I’ve had an uneasy relationship with squirrels for as long as I can remember. I know they won’t hurt me, but they have the capacity to startle. I also had a complete falling out with squirrels when they moved inside the wall of our old house and gnawed away the beams.

When we moved to our present home, they were still startling us but weren’t doing property damage. They did a different kind of damage. We had a flourishing pear tree in the yard and the owner used to harvest the pears for canning. He and his wife filled 5-gallon buckets with pears. One day, he discovered the tree was picked clean and suspected a human pear thief.

An investigation showed that squirrels were the true culprits. The backyard fence was just the right height for them to pick pears. They would happily race along the top of the fence, pick the pears and eat them on the spot. They also munched on the pears that had already fallen.

The owner was disappointed he had no pears to harvest. This could be one of the reasons he sold the property. Pear-eating squirrels didn’t bother us. At least the squirrels weren’t scattering nuts on the sidewalk and creating a slipping hazard. 

This year, the squirrels suddenly stopped eating the pears. This created an ecological imbalance—literally. The tree’s branches were so heavy with uneaten pears, they began to crack. In theory, the humans living here could have harvested the pears. We would probably have done this, if we weren’t lazy and afraid of heights. We also don’t have a passion for pears.

I was mystified, though, about why the squirrels stopped eating pears. So I took a crash course at Squirrel University about the relationship between squirrels and pears. Squirrels typically eat nuts and seeds but they will also eat pears, depending on their availability. The pears also must be ripe. Unripe pears have a hard texture and tart flavor that squirrels find unappealing. They also lack enough sugar to provide the squirrel with an “enjoyable reward.”

Ripe pears, though, are a delicacy. They have a soft texture and sweet taste. They contain enough nutrients and flavor to become part of the squirrels’ regular diet. All that sugar, though, can be unhealthy. I’m not saying our squirrels became diabetic. But they were eating so many pears, their bellies were bulging. 

The rest of the university course was about how to prevent squirrels from eating pears. That didn’t interest me. Besides, building a fence to protect the tree had the opposite effect of making it easier for the squirrels to gorge on pears. But I did learn an important thing from the course: the squirrels had undoubtedly found a new food source. 

This would explain why they had moved to the other side of the yard and were scattering nuts all over the sidewalk. They weren’t getting the sugar highs they used to get from pears but they were hyper nonetheless. They were startling us and creating a tripping hazard at the same time.

Squirrel University didn’t have any tips about enticing squirrels to eat pears. I suppose we could prepare one of the countless pear desserts that are popular this time of year. If it means restoring the ecological balance on our property, we could serve the squirrels pear cake, pear pie or pear cobbler. However, as the previous owner warned us, we can’t harvest the pears until we get our first frost.

I knew there was something good about the weather turning cold, I just couldn’t think of it. 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.