BY Richard D. L. Fulton
To some people, squirrels may seem a public nuisance, chewing on wiring and rubber tires, or finding ways into attics, making a mess out of the insulation.
Some see squirrels as being a free meal, beginning as far back as whenever the original human occupants of the Americas figured out how to catch them.
But to others, merely observing or documenting squirrel behavior provides a glimpse into one of nature’s basic forms of governance, tribalism…hewn into animal perfection in the case of the squirrels during their 40 million years of existence.
Having initially evolved in North America, squirrels, as a whole, have survived a half-dozen major ice ages and an equal number of periods of moderate-to-maximum global warming and, along the way, ultimately resulted in their inhabiting every continent, except Australia.
Today, there are over 300 species of squirrels worldwide. Of the five squirrel species that are found in Maryland, the gray squirrel tends to be the species most encountered in Frederick County. Somewhat scarcer species to be observed include the red squirrels, fox squirrels, and Southern flying squirrels. As an aside, there is no shortage of Eastern chipmunks, which are also considered squirrels, as is the woodchuck, according to a county-generated watershed study.
The 23-acre Thurmont Community Park provides the perfect habitat for the gray squirrels, who are arboreal (tree-loving) by nature, and provides park visitors with ample opportunity to enjoy observing their interactions with each other and humans, as well as the playfulness of their young—and they are not particularly camera-shy as well.
In fact, one of the local Thurmont photographers recently found himself engaged in photographing the grays in the park after having returned from his previous employment in Alaska.
Brenton Knott, a Thurmont photography enthusiast, began searching the area for potential photography subjects. He found himself exploring Community Park, where he noticed the prolific gray squirrel population (he had also spotted a rarer red squirrel on one occasion).
Knott said he came across the park when he was in the process of “scouting out potential landscape compositions.” He said, upon arriving at the park, “Immediately after I got out of my car, three squirrels came up to me (seeking edible handouts), so I changed my focus on the squirrels.”
“I did have a chance to feed the squirrels,” he said, adding, “The most interesting thing about them, I thought, was that they were very friendly. They (generally) kept their distance, but they were not afraid to come up to you.”
Knott, who originally hailed from Monrovia in Frederick County, developed an interest in photography while he was attaining his associate degree in music in 2011 at the Frederick Community College. His interest in photography carried over into art classes that he then attended at the University of Maryland.
Knott explained his fascination with photography by its ability to allow one to “capture a whole story in an image.”
In 2014, Knott accepted a position as a deli and bakery manager for the Alaska Commercial Company (and, subsequently, with the State of Alaska Court System), resulting in his move to Kotzebue, 34 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
While the position was grocery supply related and not photography related, the Alaskan scenery and wildlife further fueled his interest in photography. He soon found himself expanding on the cameras and lenses, and frequently ventured out to take pictures, which included wildlife (mainly birds), scenic landscapes, and his favorite: the Northern Lights. “I shot pictures the whole time I was in Alaska,” he said.
But, when he adopted a seven-week-old female husky, named Coconut, last year, the puppy’s allergic reaction to certain dog foods created a problem. The nearest veterinarian was not within a reasonable driving distance. In fact, it required Knott to secure flight passage for himself and Coconut in order to acquire medical help for his dog.
With this in mind, he decided to return to Frederick County earlier this year.
Presently, when not indulging in his photography, he is now employed at the Farmhouse Exchange in Thurmont.
Knott said that, ultimately, he would like to relocate to Upstate New York, where he plans “to work remotely, build a homestead, and live a simpler lifestyle,” along with Coconut, whom he believes would more than likely feel more “at home” in the Upstate New York climate.
Brenton Knott has captured thousands of photos of the Thurmont Community Park’s community of squirrels.