Al Batt: Family events create many wistful moments

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER A black-winged redbird – or a scarlet tanager – can become a bird of happiness.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: A school board member in small-town Nebraska told me it had three graduates this year — the valedictorian, the salutatorian and the other one. The struggles of small schools to maintain sufficient enrollments makes me wistful.

I attended a granddaughter's New Ulm High School graduation. She was one of two of the class of 158 (including nine sets of twins) to speak. It seemed only yesterday that I held her as a newborn.

The commencement speaker talked about the things you could count on in New Ulm. One was Joey Batt shooting hoops at Vogel Arena. She shot 500 three-pointers one day. Now she'll be shooting hoops for Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Graduation, das war wundervoll. That might be German for "that was wonderful."

I attended a funeral for my wife's cousin, Diane Wendland. I love hearing bagpipes at funerals, as long as I'm not too close to them. That not only knocks the wax out of my ears, it curls my eyebrows. I encountered a friend and former teammate, Neil Berg. Neil asked if I was getting shorter or if it was the loss of hair that made me look diminished. I laughed until a second fellow mentioned I looked shorter. I told him I'd been down to 5 feet, 9 inches tall, but I'd be back to 6 feet, 4 inches in a couple of days. My weight stays the same, but my height bounces around.
  Diane had asked her niece, Colette Berg (Neil's wife), to give the eulogy. "You don't have to write it, just read it," directed Diane. She'd written her own eulogy.

The funeral was a time to remember and to be thankful. I'm thankful for many things. Most of all that I'm married to Diane's cousin. I'm a long drink of water. My wife isn't. On our first date, my future mother-in-law looked at us and said we didn't match. I'm becoming shorter just to please her.

Echoes from the Loafer's Club Meeting

I hate Mondays.

This isn't Monday.

I hate days that pretend to be Mondays.

Nature notes

I heard a western meadowlark sing. It's a voice of my generation. An owl had called in the darkness, part of the job description of a night owl.

I spent a day walking trails at a fish hatchery located near Bayfield, Wis. Winter wrens called frequently. Winter wrens, like house wrens, are little birds with big voices. A wren is 90 percent song. Most of the singing is done by males hoping to attract a hen wren. His song is more powerful than that of a crowing rooster. Yellow warblers, common yellowthroats and ovenbirds sang continually. Mnemonics of the songs of those birds are as follows: Yellow warbler “Sweet sweet sweet, I'm so sweet," common yellowthroat “Follow me, follow me,” and ovenbird “Nature, nature, nature.” A mourning dove calls, “Hula, hoop, hoop, hoop."

What would a mnemonic be for the winter wren’s rich, bubbling, cascading song? I don’t know. I find its song too complicated and busy to welcome one. I saw scarlet tanagers, lovely black-winged redbirds. I was so taken with the handsome tanagers that I nearly stepped on a nesting Canada goose.
  My father called the yellow warbler a summer warbler. I saw a Blackburnian warbler with its striking black-and-orange pattern. A Halloween bird.

I walked a wooded wetland near Ashland, Wis. My eyes were treated to the loveliness of the marsh marigolds and my nose detected the putrid odor of skunk cabbage. Skunk cabbage plants are beautiful and produce enough heat to melt snow. It gets its name from its pungent, skunk-like smell. To me, the stench is more like a rotting carcass. This smell attracts flies and other insects for pollination.

Each year, I mosey along the winding paths of Munsinger Gardens and stroll the brick walkways of Clemens Gardens in St. Cloud. These beautiful gardens along the Mississippi River offer hardy perennials, over 1,000 roses, 100,000 annual plants and a garden inspired by the world-renowned White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England.

I opened the door to our house and a June bug, also called a May beetle, flew in. It bounced off a lampshade and fell to the floor, landing on its back, like a tipped-over turtle, pawing the air with its legs. I released it outside.


I smelled the lilacs. I love the smell of lilacs in the morning. It has weight. Some find the fragrance cloying, but I find it heavenly and memory-producing. I try to inhale lilac scents each day they are in bloom. I was pleased that so many birds decided to spend time in my company. Animated birds fed with a vigor larger than their size. Small things are a big part of my life.

I watched a raccoon eat under a bird feeder. A catbird landed on the shepherd's hook holding the feeder and pooped. Everyone has to go. Its aim was excellent. It was a direct hit on the raccoon, which wasn't bothered in the least.

It was nice to see dragonflies. I strolled past ferns, recalling transplanting some in the past. That's best done when new growth first begins to emerge. Dandelion and violet flowers blared silently.

As each year, I saw many yellow-rumped warblers this spring. Autocorrect wants them to be yellow-rumpled warblers. I heard the song of the bobolink. The bird sounded pleased with the world. I saw a good number of black-winged redbirds. Scarlet tanagers. The bird of happiness comes in many colors. As a tanager fed on a window feeder, I made a wish. It seemed like the right thing to do.

An April wind blew hard enough to gnaw rock. The blizzard/ice storm (named Ice Storm Ichabod) knocked down some of our trees. A tree is a bed and breakfast for birds. Trees with architectural problems fell and smashed a number of faithful bird feeders. Replacements were secured. It will be good, but different.

Leading a bird hike at Afton State Park, I saw a pair of ravens. I'd never seen them in that park before.

Paula Comeau, naturalist at Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area near Glyndon, Minn., told me coyotes love to eat wild plums.

A good friend, Carrol Henderson, retired director of the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is a wonderful guy. He was birding in Guatemala, Columbia or Costa Rica (I'm pretty sure it was one of them, but in this report, it doesn't matter which one it was) and having an amazing time. He'd just bought a new camera and found it much to his liking. He gave his previous camera, a perfectly good DSLR, and its accompanying tripod, to his guide. It made two people very happy.

Meeting adjourned

I remembered on Memorial Day. Two of my cousins died in battle. I carried a woman's flower receptacle to her son's grave. I hoped a smile might soften her sadness slightly.

Thanks for stopping by

"Those little nimble musicians of the air, that warble forth their curious ditties, with which nature hath furnished them to the shame of art." — Izaak Walton

"A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday." — Alexander Pope


© Al Batt 2019