The common redpoll could never be too common.
The common redpoll could never be too common. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

The morning arrived on time. I stepped outside in an attempt to grok the day.

I spotted tiny visitors, common redpolls. Some common redpolls tunnel into snow to stay warm at night. They are able to survive temperatures of -65 degrees.

It reminded me of listening to the whistling of pine grosbeaks in Alaska that had inspired me to travel to the Yukon to see other birds. I sat in the car as the Canadian border officer checked me out. I hoped that my path might cross those of goshawks and ptarmigans. Near the building from which the officer emerged was a flock of pine siskins. They are birds I see here, but they were every bit as worth seeing as a goshawk or ptarmigan.

Seeing ptarmigans later brought to mind the community of Chicken, Alaska, population of somewhere between seven and 50. In the 1800s, miners found an area near the South Fork of the 40-Mile River abundant in ptarmigan, now Alaska’s state bird, which bears a resemblance to a chicken. In 1902, that city was incorporating. The name Ptarmigan was suggested. The problem was that the founders weren’t sure as to the correct spelling. They settled on Chicken.

It had been ridiculously cold. On this day, it was just normally cold. I found solace in that. Some call it a cold snap because when it gets so cold, you snap. Phaethon, the son of Helios (the sun god) in Greek mythology, borrowed his father's chariot and nearly set the earth on fire by approaching too close to it. Zeus averted the catastrophe by striking him down with a thunderbolt. 

I watched chickadees. It’s hard not to. Chickadees do things adorably. A pair of downy woodpeckers visited the suet. Our smallest woodpecker is found in every state except Hawaii. The male has the red color and the female wears only black and white feathers. The female searches for food on large limbs and trunks of trees. The male works the smaller branches.

Guy from down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I ate grits for the first time yesterday. I didn’t know if I’d like them, so I had just one grit.

“The weather has been like that experienced by the weatherman Phil Connors in the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ It’s the same every day. Cold!

“I can get by on four hours of sleep a night during the winter, as long as I get a six-hour nap during the day.”

Echoes From Loafers’ Club

I wouldn’t worry about the approaching blizzard.

We’re supposed to get 14 feet of snow. Why wouldn’t I worry about that?

Because everything will be all white.

The cafe chronicles

You’re late. 

I was delaying the inedible. What’s the special today? 

It’s what nobody would eat yesterday.

And you call that a special? 

If we called it what it is, no one would order it.

An entry-level winter day

It was a windy day. We have windy days. That’s why it takes so many nails to hold our houses together.

An old neighbor and I were likely having the same conversations that our fathers once had. He was enjoying a medicinal cheeseburger. He called it a flu shot.

“Whatever happened to the windchill factor?” he asked between bites.

There was something thrilling in hearing a weather report saying that it was 20 degrees below zero, -43 with the windchill. I told him the windchill factor had been tried and found guilty of crimes to humanity. It was sentenced to life in Arizona, where it does community service in the summer.

The landline rang

For some odd reason, I looked right where it was. It was a small piece of plastic on the floor. I picked it up and pondered its identification. It had to have come from something. I wondered if it were important. Was it a vital cog in sustaining the existence of some contraption or a useless article? Was it broken? Did it come from something we still had? Did I dare throw it away? I erred on the side of caution and placed it in the drawer of unidentified and broken parts.

My thoughts of that lost object vanished when the landline rang. When that phone rings, the caller is usually someone who uses a phonebook, a telemarketer or someone I hadn’t talked to in years.

The caller was an old neighbor. We’d been in woodworking class in school together. That’s where we learned how to make fruitcake.

It was a time as Lewis Carroll wrote, “To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings." 

He asked if I remembered Fizzies. I remember dropping a tablet into a glass of water and watching it fizz, creating a beverage that reminded those with good imaginations of a soft drink. Fizzies came in cherry, grape, orange, lemon-lime, root beer, strawberry and cola flavors. We shared laughs as we’d once shared Fizzies.

Ask Al

“Do you have paintings on the walls of your home?”

Yes, the best one was done by Sherwin-Williams.

“Do you own a boat?”

I do, but I’m not allowed to use it in the bathtub when my wife isn’t home.

“What makes potholes?”

They’re made by small mammals called road dents.

“What’s the easiest way to learn to tie knots?”

Put your earbuds in your pocket.

Nature notes

Diane Arbus said, "My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been."

I love going to new places and seeing new things, but I love going to old places and seeing familiar things even more. 

I watched a balled flock of starlings fly. Not everyone likes starlings. Many think them ugly. I think all things are beautiful. I’m called to witness, not judge. Things that fly are brilliant. Nature doesn’t trust me with wings. The flock whirled and wheeled in the air, turning fast and coming around, blackening a small bit of the world. It formed a fist before thinning and changing direction. It’s called a murmuration. It’s a sight that the word "amazing" was coined to describe. It was good to see, great to appreciate.


“Why do some birds that should migrate spend the winter here?”

It’s because they want their youngsters to see snow.

“Do chickadees roost with other chickadees in the winter?”

No matter how cold it gets, chickadees generally sleep in their own individual cavities.

“How good is an owl’s hearing?”

When I was a boy, I was told that an owl could hear a mouse hiccup in a haystack. I’ve read that a perched great gray owl can locate a vole 60 feet away under 18 inches of snow. I’m not sure what study discovered that, but accurate or not, an owl’s hearing is sharp.

“How much does a deer have to eat in the winter?”

It would depend upon the size of the animal, how much body fat the deer had managed to accumulate (abundant acorns are good for this) and the severity of the winter. Extreme cold and deep snow create hardships. Look for deer activity on south-facing slopes and in conifer stands that shield deer from winds and snow. I’d suspect a deer would need 3 to 10 pounds of winter browse per day to stay warm.

“How do birds deal with cold weather?”

The birds that winter here hunker down and deal with the conditions. They eat a lot. Food is fuel for the furnace. They fluff their feathers to increase insulation and stay out of the wind. Some roost in cavities, others in dense foliage.

"What kind of bird was Woodstock of 'Peanuts' comic strip fame?"

He was a little, yellow bird. He hated being mistaken for the wrong species. Snoopy wondered what type of bird Woodstock was and attempted to identify Woodstock with the aid of a field guide, asking Woodstock to attempt to imitate various birds such as the crow, American bittern, Carolina wren, eastern towhee, yellow-billed cuckoo, Canada goose, and mourning warbler. Snoopy gave up by saying, "For all I know, you're a duck." Charles Schulz never indicated what kind of bird Woodstock was supposed to be.

Meeting adjourned

“Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.” — Eric Hoffer

Thanks for stopping by

“Every species is a magic well.” — E.O. Wilson 

“It’s always the simple that produces the marvelous.“ – Amelia Barr


© Al Batt 2018