Al Batt: Widdershins is my default direction

PHOTO BY DEAN YOUNG OF VIROQUA, WIS. The abnormal feathers on this cardinal are the result of leucism (LUKE-ism), which prevents pigments from reaching some of the bird's feathers.
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My neighbor Crandall stops by.

"How are you doing?" I ask.

"Everything is nearly copacetic. I'm already suffering from election fatigue. I've stopped watching reality TV shows. Who needs more reality?"

"Philip K. Dick said, 'Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.'" I add.

"Boy, you slobbered a bibful there. I had a tough day yesterday. I'd gotten the feeling that nobody loved me and the whole world hated me. Then I realized that couldn't be true. There are many people who don't even know me."


White-tailed deer change from grazers to browsers in winter.

There were pheasants under the feeders in my yard. It’s a place where I can’t imagine them wanting to be. I saw a hen and a rooster walking through the snow together. It warmed me on a cold day.

Red foxes stay warm with their thick winter coats. An adult rarely retreats to a den in winter, but curls into a ball in the open, using its bushy tail to wrap around its nose and footpads instead. I've looked through spotting scopes and seen foxes nearly blanketed in snow.

The river was open but wrinkled in the wind. I watched a hawk perched in a cottonwood. The hawk had quite a slice and it wasn't anywhere near a golf course. In falconry, a slice is when a hawk propels its droppings out and away from a nest or perch. A bigger bird, like a bald eagle, can add serious velocity to that action. Falconers refer to hawk droppings as mutes. For some reason, I thought of a line from a book I'd read, “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.” I'm guessing Helen Macdonald wasn't thinking about slicing when she wrote that part of her delightful book, "H is for Hawk."

I squinted to see the rabbit on the moon. The man on the moon is a myth. The moon looked yellow, silver or white, but was likely gray in color.


"Do carpenter ants eat wood?" No. Termites do. Carpenter ants nest in weakened wood.

"What is the difference between a bird's song and its call?" Songs and calls are the cellphones of the avian world. A bird's song is generally related to mating. Birds may sing to attract mates, claim territory or for pair-bonding. Songs are often sung repeatedly. A call is more flexible in usage. Many calls are short notes or phrases that birds use to convey alarm, provide identification or maintain contact. The dapper black-capped chickadee's "chick-a-dee-dee" call can be used to communicate danger, with research suggesting the number of dee notes increase in proportion to the perceived threat. A chickadee is as good a ventriloquist as Jeff Dunham, so it could be hard to place when it vocalizes without moving its lips.

"Squirrels aggravate me. I wish I could appreciate them more." Your wish is granted, and you still have two wishes remaining. Here are five reasons to treasure squirrels: They eat some insects, they plant trees, they are accomplished acrobats, they run down trees headfirst, and they speak highly of you.

"I like my window feeder, but how do I get the suction cups to stick?" Wash the window, wash the feeder, and place the suction cups in hot water for a few minutes to make the cups pliable. After you've dried the suction cups, apply a little vegetable oil on each cup and then wipe lightly before applying the feeder to a window that has been warmed by the sun or a hair dryer. Don't fill the feeder until you're sure it's securely held in place.

"Do polar bears hibernate?" They definitely don't in Minnesota. The farthest south that polar bears live all year is James Bay, Canada. In winter, polar bears move as far south as Newfoundland and the northern Bering Sea. Pregnant females dig a den in the snow, give birth, and emerge three months later. Females can go up to eight months without eating, but they don’t hibernate in the strictest sense. Adult males and non-pregnant females don’t hibernate or go into torpor.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

I suppose that put you in a foul mood?

Not until I walked face-first into that wall.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor, named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: Far from home, I pulled into a convenience store for fuel. The pump had a TV showing the news. I appreciate a break from the world's problems and loud commercials while pumping gas, so I pushed the mute button repeatedly, but the talking heads refused to stifle. I got my fill of the news long before my car's tank was filled with gas. Not much later, I wiped road salt off my bunion Buicks – my shoes. I had the time to do that because my hotel room wasn't ready yet because it wasn't my room yet. If it had been my room, I'd have had it ready for me.

 The delay caused me to dig out a pen and a receipt. If I don't have a notebook, I write things on newspapers, napkins, bookmarks, receipts, and anything else I can scribble upon. I'm a chronic note taker. I write things down. I'm not about to spend my time trying to remember things. I've got better things to do. Things like trying to remember what I wrote on and where I put it.

The sports report

There were 1,100 people at the basketball game. The $5 entrance fee allowed each to become the world's greatest referee. 

I walked at halftime, trying hard to stay out of the way of those headed to the concession stand for grub. I aim to walk counterclockwise unless signage says otherwise. Widdershins is my default direction. Widdershins means in a contrary or counterclockwise direction. I try to put on a certain number of steps every day. That number is both too many and not enough. Some days it's more of a challenge than on others. When I was in grade school, I could put on 10,000 steps per day just by walking to the front of the classroom to spit forbidden gum into the wastebasket.

I heard a sports guy on the radio report a heart-wrenching injury during an athletic endeavor. His sidekick said he saw the game and agreed it was heart-wrenching. I shuddered at the thought of a player's ticker being wrenched. It turned out that a knee had been damaged. I shuddered again. I'm sure heart-wrenching has found its way into some dictionaries, but the image of someone using a crescent wrench on a heart is disturbing. Gut-wrenching might be what they meant. Guts do twist, both literally and figuratively. Perhaps they were aiming for heart-rending, which means causing great sadness or distress.

In local news

A 100-year-old man sets off alarm when he tries to leave the historical museum.

Local cheese store owner believes in the Loch Ness Muenster.

Store welcomes its one-millionth annoyed customer.

Local man to marry Rose Thorn after finding a Rose among the Thorns.

Man sells his house for more than his asking price. He was ecstatic, but his landlord was furious.

Nature notes

“Is wild asparagus a real thing?” In the 1960s, Euell Gibbons wrote a book about eating wild edibles titled, "Stalking the Wild Asparagus." I enjoy asparagus. One of my father’s favorite dishes was creamed asparagus on toast. I enjoy asparagus pickles. Our asparagus patch was treated with reverence. It seemed as if everyone grew asparagus. The wild plant we commonly see along roadsides is the same species as tame asparagus – Asparagus officinalis. Wild asparagus produces without human assistance or manipulation. Asparagus plants are insect pollinated and its seeds are spread by birds, allowing domesticated crops to escape into the wild.

“What is Smokey the Bear’s middle name?” The.

“What causes deer to drop their antlers?” Diminishing daylight and falling hormones after the breeding season initiate the antler-weakening process. Testosterone controls the antler cycle, but production of testosterone and the annual antler cycle is ultimately controlled by photoperiod. Large-antlered older bucks typically shed their antlers earlier than young bucks with small-antlers. Weakened bucks may shed earlier than those in better physical condition. Genetics has some effect on the time of shedding.

Meeting adjourned

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." — Edith Wharton.

© Al Batt 2020