AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READERA red-headed woodpecker takes a break to have a snack.

A red-headed woodpecker takes a break to have a snack.
I drove down a well-worn road built before my time, but graveled regularly. The rural road is part of a human footprint that crisscrosses the landscape. Some of the adjoining fields were cropless due to uncooperative weather. Nature still calls the shots, occasionally showing a thuggish side. The lack of a crop made the fields capable of raising nearly as much dust as the road.

Farmers strive to keep corn competitive, but Mother Nature is not ready to cede power.

Canada geese were numerous in a wetland. A friend claims that the geese are half-honk and half-poop.

Barn swallows perched on the utility wires. They are far too tiny to swallow any farm building, let alone a barn.

My yard holds a good number of barn swallows milling about waiting for the lawn mower. They follow the mower because it chases up flying insects for them to swoop down and devour. My wife calls them the "beak squad." The swallows are vociferous when in the company of the mower. They follow it on twitter.

The parents zip through the air, catching insects to feed their young waiting almost patiently on prominent perches. Older siblings from a previous brood and unrelated juveniles sometimes help feed the fledglings.

A dozen of the swallows like to rest on our driveway. They don't eat there or collect mud, so they are apparently soaking up warmth from the gravel or sunbathing.

I saw a family of chimney swifts come out of a chimney. They rose like smoke or from the ashes like a Phoenix. They are among the most aerial of birds, flying almost constantly except when at the nest or roosting. Its erratic flight gives the impression that a swift is beating only one wing at a time. It flaps both wings at once just like other birds. Nonbreeding swifts roost together in chimneys, but only one pair nests in a chimney. That pair may tolerate other swifts roosting in the chimney.

Chipping sparrows fluttered about. Once upon a time, this small native bird was frequently called a "social sparrow." When I was boy, I called them "hair sparrows." That was because they favored using hair in their nests.

We had a dog named Funny. Funny liked to nap at the top of our graveled drive. It gave him a spot where he could keep watch on the farm even while napping. It didn't always work that way. Sometimes he fell into a deep sleep, complete with dream paws. One day, while Funny was in a deep slumber, a chipping sparrow flew down near him. The tiny bird was looking for nesting material and Funny's bushy tail looked like a home furnishings store with hair on sale. The bird gave a yank to a promising hair. Funny woke up with a start, missing seeing the sparrow fly away. Funny was a nervous napper for a few days.

Birds and their activities. Nature unleashed. It was all good to see. They and their antics are a good reminder to stop and look.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

"I have a stomachache."

"Have you taken anything for it?"

"Yeah, a couple of bowls of chili, a half dozen doughnuts, and some fried chicken with gravy, but it didn't help."

Driving by the Bruces

I have two wonderful neighbors - both named Bruce - who live across the road from each other. Whenever I pass their driveways, thoughts occur to me, such as: Pickup trucks are short in front and long in back. They are the mullets of automobiles.

I've learned

A great day is one in which it rains on the garden, but not on the lawn.

Corn is a chick magnet.

At work, we worry about family. At home, we worry about work.

The news from Hartland

Going for the Dough Bakery offers that new carb smell.

Bill Jerome Home Lumberyard stacks its doors outside, in the great outdoors.

Man of conviction gets 10 years.

Ask Al

"How can I save money?"

Tie one shoestring lengthwise across your closed wallet. Tie another crosswise. When you're buying something, you'll need to untie both shoestrings. This will give you time to consider whether the purchase is necessary or wise.

"What's the best thing to put in a pie?" Teeth.

A driveway of fireflies

A reader from Willmar phoned before stopping by for a visit. He'd never been here before. He said, "I thought you'd have a longer driveway."

So did I. I grew up with a longer driveway that was lined with fireflies saying, "We light up the night sky."

Fireflies were the closest things to Disneyland in my life. I considered lassoing one. I used a hand-cranked device to turn baling twine into rope. I didn't learn any tricks with ropes. They must be taut. I didn't sell the ropes. I learned to tie knots with them. It was a knot-for-profit organization. My specialty was the Hartland knot. It's never the same twice.

A summer fall

A tree fell on Steve Overgaard of Albert Lea. You know you're having a bad day when a tree falls on you. Steve emerged from the incident with a dislocated shoulder and broken ribs. When Steve tells people about his encounter with the tree, people tell him how lucky he is. Steve said that he doesn't feel that lucky. If he'd been lucky, the tree would have missed him.

Blue Cross didn't cover vet's visit

Mary Hanke, a veterinarian in Stacyville, told me of a vet who tried to frighten a downed cow into standing up by driving at it with his pickup truck while honking the horn. It didn't work. He ran over the bovine. The only way that farmer was getting his cow back was if the veterinarian had been a taxidermist, too.

The same man, when treating a sick dog, would ask the canine's owner, "Do you want a dog or do you want that dog?"

I remember an early morning when a vet was examining one of our cows. I'd been feigning a sore throat in the hopes of staying home from school. After the vet finished his work, my father said to him, "The boy has been complaining of a sore throat. Take a look at him."

I went to school.

Cafe chronicles

The table sat at a jaunty angle. The waitress brought a menu and the details of her mother's gallbladder surgery. I ordered. The food was first rate. Do you remember when you went to that fancy slophouse and ordered something you couldn't pronounce and could barely afford? You know it's a fancy slophouse if you have to use a knife and fork to chew gum. Well, the grub in that small-town cafe tasted just like you'd hoped that fancy slophouse food would.

Did you know?

A tomato is a fruit eaten as a vegetable and rhubarb is a vegetable eaten as a fruit. Grandma stored produce by home canning. She said, "We eat what we can and what we can't, we can."

There are 31,272 post offices in the U.S., more than all the McDonald's, Starbucks and Walmarts combined. McDonald's has approximately 14,100 restaurants, Starbucks around 12,937, and Walmart has about 4,069 stores (the 621 Sam's Clubs not included).

Nature notes

Joanne Olson of Emmons asked how old rabbits are when they become independent. Cottontail rabbits leave the nest when they are 3 weeks old. A five-inch long rabbit with eyes open and ears erect is self-sufficient. The mother normally avoids the nest in daytime, feeding the young between dusk and dawn.

Nature lessons

"Catchy drawer and sticky door, coming rain will pour and pour."

A group of bananaquits is called a bunch. The bananaquit is a familiar bird of the New World tropics.

A reader from Texas hangs red Christmas tree ball ornaments on her tomato plants before the fruits form. Her theory is that birds peck the hard decorations, are disappointed, and ignore the red tomatoes when they appear.

Biologists estimate that loon parents and their two chicks could eat about a half-ton of fish over a 15-week period.

Hobby or obsession

Gary Hamel wrote, "Passion can make people do stupid things, but it's also the secret sauce that turns intent into accomplishment."

Phoebe Snetsinger, a housewife and mother of four, discovered birding in her Minnesota backyard in 1965 when she saw a Blackburnian warbler. Snetsinger traveled the world in a relentless pursuit of birds to add to her life list. She was the first person to see 8,000 species of birds.

Thanks for stopping by

"The human race is faced with a cruel choice: work or daytime television." - Dave Barry

"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want." ― Andy Warhol

Meeting adjourned

Mother Teresa said, "Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."


© Al Batt 2013