Norm Emerson of St. James shared this photo of the white-winged crossbill.
Norm Emerson of St. James shared this photo of the white-winged crossbill.

Virginia opossums live in woodlands and agricultural areas. An opossum's naked ears, nose and tail are susceptible to frostbite. They spend their days in hollow logs, tree cavities, dens in the ground, brush piles or under buildings. Opossums don’t dig, so they inhabit burrows created by other animals such as groundhogs.

Some opossums travel considerable distances at night. When threatened, opossums click their teeth and growl, but when cornered, they may fall into a deathlike state and secrete a foul-smelling scent. This is called "playing possum." We’ve all done that.

Opossums are opportunistic omnivores, eating fruits, worms, snakes (opossums are resistant to the venom of poisonous snakes like rattlesnakes), eggs, nuts, rodents, snails, slugs, birds, grains, ticks, pet food and garbage.

The famous comic strip character, Walt Kelly’s Pogo Possum, said, "We have met the enemy and he is us," that became a rallying cry for a generation of conservationists.

Opossums have met the enemy and it is the automobile. They are one of the sanitation workers of the wild, but because of an appetite for roadkill, they are often hit by automobiles.

Opossums have a remarkable ability to find food and to remember its location, being better at this than are rabbits, rats, cats or dogs.

Aunt Ingeborg had an opossum that visited her front porch steps nightly to feed from her pets’ plates. Ingeborg looked forward to the opossum’s visits.

Guy from down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’ve been contemplating my belly button. I’ve decided that I have the great American navel. Inspired by that, I bought a roll of postage stamps. Each stamp has ‘love’ on it. I refuse to use them to send any bill payments. I don’t love spending money. I made a corn maze on the farm this year. It was only 12 plants, but it confused my family.”

“Did you have an adult beverage as a toast to Thanksgiving?” I say.

“You know me, I never drink anything stronger than pop. Of course, Pop will drink anything. Pop is no spring chicken. He’s not even a fall chicken, but I’m thankful that he’s taught me so much. He taught me that any place could be an emergency toilet. That’s a handy thing to know.”


I saw a Christmas tree tied to the roof of a car. ‘Tis the season. I had the desire to toss a couple of Christmas decorations onto the prone tree.

It’s also the season for muskrat mounds, otherwise called houses, push-ups or lodges. A muskrat doesn’t haul in logs and pack mud between them as beavers do. It fashions the mounds out of grasses, reeds and sticks. The mounds serve as homes in the winter. Muskrats eat the roots, stems, leaves and fruits of water plants, such as cattails, wild rice, water lilies and rushes. It also eats small fish, clams, snails and turtles. A muskrat doesn’t store food for the winter. It leaves its house to reach plants under the ice. Its name was probably derived from "le rat musque," a French name shortened to muskrat. Otters and mink are its prime predators.

I noticed spherical lumps on the stems on goldenrod plants during my walk. This gall is produced in response to a goldenrod gall fly laying an egg on a young goldenrod stem in the spring. When the egg hatches, the larva burrows into the plant stem. The larva's saliva, believed to mimic plant hormones, causes the plant to produce exaggerated growth, which provides the larva with food and protection. The larvae provide food for birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches.

William Wordsworth wrote, “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” No cloud was lonely on this day. It was cloudy enough that there was no room for another cloud in the sky. Cloud watching is as contagious as yawns in a sleep clinic. Does that cloud look like a rabbit or an electric sander? From a certain angle, each cloud looks like a cloud.

I didn’t mind the clouds. My day had been brightened by photos of a white-winged crossbill that I’d received from Norm Emerson of St. James. White-winged crossbills are nomads of the spruce woods, wandering the boreal zones of the northern hemisphere in search of good spruce cone crops. Their crossed bills are made for prying open spruce cones to get the seeds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that white-winged crossbills with lower mandibles crossing to the right are approximately three times more common than those with lower mandibles crossing to the left.

Hedwig was a snowy owl

Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig, was a female snowy owl.

Snowy owls nest in the arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska. This large, white raptor comes to Minnesota in the winter to hunt voles, mice and other small animals. Their migrations are widespread and unpredictable.

Echoes From Loafers’ Club

I wish I had my good suit to wear to the banquet.

Where is your good suit?

I loaned it to my cousin a couple of years ago.

Why don’t you get it back from him?

It’s not worth digging him up just for that.

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 thought of something a friend had told me. He’d said that it was snowing up in Alaska. That was an incredible thing. It snows down here, whenever it snows, except when a strong wind causes it to snow sideways. Snowing up would be a good thing. There would be no shoveling involved.

The cafe chronicles

Men who are bad at math were throwing dice to see who’d buy the coffee. One reminded another that he’d hit a cow on the way to the second man’s wedding. That happened over 47 years ago, but he liked to remind him of it regularly.

One of the breakfast philosophers said that it was amazing how old you become when you don’t lie about your age. “I’ll be back for lunch. I see the special is chili. Will it give me heartburn?” he asked a server.

The waitress replied, “You leave a 50-cent tip and you expect medical advice?”

From the music department

I once lived in Minneapolis because of family. They didn’t live in Minneapolis. They wanted me to live at least that far away from home.

My son, Brian, lives in New Ulm because he wants to. He and his wife have five children. We got together for a good meal at the Red Leaf Cafe and the talk turned to music. Brian likes The Eagles and I tend to side with The Dude, a character in the movie, “The Big Lebowski,” who wasn’t a big fan of that group. In an effort to claim that I appreciated musical diversity, I said I enjoyed the band named Buffalo Springsteen. I meant, “Buffalo Springfield.” I’d managed to combine Buffalo Springfield and Bruce Springsteen.

I’ll have to limit my future rock conversations to The Who. That’s a name that is easy to remember.

Thanksgiving in hindsight

I’m sure this has happened to many people. Well, maybe not many people, but it’s likely happened to a few. Perhaps not a few, but a couple must have had it happen to them. Now that I think about it, it might not have happened to anyone.

My sister-in-law, Glenda, was wielding an aerosol can of whipped cream as she added sweet insulation to the roof of a slice of pumpkin pie. The aerosol can had a mean streak and it sprayed me. I was an innocent bystander, busily pondering the delights of pumpkin pie, when I was splattered with whipped cream. It didn’t hurt me any. I needed sweetening.

Glenda has always been good at sharing.

In local news

Procrastinators' Club postpones monthly meeting — again.

Halfway house stalled at 50 percent completion.

Judge eats trial mix in courtroom.

Thanks for stopping by

“I encourage people to be nice to their pets. They’ve seen you naked and not laughed. OK, maybe they do laugh, but they have the decency to wait until you leave the room.” — Oliver Christianson 

“When I rise up, let me rise up joyful like a bird. When I fall, let me fall without regret like a leaf.” ?  Wendell Berry

Meeting adjourned

“A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.” — Joseph Joubert


© Al Batt 2017