Nature had work to do one spring day

The prothonotary warbler played an important role in the Alger Hiss espionage trial (1948-1950). This involved the House Un-American Activities Committee and Whitaker Chambers. It brought Richard Nixon to prominence. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

The snow had left, but it’s Minnesota, so I know that it hadn’t gone far.

I watched with a horizontal humility as a northern harrier, its gray color indicating it was a male, floated low over the ground. Then it flew high into the sky, neither heaven nor earth. Its flight seemed so easy that it had to be harder than it looked.

Goldfinches fluttered about, looking like flying highlighters. A chickadee flew near and eyed me with suspicion and possibly pity because I wasn’t a chickadee. Once upon a time, I had trained a chickadee to eat from my hand. A friend commented that it must have taken a long time to train the tiny bird. I gave a flippant answer, "What’s time to a chickadee?"

Time is everything. It’s all the chickadee had.

I needed to get on the road. Nature had work to do.

The cafe chronicles

A study found that the average American eats food from a restaurant 191 times per year and much of that is takeout.

This was one of those times. Sans takeout.

The gentlemen seated around the table of infinite knowledge offered more snoose and commentary than news and commentary. Few of them knew that a suntan could extend above the elbow. The table is an odd place where a man finds glee in meeting his deductible.

When you greeted one, he took it from there. He was generous with his conversations. He said that the seasons are getting farther together. I know what he meant. I think. His wife, who he considered an important part of his marriage, was mad at him because he’d mistaken the gravy for a bowl of soup and had eaten it all. He shared the tale of his late bachelor uncle who had lived and worked in Chicago. He was paid after work on Saturdays. Every payday, on his way home, he stopped to buy two cigars for a nickel, a quart of beer and a hunk of Limburger cheese. He took the goodies home and enjoyed them in his room. This habit might have been the reason he remained unmarried.

"There aren’t any salt and pepper shakers on the table," complained one loafer.

"We don’t have any salt and pepper shakers," replied the waitress. "We have salt and pepper holders. You have to do your own shaking."

Annie and her main squeeze

He was told by his grandmother to never fall in love with a woman who spits or whistles, particularly on a day when there was a funeral in town.

This made him overly cautious when it came to romance, even though he liked whistling. Despite this, he did fall in stride with Annie. As far as he knew, she was a non-whistling, non-spitter.

Each week, he took Annie to a movie. They had several movie theaters to select from. She picked the film one week, he chose what they'd see the next.

One night, the weather was so pleasant as they left the theater that they walked a bit slower than normal. Winter had hurried their passages to his car and they enjoyed a leisurely stroll. They had been pleased with the movie. By the time it had begun showing at the little theater, it had already become a classic everywhere else.

"We’ve been going together for a long time," said Annie, attempting to match his stride. "It’s been 20 years."

"I do believe you’re right."

"Neither of us is getting any younger," added Annie.

"I can’t argue with you there."

"Don’t you think we should consider getting married?" asked Annie.

"Probably, but who would have us?"

The guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. Avoiding road construction and potholes should be an Olympic event. I took inventory of the cash in my billfold. It didn’t take long. I’d like to buy a new truck, but I don’t have that kind of money handy. I don’t even have that kind of money unhandy. Even so, life is good and I laughed all the way to the bank, except for when I stepped in that hot tar. I’m not overweight. I’m just easy to see. I stepped on the bathroom scale this morning. The numbers weren’t good, but I’m not worried about them. I demanded a recount. Hey, you know about insects. What kind of huge insect is yellow with black horizontal stripes, purple eyes, green wings and a gigantic stinger?”

“I’m stumped. I have no idea,” I say.

“You should find out. It just crawled down your neck.” 


I was awakened at daybreak by whistling rose-breasted grosbeaks and drumming woodpeckers. It was a more pleasant way to join the world than by hearing a strident alarm clock.

A skunk had met its demise on the road not far from my front door. The fetid smell assailed my olfactory sense. I took a deep breath and chipped a tooth.

It loves to wander, but my mind was prepared to wonder. I saw flying dandelions. I didn’t see as many of those goldfinches in my yard this winter as I do most years. I welcomed their brightened plumage.

I took some photos. I reminded myself that cameras are to take bad photos, too. I took a long walk on the Blazing Star Trail in Albert Lea. A prothonotary warbler posed patiently and perfectly for this flawed photographer. For that and other things, I am most grateful.

I watched a fox squirrel eat the buds of a tree and what looked like the larvae of some insect.

A turkey vulture soared overhead in a shallow V. V for vulture. I saw the first Baltimore oriole in my yard on April 30. House wrens and red admiral butterflies showed up on May 2. Rose-breasted grosbeaks arrived a day later. A brown thrasher graced my yard. It chairs a gardener’s support group. A mnemonic for its melodious song in which it repeats himself as men my age tend to do is, “Plant a seed, plant a seed; bury it, bury it; cover it up, cover it up; let it grow, let it grow; pull it up, pull it up; eat it, eat it.”

A white-throated sparrow brightens a yard. Its lovely whistle tells part of the tale of, “Old Sven Peterson, Peterson, Peterson.”

I heard Bishop Steven Delzer read one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver. “Meadowlark, when you sing it’s as if You lay your yellow breast upon mine and say Hello, hello, and are we not Of one family, in our delight of life? You sing, I listen. Both are necessary If the world is to continue going around Night-heavy then light-laden, though not Everyone knows this or at least Not yet, Or, perhaps, has forgotten it In the torn fields, In the terrible debris of progress.”

Not long after hearing that fine bit of poetry, I heard a meadowlark sing. A meadowlark’s song is a banquet for my ears.


“Why was an upstairs window of my house filled with house flies?”

They were probably cluster flies, which are named for their habit of overwintering in large clusters within houses and other buildings, often in the upper portions and particularly around windows. They are attracted to the light windows provide. They are a little larger than house flies and slower moving. Cluster flies are parasites of earthworms. They lay eggs in the soil and the maggots feed upon earthworms. There are several generations of cluster flies produced each year, with the final generation seeking shelter for the winter in homes and buildings. Unseasonably warm weather in late fall or winter can cause cluster flies to emerge thinking it’s spring.

“How can I tell if it’s a great blue heron or sandhill crane flying overhead?”

Great blue herons fly with a crooked neck, folded into an S shape. A crane flies with its neck outstretched.

“How much wood could a wood duck duck if a wood duck could duck wood?”

Exactly the same amount as a woodchuck.

Thanks for stopping by

"The world changes. The ground shifts. We still make plans. We still find gifts.” — Lin Manuel-Miranda

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt


© Al Batt 2018