Yellow-husked black walnuts crowded the insides of Bill Fischer’s truck. The foraged fare filled every vacant corner — packed tight behind the fenders, wedged between the engine parts, piled deep below the hood.
Since 2013, Fischer, 56, has dealt with the strange phenomenon every two years — the tree’s maturation cycle — and, without fail, a red squirrel selects Fischer’s Chevrolet Avalanche as its hideaway.
“I’ve got other vehicles that sit very close to that tree, and it’s always my truck,” Fischer said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’ve even parked purposely out on the street — as far away as I can from the walnut tree — and they still go find the Avalanche and hide them in there.”
But this year was different, he said. The squirrel set a record: It filled Fischer’s truck with 42 gallons of black walnuts.
A 2000 U.K. study of red squirrels’ foraging habits said they often bury pine cones, peanuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts, and hide fruits, fungi and bones in high places. A 2017 study from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that squirrels are “scatter hoarders,” meaning they separate each type of food and hide them in different places as they prepare for colder months when supplies are leaner.
They are “maximizing retrieval of their scattered food caches while minimizing loss to pilferers,” the 2017 study said.
But the red squirrel scouring near Fischer’s lawn met his match — it couldn’t outsmart this human larcener.
Fischer has grown accustomed to the biennial nuisance. He knows that once the walnuts start to fall to the ground, it’s time to check the engine before turning on the car. He guesses the squirrel chooses his truck because of the easy access. It gets in through the “rear of the pickup, up the frame rails and then into the engine department,” Fischer said. Plus, there’s ample room underneath the hood.
He’s learned from experience that it’s best to wait until there are no more walnuts left beneath the tree before he does one full cleanup.
“The squirrel will sit in the tree and watch me clean up the walnuts almost like: ‘That’s mine, buddy,’ as he’s watching me clean up his winter storage,” Fischer said.
But this year, Fischer cleared out some of the walnuts from his truck before he left for his trip a few weeks ago. By the time he returned on Sept. 17, he found thousands of husks inside the vehicle — more than he has ever seen before.
“The squirrel set a record,” Fischer said. “Most I’ve ever pulled out was four or five six-gallon buckets. This year was seven.”
He extracted five buckets’ worth from the hood alone. Enough walnuts to fill another two buckets were wedged behind the fenders. Fischer said he had to remove the fenders from the truck to extract the nuts.
Like in years past, Fischer offered up the walnuts free on his Facebook page. The ones that aren’t taken will be thrown away, he said, “much to the chagrin of the squirrel.”
Although the cleanups can be arduous, he can’t help but see the humor in it all.
“With all the time taking the fenders off, what can you do but still laugh? Life is too short not to laugh about it.”
And he has no guilt about robbing the furry intruder of its nutritious treasures.
“If I did, it’s gone by that time I have to put my fenders back on my pickup,” he said.