Chestnut Wars: Squirrels vs. Old Asian Ladies

I wish I had a picture of this to accompany this post, but alas, every time I see this happen it's because I'm on a run and don't have a phone or a camera with me to capture it. Unless you live in Queen Anne in Seattle and have seen it for yourself, you're just going to have to take my word for it.

Bigelow Avenue, located on the eastern side of upper Queen Anne, has a number of large, old, and prolific chestnut trees. In the late summer, these trees begin the process of shedding the chestnuts, which look like this:

Gross, I know. They look much prettier once they have shed those hairy exteriors. I don't have to tell you what that second image looks like. Let your imagination go there. 

Anyway, the first time I encountered these chestnuts was a couple of years ago while running with our dog, Cassie. I had no clue what they were at first, but Cassie decided they were devil spawn and would come screeching to a halt so that she could gingerly pick her way through the accumulating morass on Bigelow. As summer turned to fall and the pretty brown chestnuts began emerging from their hairy cocoons, I started to notice something strange during these strictly enforced periods of tedious walking: little old Asian ladies out on the street, particularly early in the morning, collecting these chestnuts in canvas sacks. 

At first I was convinced it was a random one-off, but for weeks, every time I would go for a morning run, the old ladies would be there, quietly wandering around picking up chestnuts up off of the street. Now, mind you, Bigelow is a gorgeous, curving, tree-lined avenue full of expensive houses that overlook downtown Seattle and Lake Union. Based on the behavior of the chestnut collectors, I can only imagine that the relationship between them, the homeowners, and the chestnut trees, must be some long-standing, unspoken agreement, because these ladies frequently walk right up onto people's porches to grab choice chestnuts, root around in the hedges, and wander along the sides of houses in what had to have been plain view of the homeowners. I continue to be absolutely baffled. 

Fast forward to this fall. It's a Saturday morning in September, around 7:30am. Cassie and I are out for a run. We hit Bigelow Avenue, Cassie invariably stops dead in her tracks because God forbid she should actually come into contact with a chestnut, I swear loudly as my shoulder nearly comes out of its socket. I look up and sure enough, the street is speckled with old Asian ladies gathering chestnuts. But this time, something is different. The old Asian ladies have competition. The local squirrels have apparently realized that their bounty is being adversely possessed, and they have decided that it is fuck-this-shit o'clock.

In case you've been living under a rock and have never encountered a squirrel in a park somewhere, let me tell you, they are aggressive little fuckers. 

If they think you have food, or they think you're about to take their food, they will come after you, darting up to you in as menacing a way as an animate bottle brush can muster. And let me tell you, they were pissed about these old Asian ladies bogarting their chestnuts. They were running circles around them, grabbing chestnuts off the ground as quickly as possible, hissing and flicking their tails around. The old Asian ladies, for their part, were hissing right back, swinging their bags of chestnuts at the squirrels and kicking empty chestnuts shells in an effort to distract them.

As I stood their, somewhat dumbstruck by the scene unfolding in front of me, my shoulder once again almost came unhinged when Cassie looked up from the hell spawn long enough to do this: 

For the next half a mile, I was dragged through a gauntlet of chestnuts, Asian ladies, and squirrels as my damn dog unleashed mayhem trying to catch one of these greedy, aggressive little rodents. Sadly for Cassie, tree-climbing is not within the realm of her capabilities, although God knows she tried.

As of last week, the chestnuts are gone, as are the Asian ladies. The detritus was removed by street sweepers, and has been replaced with a slippery, slimy coating of fall leaves. The squirrels are still their to ensure that my arm doesn't stay in its socket for too long, although they are spending a lot less time on the ground and a lot more time in the trees these days. I'm sure that this process will repeat again starting next August. It may finally be time for me to throw in the towel and leave Cassie behind.


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