This is a thong tree which would have been tied with thongs to bend. They often marked paths through the forest. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
This is a thong tree which would have been tied with thongs to bend. They often marked paths through the forest. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

It was a day that some would claim unfit for man and beast. Windy and cold, white forms blew up from the road ahead. Some of the snowflakes had feathers. Snow buntings feed in our fields and on graveled roadsides. They breed in the Arctic tundra.

A fine find

John Hurd of North Mankato found this in a July 1, 1905, newspaper that was in a wall cavity of an old house in lower North Mankato. It was under a section entitled "Friends in Fur and Feathers." The article was called "A Bird with a Degree."

"The birds all met once on a tall maple tree, On the uppermost branch, to confer a degree. To one of their number, this honor they gave because he was cheery and happy and brave. The degree was conferred by the president crow, All dressed in the neatest black, as you know. So now that proud member, which often you'll see, is known by the title of Chicka D.D.!"

John's find reminds me of the thrill I get each time I see a chickadee. It causes me to fall in love with the world all over again.

Echoes From the Loafers' Club Meeting

"You are one of the hardest-working men I know."

"I wish I could say the same thing about you."

"Well, you could if you were as big a liar as I am."

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 most people are self-taut.

Winter weary or filled with the wonder of winter

I was driving. My sister, Georgianna, whom I tend to call Georgie, was riding shotgun on a cold, blustery day. I pointed out the plethora of birds that flew up from the graveled roadsides at the approach of my car.

I identified snow buntings, Lapland longspurs, horned larks, dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows.

Georgie did not seem as excited about seeing the birds as I was. It was not because she does not like birds.

Her lack of enthusiasm was because she does not like winter.

She blames that on her birth month. She was born in June. By the time cold temperatures arrived, she was used to being warm.

It makes sense, I guess. I like winter.

I was born in March. A blizzard was held in honor of my arrival.

I thought that was how things would be.

Christmas redux

I was doing some Christmas shopping. I considered some chocolate-covered cherry cordials. They are disgustingly sweet candies that my father favored. I found the candy aisle easily. I could not miss it. It was everywhere. I found the candy of my father's dreams.

A couple of things had changed since I last encountered them with buying on my mind. These candies were called "cordial cherries." I guess they were friendly fruit. The other change was that the product was now available in three varieties - dark chocolate, milk chocolate and French vanilla. I did not have a three-sided coin to flip. Faced with three choices, I chose none.

Mr. Goodtape

My glove box refused to stay shut. That is no problem for a Mr. Goodwrench wannabe like me. I duct-taped it closed. With duct tape, all things are possible.

I have been married for a long time. I have used up most of my good ideas for gifts for my bride. Worthy presents are still obtainable, but difficult to find.

I gave my wife a classic film for her birthday. It was a package of 24 exposures of 200 speed Kodak Elite Chrome film for color slides that promised "Vibrant, pure colors with natural skin tones." It had a best used by date of October 2001. I had found it behind shelved books at home. She was not surprised. I should have given her duct tape.

Casino chronicles

I told stories on stage at a large casino. I suppose there are small casinos, but I do not think I have ever been in one.

I visited with some of those in attendance. One, Jan Leach of Garrison, walked to her hotel room to retrieve something she had forgotten. Not only had she forgotten something in her room, she had forgotten how big the facility was. When she returned, she said, "The next time I go back to my room, I'm staying here."

A life lived well

I attended the funeral of a friend, Rod Searle of Waseca. The clergyman read one of Rod's favorite poems, one written by William Cullen Bryant and titled, "Thanatopsis."

"So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

Rod abided by that.

Customer comments

Ric McArthur of Morpeth, Ontario wrote, "I'm retired. Mondays are just early Saturdays."


A great horned owl had hooted as if there were still a few flowers left in the bunch. Listen for great horned owls to start their duet hooting in January. Chickadees begin whistling, "Spring's here." They might be overly optimistic, but spring is somewhere.

Meeting adjourned

It was 12 degrees below zero. I went for a walk. It would have been a cracklin' mosey for Neil Diamond. I forgot to wear a hat with earlappers. I know, I know. I held my gloved hands over my ears. That prevented me from hearing anyone ask, "Cold enough for you?"

I finished the walk in the sunshine. We can take a lot of winter if the sun shines. A kind word is sunshine on a cold day.


Richard Anderson of Albert Lea wrote that he had heard that coots migrate at night. He said that was logical as they are on the lake one day and gone the next.

Coots do migrate at night. Many birds do. Migration is an endurance test. At night the atmospheric structure is much more stable. It is cooler and smoother than during the day. The coolness helps birds maintain healthy body temperatures without large water losses, while the smoothness of the air allows for maintaining a course without expending energy correcting a course in turbulent air.

As many predators are active during the day, migrating at night makes small birds less vulnerable to predation. It's easier to find food during the day. Night migrators spend the daylight hours in a stopover patch with good food resources, packing on the calories to regain weight lost in overnight flight.

A customer of this column asked about Indian thong trees. They are also called trail trees, thong trees and Indian trail trees. A thong tree rises from the ground. Then the trunk bends horizontally before bending at a right angle and once again heading vertically. Legend has it that Native Americans bent over a sapling, using leather thongs or a forked stick to hold it in place, causing it to form in an atypical shape.

A storm could cause such a thing. A big tree falling on a little tree without killing it. There are number of these trees around. If you look for them, you will find them. They are great places to sit and eat lunch. Many of the trees I see are too young to have had any sincere dealings with Native Americans.

It is said that the strange trees were supposed to point to water, good hunting, hideouts or buried treasure. They likely do eventually. Others believe they are used to mark trails. You cannot rule out such things. An odd-shaped tree needs a story. Others say that trail trees were used to cure hides. The idea that thong trees are manmade continues to be met with a great deal of skepticism.

Harlan Lutteke of Alden asks where blue jays sleep in winter. Small birds have higher metabolic rates than large ones because of the relationship of surface to volume. Heat dissipates from the surface of an object. That is why northern animals are often larger-bodied than the same species living in warmer climates. A larger body typically means a lower surface area to volume ratio.

Blue jays might head for dense vegetation, such as a tangle of vines or evergreen shrubs. Evergreens offer good protection from wind and cold. They might sleep perched close to the trunk of trees. The trunk holds a bit of heat from the day and the birds would be alerted to any vibrations predators make while climbing the tree.

Craig Rayman, Glenville, asked about the pecking order at bird feeders. Pecking order is widely used to indicate status or rank of such diverse creatures from birds to humans. We do not even have any beaks to peck with.

The term derives from the observation of chickens, which commonly form dominance hierarchies. Individual birds need other birds. More eyes and ears make it easier to detect predators. Still, the dominant bird wants to be the first to feed at the trough, have first choice of foods, and be the first to get its fill.

Thanks for stopping by

"The world is full of obvious things, which nobody by chance ever observes."- Arthur Conan Doyle

"Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am to be blessed."-Mary Oliver


© Al Batt 2013