Category Archives: Nature

Small Towning it

I put a bird feeder up, and made sure that I could see it from my seat at the dining room table, just like the setup I had in our Kansas house. It’s the little things that make a home, don’t cha know. It took about a whole 10 minutes before a Nuthatch showed up and it’s been Chickadee and Nuthatch central ever since. My intention with the bird feeder was to provide an alternate lunch for a certain Downy Woodpecker that’s been rat ta tap tapping on my house. Today Woody finally shows up but really couldn’t puzzle out how to get food out of the feeder. Pecking everywhere on the clear plastic tube, but never in the opening where the seed was. I stood at the window shouting at him “No you idiot! Quit pecking at the clear part, look for the hole, you moron!”

I wasn’t the only one watching this spectacle. The neighborhood Finches were hanging around, with their beaks agape, marveling at a bird that couldn’t find food at a feeder. Picture Helen Keller stuck on a sneeze guard, groping around for the buffet. Finches have notoriously short attention spans and after a full minute of watching this, swooped in, kicking Downey Dunce right off the feeder, who promptly went back to chewing on my house.

Small town living, they said, would be “different” than living in the remote wilds of Kansas. Since we had a stone house in Kansas and couldn’t see our neighbors, if a stupid woodpecker tried pecking at our stones, I don’t think I would have heard it, ‘cause our walls were 2 feet thick. But if I did, I’d dust him right off the house with my kitchen 12 gauge. Not saying I don’t have that same 12 gauge installed in our kitchen here, but the Grove Citians (we live in Grove City, pop 637) frown on that kind of thing in the frozen and civilized North. Comes under the Minnesota Nice rules, which ironically is another dang reason why we can’t have nice things.
All of which has got me singing “All I want for Christmas is a pellet gun, a pellet gun, a pellet gun. All I want for Christmas is something silent and sneaky, so I can wish a retarded woodpecker a Merry Christmas.” Yeah, I was reaching on that last verse, but I’ve always been a function over form kinda guy.

Portents in the Sky

I noticed an unusual cloud formation yesterday afternoon. The weather nerds had been claiming basketball sized hail, biblical rains and tornadic winds, like they always do, and as it almost always does, the sure to cause damage to life and limb weather missed us by a country mile. I wandered out to get a better look at the clouds and brought my camera, ‘cause if you don’t have pictures, it didn’t happen. Pro Tip garnered from numerous internet forums.

We have a whole passel of buzzards that like to hang around our place, and this year a breeding pair of Red Tailed Hawks has set up shop somewhere in our forest. That’s what the 1st Realtors claimed our place had. A forest. Only trees in the whole area, the one realtor chick claimed. The way they talked, I was wondering if I could maybe interest one of them big companies that clear-cut entire mountains to make a bid on our “forest” and we could skip the whole selling the place and live in high style with the…

Yeah, maybe not. Which is what I told them when they came back and wanted to list our place.

So, I was wandering down the driveway, looking at this cloud and next thing I know, I’ve got 7 buzzards floating directly over my head at a somewhat alarmingly low altitude, with the Red Tail Hawk just above them, screeching “Hey Dude!” For a moment there, I was wondering if the wife was going to collect that hefty chunk of life insurance I had taken out for moments very similar to this. Nope, turns out, the buzzards along with their new little buddy, “Gilligan” the hawk, were out for their usual afternoon patrol. They had launched off our silo and hadn’t quite hit a thermal to lift them high in the sky. Or, they were just being neighborly and saying “Howdy” before heading out for a snack.

I’m not quite sure how the hawk fits in with these guys. They eat old dead stuff and he likes live things that he has processed himself. None of them would sit still enough for a decent photo. I don’t really blame them, as I find it hard to sit still when I’m hungry too.

Gonna miss the friendly neighbors when we move. No, not enough to stay, well maybe if the Weyerhaeuser Company comes through with the big timber contract, but probably not. We don’t have chiggers in Minnesota and the catfish that everybody raves about down here, gets buried in the garden up there, where it belongs.

Locals

I grew up with an interest in nature. I think most kids from my childhood did, and I credit my Mom for telling me to get my hinder outside and don’t come in until supper. Just you, a couple of your besties from the neighborhood and the great outdoors. Mandated by our Mothers, we were forced into freedom to be kids and it was glorious. However, for every freedom given, there’s a bit of penance due. When it was supper time, I trudged into the house, muddy and quite often bleeding, but smiling all the same. A vigorous wash up was inflicted upon me, and the family sat down to supper, which mostly consisted of a hamburger something and canned vegetables. I didn’t mind so much the beef component, but mushy canned veggies were no bueno in my book and I spent some long, lonely hours at the table, sullenly staring at the hideous things until my dear old Dad would tell Mom to give it a rest and let the boy just go to bed. My dear Mother, being 102 pounds of rompin stompin German, did not always relent with demure grace.

Kinda got side-tracked a bit there. Let’s see, nature, meaning bugs and furry/feathered/scaly things. I like ‘em. So does the Mrs. She’s the only woman I know that likes spiders and snakes. I’ve brought, more than once, so called deadly serpents into the house to show her, and she just about gave me that “come hither look.” The flip side of that is that I’ve had grown men visibly quail at the mere mention of snakes and I’ve been forced to take a notch out of their Man card because of their Nancy boy ways. I have a feeling that those dudes might have liked canned vegetables a little bit too much in their youth.

Living in an old house, out on the wild Kansas prairie, requires lots of work. If you’re lucky, sometimes you’ll get a local or two showing up to help out and that’s much appreciated. We just put new windows in the stone part of the house and these modern things only have half a screen that likes to hang tough on the bottom half of the window. I like half screens because I quite often am taking pictures of some cool thing through the window and glass is a whole lot more transparent than a screen plus glass. The down side to that is when the screen is in the upright and locked position of the upper half, it leaves a small gap between the 2 window panes, where enterprising bugs can wiggle through. And lately that’s been fire flies. We get fire flies in the kitchen when I get up at some ungodly hour and next thing you know, they are blinking right in my face, which is sorta cool, but not when you get a half dozen of them hanging around waiting for dark and looking a lot like cockroaches. (Editor’s note: fire flies are what some of us call lightning bugs.) (Author’s note: people who like to pretend that they’ve been magically born and raised in the South and/or like to use Southern euphemisms to put on aires, are kinda silly.)

Anyhow, I was working myself up to a “final solution” when a cute little hunting spider crawled through the bug gap and proceeded to dine on excess blinky bugs. You can’t turn down help like that and he was invited to stay. Now and then, he would tend to wander, but a little judicious spider wrangling was employed and now he lives in the North kitchen window and handles all our minor bug problems.

The outside of the house had a volunteer, in fact 2 of them. Our South side door has an old wooden deck that hides lots of crawly things that just love to sneak in the house. Sweet Pea would take an interest, now and then, but lately, it’s been too hot and he just lays around all wilted from the heat. I stepped outside the other day and just about stepped on our 1st helper, a collared lizard. These guys drive the dog crazy, but they must have some German in them, as they are still hanging around, looking surly. Since this big and truculent looking bad boy showed up, the amount of buggage that has tried to enter the house has dropped to only wasps and hornets. I don’t mind them, cause it’s lots of fun running though the house, swinging at whatever flying menace has dared to enter the zone of doom. Bugs may fly in, but they get carried out, most often in kleenex.

The second guy that showed up to help (this is almost getting like a Home Depot parking lot) was something that most of you will loose your sh*t over, but you needn’t be so silly. He was on the path from the house to the parking area. A path created mostly by my wife, because she is convinced that chiggers, the bane of our rural existence, are in all the grass and hence she walks this path enough to practically make it dirt. So, this guy was in the path when she went out to get the mail. She ran back in and said come out quickly to see this, and I did. A beauty of a gopher snake was placidly sunning himself and I asked if he was from around these parts. He didn’t say much, just stuck his black forked tongue out a few time and I took that for a yup. Since I had him in a chatty mood, I mentioned that we happen have lots of mice and rats that needed killin. Again with the tongue. These boys are not noted conversationalists, but we struck a deal and that is good, cause my truck is in the shop again for something chewing on wires, and that is starting to rile me some. These snakes are the most common in Kansas and eat lots of mice and rats and many other pest-like things. Probably the most beneficial animal on the whole property, not counting my wife of course. You take your help where you can find them and be dang thankful that these guys are local and you don’t have to worry about them getting weirdo ideas like trying to change our home and ways to their home and ways, which they left. You may be thinking Californians and they’re a problem, but home grown, no matter how goofy. We’re moving to Minnesota and nobody wants to talk about the elephant or camel in the land of 10,000 lakes. Oops, did that slip out? I thought I was talking to myself again. Gonna be an interesting move.

I’ll leave you with more info on this cool snake. Try to not act like you’re 3 again and monsters are going to eat you. You’ll have a lot less stress in your life. You’re welcome ;~)

The Gopher Snake, also known as the Bullsnake, is harmless. It is the largest snake in Kansas, growing up to 8 feet in length. It has keeled scales; a pattern of 33–73 large brown or black blotches on a brownish yellow body. Tail with alternating yellow and black bands. Belly yellowish with variable black mottling. Young same as adults. Lives in open grasslands as well as open woodland and woodland edge; common in cultivated fields where there is an abundance of rodents. Active from April to November; generally diurnal, basking in the sun or foraging for food, but becomes nocturnal during hot summer months. Number of eggs per clutch ranges from 3-22. Constrictor. It is the most economically beneficial snake in Kansas, consuming large quantities of rodents and saving farmers from much grain loss; also eats pocket gophers, rabbits, ground squirrels, birds and bird eggs. Emits a loud “hiss” when disturbed or frightened.