Snowy Day in Cheesman Park

Denver’s been colder than I’ve experienced during the past couple of weeks. I think we bottomed out at Feels Like 30 Below, but were below zero and single digits for days in a row. When it gets this cold, the dog won’t walk. She goes out for a minute or two, excited having forgotten how cold it is, then lifts up one or two of her feet and shivers until you pick her up. I started to wonder what happens to small woodland animals when it’s that cold. Do they all hibernate? Do they die?

No, it turns out, they do not die. Nor do they all hibernate. Jamie did some basic research for me, and found that squirrels (or “squee-rells” as her aunt calls them) get fat, hide little stashes of food near their home trees, and just hang out in their nests until it warms up. This little guy was apparently making a trip to the ground to grab some food.

They build pretty good little nests, or dreys, out of whatever kind of leaves and twigs they can find. And then they just hunker down. They’ll stay in bed for days without leaving. But here’s the interesting thing: Squirrels are solitary little animals. They have their own little dreys and food stashes. But, when it gets really cold, that changes temporarily.

The lone squirrel will allow other squirrels to climb into the nest with him. In fact, if it’s cold enough, several squirrels will climb into one nest and huddle up next to each other to share body heat and stay warm. Then it warms up, and they leave. Or as the painfully adorable squirrels.org states, “once the temperature rises, the guests will be on their way.”

Cold has a way of messing with things. We didn’t have cold where I grew up, at least not real cold. Not snow days or frozen pipes. It snowed a few flakes every now and then and we would go outside and stare at it. When I go out and the city is covered in snow, it’s like I live in an entirely different place. Things I walk by every day and ignore suddenly become visible. There’s too much to see most days to get a good look. When you cover most of it with the cold blank of snow, things appear.

Streets lose their lanes and cars disappear. Dogs lose their sense of smell. More pets get lost in the winter than any other time of year because their senses are dulled by the static air. They don’t know where home is if they go too far.

Stay indoors and enjoy Wintry Mix on 8tracks, with songs from Salem, Glasser, Mount Kimbie and more. Invite some strangers into join you on the couch. When it gets warm again, make them leave.

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