Batt: Reflecting during a winter snowstorm

PHOTO BY AL BATT This young deer is often caught raiding the bird feeders.
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My neighbor Crandall stops by.

"How are you doing?" I ask.

"Everything is nearly copacetic. I can't tell if it's late last night or early tomorrow morning. In my dream, I wanted to become a glassblower, but I blew my chance and became a snowplow driver in the freezer of a supermarket instead. Despite the troubled sleep, I was ready for the recent storm of the century when it hit. I'd fashioned a crude ice scraper out of a spear."


It was as if I were walking in a snow globe. The snow fell all friendly and benign. The days before were windy and had given the yard its first snowbank of the year – in front of the garage. I mumbled "amain." Herman Melville in "Moby Dick," wrote, “The wind now rising amain, he in vain strove.” Emerson wrote, "The soul strives amain to live and work." Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as: With all one’s strength, at full speed or with great haste. With that as inspiration, I recalled another word from the cobwebs of my mind and walked widdershins, meaning in a counterclockwise direction.

A bald eagle flew over the yard just as the sun was in the right position to create a shadow flapping across the snow. Talk about casting a giant shadow.

The sun became scarce and a true winter storm hit. It brought more snow. Snowbanks became abundant. The Old Farmer's Almanac said this about that. "Now is the time of the deep snows and thrice blessed is the neighbor who will plow you out."

A skunk had awakened long enough to make a few trips in and out of a culvert, its trail showing it had plowed snow in the process. A group of skunks is a surfeit. I prefer scurry as a collective noun for squirrels, although I call them a surfeit when there are too many.

I watched a snowplow go by. It's always a welcome addition to winter.

Q & A

"When do great horned owls nest?" In Minnesota, courtship and territory formation begin in December and early January with eggs laid at the end of January through February. The owls have thick feathers, even their legs and feet are feathered, to handle the cold. The young hatch with fluffy down to keep them warm. The owls are able to incubate eggs successfully at -27 degrees and eggs have been recorded to withstand a mother's absence for 20 minutes at -13°. The incubation period is 30-37 days and the nestling period lasts about 42 days. Early nesting might give the young time to learn hunting skills before the next winter.

"Why is a species of tree named the hackberry?" It's an unfortunate name for a tree. It makes it sound as if the tree is about to cough up a ball of berries or has done some criminal things to your computer. Colonists called this canopy tree a hagberry, probably because they found it similar to the wild cherry species by that name in Scotland. Eventually the name morphed into hackberry. Its bark resembles warts on young trees and changes into deeply furrowed, corky ridges on mature trees. Witches’ broom, a dense cluster of branches resembling a broom or bird’s nest growing from a single point, is a disfiguring disease common on hackberry trees. These deformities are typically caused by mites or powdery mildew. Hackberry produces small, pea-sized berries that change from light orange to dark purple when ripe in the fall. Birds feed on the fruits both on the tree and on the ground. Some humans eat them too.

"Have wild turkeys always been here?" Do you mean in your house? If so, I'd say "no." If you refer to Minnesota, my answer is a definite "maybe." Prior to European settlement, wild turkeys were found only in southeastern Minnesota along the Iowa border. Those turkeys were eliminated by hunting and habitat loss.

"Are all spiders poisonous?" I'm not certain that any of them are poisonous, but most spiders are venomous. Poisonous generally refers to something you eat, drink, or is taken into the body in other ways. Mushrooms might be poisonous, but spiders or snakes aren't. The venom found in the majority of spiders isn't strong enough to injure a human, but I wouldn't recommend eating any of them.

"Is the cedar tree really a cedar?" The eastern redcedar is a juniper and is sometimes called a pencil-cedar because, prior to 1940, pencils were made almost entirely from cedar. Pencils are now made from other woods or synthetic materials. The tree's berries are an important food source for birds and mammals.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

I wish I knew then what I know now.

What did you know then?


Then your wish has come true.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor, named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: I stopped at the clinic for a little-get together. The little get-together was helping put a jigsaw puzzle together. I helped by staying out of the light and eating a Rice Krispie treat. I don't have the desire to slap a jigsaw puzzle together, but I admire those who have the patience to do so. The last jigsaw puzzle I attempted to piece together was a used one missing a couple of pieces. It left me feeling unfulfilled.

The two ladies attempting to conquer the puzzle found it a challenge. "Idiot!" one of them proclaimed. I'd been found out. It turned out she wasn't talking to me. She was being hard on herself for trying to punch a puzzle piece into a place where it didn't fit. I offered to find her a scissors. Not just any scissors, but the good scissors. I might have even run with the scissors as we were already at the clinic.

I'm an idiot. I believe my father thought idiots were drivers who passed him and morons were those who tailgated him. "What's that idiot (moron) doing?" he'd say. I suppose I could be a moron. Idiot or moron, there's nothing I can do about it. My dues are paid for life. I once tried writing a paper for school on an Etch A Sketch.

Despite those shortcomings, I teach classes on writing. With a couple of minutes left before one class ended, I asked if anyone had a friendly riddle or knock-knock joke to end the day with a few chortles. A young woman raised her hand. "Why did the chicken cross the road?" she asked.

I gave the standard answer that it did so to get to the other side. She shook her head. I offered, "To show the opossum it could be done." That, too, was wrong. I surrendered.

"To get to the idiot's house," she said, a bit smugly I thought. Then she added, "Knock, knock."

"Who's there?" I responded cleverly. I'd answered that door before.

The young woman smiled before saying, "The chicken."

The cafe chronicles

The day, as each day does, offered a plot twist. The slurping was deafening. Everyone was eating the please-don't-let-me-get-sick soup. The chicken noodle soup could have been served in a long trough. Apparently, the heads of chickens are good for our immune systems.

Thoughts while watching sundogs

I remember when I learned how to count. It was odd even then.

The only thing some people will do right away is to procrastinate.

Do lawyers believe in free will?

It's OK to talk to yourself when you need expert advice.

Who was it that thought we wanted TV commercials featuring someone yelling at us?

Nature notes

“I watched a bald eagle fly over ducks on a lake. Some ducks flew and some didn’t. How does a duck decide what to do?” Its choice of predator evasion tactics might be decided by what kind of duck it is. A dabbling duck (puddle duck) is a type of duck that feeds primarily along the surface of the water or by tipping headfirst into the water to graze on aquatic plants, vegetation, insects, and larvae. These ducks are infrequent divers and are more likely to fly to escape danger. Diving ducks propel themselves underwater with large feet attached to short legs situated far back on the body. When threatened by an aerial predator, they tend to dive to safety. A mallard is a common example of a dabbler and mergansers are divers.

“Can a large insect fly farther than a smaller insect?” I don’t know. I do know the fragile looking monarch butterfly can travel 2,500 miles during its migration. You’d think that would win a gold medal, but it doesn’t. The Pantala flavescens dragonfly, about 1.5 inches long, flies across continents and oceans from India to Africa, about 4,400 miles. According to Smithsonian, dragonflies are known to travel at a speed of 35 miles an hour. Hawk moths, clocked at a speed of 33.7 miles an hour, come in as the second fastest. I’ve read there is a horsefly that is faster, but not according to Smithsonian. I'm sorry I was unable to provide a proper answer.

Meeting adjourned

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other." — Ephesians

Thanks for stopping by

"Nature poets can't walk across the backyard without tripping over an epiphany." — Christian Wiman

"There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.” ― Charlotte Eriksson

Do good.

© Al Batt 2020