Homeless in Vancouver: Hunting was fruitful yesterday—for squirrels

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      Yesterday I may have finally found one of Vancouver’s fig trees, near Cambie Street and 16th Avenue. (I hadn’t. It was a walnut tree).

      I was watching these two squirrels make their way down a wooden utility pole in typical squirrel fashion: Dash, freeze, wait, repeat.

      Each of them was putting the bite on a green, crab apple-sized fruit.

      Once they reached the ground, each squirrel darted in a different direction and I lost sight of one of them in some bushes.

      The other squirrel headed straight towards the trees on the other side of the alley.

      Naturally it couldn’t do it in one go. Being a squirrel it had to stop in the middle of the roadway—for safety’s sake.

      Of squirrels and acorns and walnuts

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The squirrel stood stock still in the middle of the road for over a minute, like some kind of discarded malfunctioning Chia Pet. And when it did make it to the other side of the road and up onto the bark of another tree trunk, it stopped again.

      Back when British Columbia was still one big forest, this instinctive defensive behaviour of moving in fits and starts made perfect sense. Against tree bark, the motionless brown squirrel virtually disappears.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Doing the same stunt on a grey asphalt road or sidewalks isn’t nearly so effective.

      Squirrels are what you might call an embedded system. If their behaviour doesn’t take into account the modern reality of roads and cars and concrete, it’s because their firmware hasn’t been updated for a very long time.

      Maybe squirrels should consider finally switching from the Acorn operating system to something a bit more up-to-date like Linux.

      Who gives a fig? Not this walnut tree

      Baby walnuts. That’s cool too!
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Turned out the two squirrels were using the wooden utility pole to gain access to the higher branches of a particular fruit bearing tree.

      The fellow who told me there were fig trees to find in Vancouver saw my photos from yesterday and declared that was a fig tree the two squirrels were raiding.

      However, as a commenter points out, my friend was mistaken. That was actually a walnut tree, bearing green walnuts.

      Most fig tree leaves appear to have three blades and while there are fig tree varieties that only have single-bladed leaves this wasn’t one of them.

      I’ll have to break the news to my friend gently. He actually had fig trees when he lived in Coquitlam, B.C. That was apparently a long time ago.

      He told me that unripe figs were rock hard and so were these green walnuts. The one I tasted was bitter and not the slightest bit good to eat.

      Actually I remember thinking as I thoughtfully chewed on a crunchy little sliver of the green-skinned fruit—I remember thinking this was probably how poison fruit tasted.

      Just like figs—these walnuts won’t properly be ripe for the picking until the end of August or early September.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.


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      Aug 14, 2014 at 3:35pm

      Hey! camera guy. yeah, you! git yer ass over here and just TRY to take this fig outta my mouth! Go for it! I dare ya...

      Martin Dunphy

      Aug 14, 2014 at 3:43pm

      Just an FYI: the black and the grey squirrels commonly seen hereabouts (the black is a subgroup of the eastern grey) are non-native. It was brought in pre-First World War to Stanley Park and spread.

      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Aug 14, 2014 at 4:08pm

      The identification of what the squirrel is chawing on was apparently a FIGment of my formerly-fig-growing friend Mike's imagination.

      They do look quite similar but one of my commenters correctly points out we are looking at green walnuts off a walnut tree.