Jiminy! The crickets were loud. The snowy tree cricket is a chirping thermometer, making sleigh bell-like sounds on late summer evenings. They're delicate-appearing, pale-green insects, usually found on bushes and trees. To convert cricket chirps to degrees Fahrenheit, count the number of chirps in 13 seconds and add 40.

A bald blue jay perched nearby. Baldness gave the bird an odd look. Some claim it's the work of mites, but I see it only on cardinals and blue jays. If it were mites, I'd think it'd show up in other species unless there are mites specializing in those two. It's likely a molt and the jay replaces the missing feathers without a hitch.

I picked up a fallen cicada. It was nearly a goner, but still buzzed a bit in my hand, like a joy buzzer that makes handshakes funny for kids who don't often shake hands. I recalled a joy buzzer available from the Johnson Smith catalog, a purveyor of whoopee cushions, fake vomit, rubber dog doo, sneezing powder, and flies encased in plastic ice cubes.

I saw a flying insect that had visited a dangerous website. As I watched a spider subdue its prey, I considered it a cautionary tale for all computer users.

I watched a monarch butterfly caterpillar feed on a milkweed leaf. I haven't seen many this year. I considered it a trophy caterpillar and wished it well.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

"I have bad news and good news for you."

"What's the bad news?"

"It's going to cost a lot more to fix your car than I told you."

"What's the good news?"

"I can't fix it."

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: I should clean my eyeglasses before I clean the windshield.

I've learned

The law of gravy gravity states that anything you drop on a table will fall into the gravy.

The Post Office could make a lot of money if they replaced the self-adhesive stamps with stamps, which require licking, that are laced with nicotine.

We may all be in the same boat, but not everyone is rowing.

The news from Hartland

Bread store's inventory is toast after fire.

Hard-to-find CDs and DVDs store's inventory isn't filed in any order, alphabetical or otherwise.

Racehorse retires after contracting severe case of jockey itch.

To tell the tooth

I've been to the dentist before, so I know the drill. My dentist, who believes that my mouth is so big he could work from inside it, told me what needed to be done. It was a minor procedure, even though there is no minor procedure to a patient of any kind. He threw in a bunch of words he'd learned in vocabulary class at dental school. I knew they were toothy terms, but I asked him to put it into terms I could understand.

"$840," he said.

I understood.

Reading the obituaries

I saw in the newspaper that a man I knew had died. The obituary section is filled with people I know. I knew him a little, liked him a lot. So I employed my cellphone to go to the funeral home website to leave a message of condolence. I typed out the message on the tiny keyboard and added my name. I checked the message to make sure there were no typos. I sent the message. It popped up on the screen of the funeral home website. I had misspelled my name. It was Al Bart. It read like it was a message from a bad guy on an old Roy Rogers show.

A handle on shopping

I found myself shopping in a big store. That's not my natural habitat. I bought toilet paper. It came in a bale of 12 rolls. The cashier put a handle on the toilet paper for ease in carrying. That was nice.

I also bought a box of Colorado peaches. I enjoy a Colorado peach. The box contained a plethora of peaches arranged in two layers. I didn't get a handle with it.

Cafe chronicles

I stopped at a small-town cafe located in a fine city where three out of four people make up 75 percent of the population.

I've found that "How's the corn?" is a good way to greet an older farmer in the summer. This precludes getting a detailed report of any medical procedures.

A fellow diner brought his appetite and the appetite belonging to several others. He wrapped his bacon in bacon.

Another consumer sat down with a grunt and a moan before saying, "Old age isn't what it used to be."

Did you know?

A metaphor is a figure of speech that transfers the sense or aspects of one thing to another. A simile is a type of metaphor in which the comparison is made with the use of the word "like" or "as."

Hate-watching is a term for watching television shows that you don't like, but get perverse satisfaction from.

The per capita automobile usage in the U.S. is 820 miles per month.

Customer comments

Jan Jerdee of Albert Lea said that her grandmother made her lefse thin. If you could hold a round of lefse in your hand and not be able to see the lines of the palm, the lefse was too thick.

When I asked Neal Batt of Hartland when his house would be finished, he replied, "November or December, but I'm not sure of what year."

Nature notes

Nancy Skophammer of Albert Lea asked for a recommendation for a bird book for a third grader. There are many, but I like "The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America" written by a good friend named Bill Thompson, III. It was written especially for kids ages 8 and up, after consultation with children as to what they would like in a field guide.

Q-and-A

Connie Hoyne of Albert Lea asked the identity of caterpillars on dill.

Caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly, the state butterfly of Oklahoma, feed on parsley, carrots, dill, fennel, celery, and Queen Anne's lace. The female lays a single yellow egg on a leaf or flower of a host plant. It hatches in four to nine days. It overwinters as a chrysalis. Sometimes when disturbed, a caterpillar displays a forked appendage on the top of its head known as an osmeterium that emits a foul smell used to discourage enemies. It's harmless to people. The caterpillars find high, sheltered places for their pupate.

Nancy Skophammer of Albert Lea asked why her oak trees have so many acorns this year.

Mast years occur when trees produce an abundance of acorns. Mast years happen irregularly. Acorn production is cyclical and somewhat random. Some years oak trees produce heaps of acorns. Other years, they produce almost none. Weather cycles can help grow a crop. Contrary to folklore, the presence of many acorns doesn't forecast a colder than normal winter. A tree often produces plentiful nuts when stressed by drought, disease, etc., but a large crop doesn't guarantee a tree is troubled. Following a particularly large acorn crop, oaks could have years with little or no acorn production. One factor that can interfere with acorn production is frost. This cyclical aspect is likely inherent within each species and is evidently a survival strategy. It's speculated that years of little or no acorn production reduce populations of seed predators (such as squirrels and deer). With fewer predators in the years of large mast production, great numbers of acorns survive and germinate.

Bob Krenik of Madison Lake asked what happened to prairie chickens and if pheasants played a role in driving them away.

In pre-settlement times, the greater prairie-chicken likely occurred in only extreme southern Minnesota. Pioneers said that they were once "as common as blackbirds" in southern Minnesota prairies. The species followed the northward spread of agriculture and logging, and by 1880 was found statewide with several exceptions. The subsequent conversion of prairies to row crops and forest succession reduced its range. They're still in Minnesota, primarily in the grasslands in the northwest. Lack of appropriate habitat is the greatest threat to greater prairie-chicken populations. Large, nearly treeless landscapes are needed. Ring-necked pheasants are nest parasites of the greater prairie-chicken and they disrupt booming grounds and feeding areas. A pheasant hen lays eggs in another pheasant or prairie chicken nest. Nest parasitism is a strategy that increases the likelihood that some of the chicks survive. The DNR began relocating greater prairie-chickens into west-central Minnesota in 1999, centering around the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area and Big Stone County.

Customer comments

A caller found GoJo, the hand cleaner, to be effective in removing skunk smell from a dog. If you use it, be careful around the dog's eyes. I have heard from folks using Dawn, Murphy Oil Soap, and Head and Shoulders Shampoo for that same purpose.

Thanks for stopping by

"Did you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be forgotten." - Walt Whitman

"Success consists of a series of little daily victories." - Laddie F. Hutar

Meeting adjourned

The next time you have nothing to do, be kind.

DO GOOD.

© Al Batt 2013