this pumpkin to create a snaggle toothed smile. The squirrel incisors had opened a simple cavern for access and egress. Do squirrels assess the cost/benefit ratio when digging upside down on the bright orange stage of a pumpkin? Seems like a reckless and dangerous act to work with your head inside a hole while your backside advertises squirrel hams. Clearly, when facing the march of winter, the season of scarcity, a normally shy squirrel becomes bold and reckless in its foraging for food.

A few days after the squirrel was busted in its excavating, I stopped the truck and strolled out into a fifteen-acre field that had been covered with pumpkin vines and thousands of beautiful pumpkins. Now, with Halloween a memory, the piece of ground looked like a war zone. Thousands of pumpkins had been adopted by Halloween practitioners, home interior decorators and pie bakers. The remaining pumpkins literally never made the cut. They were the unchosen ones and now I found them broken and crushed in the field.

At first glance the site looks devastated, but then as I strolled among the shattered fruits, I could see that the field was actually an early holiday gift to the area wildlife. Deer tracks were most common but here and there I spotted a pheasant track moseying among splattered pumpkins. Tiny piles of rabbit pellets showed that rabbits had lingered here. On a nearby gopher mound a pile of coyote droppings held undigested pumpkin seeds. Each of these animals had dined on some portion of pumpkin.

By next June, the earth will be warm and countless microscopic beasties will have rendered the rest of the pumpkin remains into sustenance for next years crop of pumpkins, squirrels, pheasants, deer, coyotes and rabbits.

And I am left wondering how a pumpkin infused venison roast or pheasant breast would taste.

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