Al Batt: Family drives sometimes ended at A&W root beer stand

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER Oh, deer! The average number of spots on a white-tailed deer fawn’s coat ranges from 272 to 342.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

My family frequently went for drives. There was no purpose other than looking and looking some more. Then we'd talk about what we'd seen. We looked at road conditions, the advancement of crops, and animals — wild and domestic. We waved at everyone. There is a state law stating you must wave at everyone you see while you travel on gravel roads.

We occasionally stopped at the A&W root beer stand. The name came from the founders, Roy W. Allen and Frank Wright. This drive-in had carhops — lovely young women who served customers who remained in their cars. I never saw the carhops do much hopping.

A&W offered Papa, Mama, Teen and Baby Burgers. The burgers were based on size, not age. I had to decide which burger and declare whether or not I wanted cheese on it. It was a difficult thing, not unlike trying to solve a perplexing math problem covered in ketchup.

Playing 500

There are days when I'm sluggish. I tell myself that I'm not lazy, I was born tired. When I coached baseball, we'd played a game called 500. I'd pitch to one player as the rest of the team covered the field. The fielders received points for batted balls caught. They got 100 points for a ball caught in the air, 50 points for catching a one hopper, and 25 points for snagging a ground ball before it stopped rolling. The same number of points were deducted for a dropped ball. The game taught baseball skills and it fostered math skills. When one player got 500 points, he became the batter. They learned the fundamentals, the most important of which was to have fun. We played until I grew tired.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

The sign on the door says you're closed.

It always says we're closed.

Even when you're open?

We're always open.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: I found two quarters on the ground in two different cities on the same day. I considered taking up moseying about the country and looking for 25-cent pieces. That would be my job. I probably won't be doing that.

I was at a daylong meeting where all my good ideas involved lunch. One speaker said he wasn’t going to use PowerPoint because he didn’t know how to use PowerPoint. I liked him right off. He told me he had 12 children. “And I love them all the same,” he said, before adding, “Of course, I have my favorites.”

Breeding bird survey

I’d been out the door at 4 a.m. I’d awakened without an alarm clock, as I tend to do when I look forward to something. There were birds that needed counting. They were counting on me.

I did a breeding bird survey in June. I’ve been doing the same route for many years. I counted birds for three minutes each at 50 regular stops. At one stop, a fox squirrel walked down a farm drive and right up to my car. It gave me a baleful look while sitting up on its rear legs. Satisfied that I was a harmless man who had been fairly warned, the squirrel ambled back up the drive from whence it had come. It was obviously a watch squirrel.

I watched five wild turkeys walk bean rows. I’d done the same thing when I was a young turkey. I was pleased to see several sandhill cranes fly over. They'd nested there for some years. The day was filled with newly minted robins, grackles and starlings. 

I love seeing butterfly weed, it's a more vivid orange color than a monarch butterfly. Orange isn’t a common color in nature this time of the year. Daisy fleabane presented more rays per flowerhead than I could count. 

A red-winged blackbird male flew down from a tree and landed on the back of a Canada goose gander. The gander was in the company of his missus and a few goslings. This makes ganders particularly aggressive, but this guy put his head down and rushed to a pond as the blackbird rode along as if he were in a saddle, pecking and prodding the gander. The goslings and the missus waddled behind. Once in the water, the gander was freed of his tormentor. I hoped the goslings would one day be able to look again at their father as if he were all-powerful.


An inquisitive fawn walked close to me in the yard. The little deer had likely never seen anything like me before.

I saw fledged starlings, pale brown to the point of appearing gray. I think starlings are beautiful. An eye can find beauty in most things. I visited with Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of "Mozart's Starling." Her book explores the remarkable bond between bird and human. Lyanda has a pet starling, just as Mozart did. Lyanda's bird is named Carmen, from the Latin word for song. Starlings are amazing mimics.

Stable flies attacked my ankles. They resemble house flies, but have checkerboard markings on the abdomen and bayonet-like mouthparts used to pierce skin and suck blood. They're about 1/4-inch long and are sometimes called dog flies because of an appetite for canine blood. Their bites (both sexes bite) cause cattle to stamp their feet. Stable flies breed in moist, decaying organic matter. 

The spider wasn't fishing for compliments

Joel Eastvold sent a photo of a spider and asked for identification. It was a fishing spider, brown and tan in color. This is a big spider with a 3.5-inch leg-span. They look bigger. They are called fishing spiders because they're often found near shallow pools of water where they fish for tadpoles, small fish and aquatic insects. They are allowed to fish without a license. Fishing spiders have the ability to dive into and to walk on water. They don't build a web for hunting, but they do make a nursery web. These shy spiders can bite if threatened. I've been told the bite is equivalent to a bee sting.


Stan Fitz of Rockford, Iowa, asked how to stop a cardinal from pecking at a window. Cardinals have jobs. Bird seed doesn’t pay the bills, so the redbirds punch in each day by leaving an imprint on a window. Many cardinals have found gainful employment as promoters of Windex usage. If you take a handsome, lovesick bird and add a taunting window showing reflected images of another handsome, lovesick bird, you have a recipe for disaster — or at least for a dirty window. It isn't self-loathing that causes this behavior. A cardinal fights with a window in order to defend its territory. It sees its reflection in a window or a mirror and hits it like a bumper car gone berserk. The bird is unable to differentiate between a real bird and an image of itself. One fought with the baby moon hubcaps on my 1959 Rambler. Nothing makes a 1959 Rambler a muscle car like equipping it with baby moon hubcaps. This battling with windows may persist. If you place something over the outside of the window, this breaks the reflection, but the bird may move on to the next window. If a bird looks hard enough for a fight, it will find one. The window covering could be plastic cling or cardboard. The window could be soaped or ribbons could hang over it. This will make Martha Stewart shudder. Covering the inside of the window often enhances the image. A friend told me that he placed a small mirror near the cardinal’s preferred feeder. The redbird fought with that mirror and ignored the house windows. You could try intervention, counseling or enrolling the cardinal in an anger-management class, but patience is the best solution. Sooner or later, the fighting stops. Some studies found that cardinals spend the entire year with the same partner. Saying they mate for life brings to mind thoughts of a feathered Jessica Tandy and a vivid red Hume Cronyn sharing sunflower seeds at the feeder — but there aren’t many long-lasting relationships among cardinals, because the life expectancy of a cardinal is short. This means any cardinal that hangs in there for a few years could have a wedding album filled with photos of varied mates. Oh, Tandy and Cronyn were actors who were married to each other for over 50 years. Believe it or not.

“What generation of butterflies fly south?"

The monarch butterflies that emerge in the middle of August or later are those that migrate. They could live 8 to 9 months.

Meeting adjourned

"Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” – Harold S. Kushner

Thanks for stopping by

"Time engraves our faces with all the tears we have not shed." — Natalie Clifford Barney

"There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god." — J.B.S. Haldane


©Al Batt 2019