By Wendy Langhans
Imagine trying to eat corn-on-the-cob without teeth. Or biting into a juicy dill pickle. Or munching on a bag of trail mix. Not so easy, is it? Teeth are a tool we take for granted – until they stop working. And every tool requires maintenance to keep it working properly.
Eastern Grey squirrels are omnivores who feed on nuts, flowers and buds, as well as cultivated corn and wheat. They don’t have the luxury of purchasing unshelled seeds and nuts; their food is protected by a packaging even tougher than the hard plastic wrap used on small electronics. That’s why they have two sets of sharply chiseled incisor teeth – one pair on the top and one pair on the bottom of their jaws. But these teeth still receive quite a bit of wear and tear. That’s why their incisors are constantly growing – at the rate of about 6 inches per year.
Eastern Grey Squirrel.
That’s not the case with human teeth. Once our permanent incisors erupt, they don’t grow any larger. Our last teeth to erupt, the Wisdom teeth, come in around age 16-18 (or possibly as late as age 25). But we eat some of the same foods as squirrels – wheat seeds, corn kernels and nuts, so how do we manage to keep our teeth from wearing down?
We built a tool, a millstone that grinds our seeds into flour.
Last week, my husband and I visited southeastern Pennsylvania. While we were there, we visited the Newlin Grist Mill. Built in 1704 and re-constructed in 1992, the mill harnesses the water from Chester creek and utilizes 1704 “state of the art” technology (waterwheel and millstones) to grind field corn into cornmeal.
Cornmeal being ground at the Newlin Grist Mill.
But even this new tool does not eliminate the issue of wear and tear. Any tool requires maintenance to keep it working properly. While we were at the Mill, we learned about the need to periodically “dress” (sharpen) the millstones: “A merchant mill would dress a millstone once a month or when it grinds between 100 to 200 thousand pounds of grain.”
So I’ll leave you with one final picture: an Eastern Grey squirrel sitting on top of a worn-out millstone, chewing on a nut. I wonder if he was laughing at me?
Eastern Grey Squirrel, sitting on a worn-out millstone.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, November 21, 8-10 AM. Bird walk in Towsley Canyon. All year round, the habitats of Towsley Canyon attract a wealth of bird-life. Beginners are welcome. Bring your binoculars. 2 hours, easy walk. For a map, go here.
Friday, November 27, 9-11 AM. After Thanksgiving Hike at East and Rice Canyon. Come work off that pumpkin pie while you learn about the many ways the Native Americans used our local plants to meet their need. For a map, go here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The Hike Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.