Al Batt: Niagara Cave near Harmony is heaped in wonder

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER The blue-gray gnatcatcher is nicknamed the “little mockingbird” due to its appearance and its ability to mimic other birds.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

My wife and I joined good friends in taking a hike into Niagara Cave near Harmony. We had superb guides, Aaron and Amy Bishop, who were enthusiastic and informative. Each time I set foot in a cave, I think of mnemonics I learned in school to help me tell which one is a stalactite and which one is a stalagmite. When mites crawl up, they pull their tights down. Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling. Stalagmites might grow to meet them.

This large limestone cave was discovered in 1924 when three pigs fell 75 feet into a sinkhole. I'm not sure if they were the Three Little Pigs, but they certainly found a home that the Big Bad Wolf wouldn't be capable of blowing down.

We took a mile-long journey into a cave 200 feet beneath the surface where the temperature was stuck at 48 degrees. The ceiling was as high as 100 feet and there was an impressive, 60-foot underground waterfall which inspired the cave's name. That's right, it was named after Niagara Falls.

I learned about cave bacon (a rock formation officially known as layered flowerstone) and the fossils of fisherites (a great name for a band).

As we walked deeper into the cave, fossils were signs indicating we were going back into history.

The cave has a wedding chapel where over 400 weddings have been performed. I find wonderment wherever I go and Niagara Cave is heaped in wonder.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

It's as cold as ice one day, then ambition-melting hot the next.

That's the way it is.

Why do we have to have so many changes of the seasons?

It's the weather's way of mocking us.

At the ballyard

The young baseball player wanted a hamburger with copious amounts of catsup.

His grandfather's feet had wings. A burger was procured posthaste. The boy ate it between innings of the game in which he was playing.

"Do you want a napkin?" asked the grandpa.

The youngster tried to reply, but his mouth was filled with hamburger. He shook his head in the negative. He's in the fifth grade. He's young enough to wear food stains with pride.

Sympathy card went naked

My wife and I attended my cousin's funeral in Iowa. My bride had purchased the perfect sympathy card, but the envelope was the wrong size. This wasn't discovered until we were signing the card near the funeral venue. There was no time to go anywhere in the pursuit of a proper envelope, although my wife did check at a convenience store. No luck. I tossed the envelope-free card into its proper place.

We were there to celebrate a life and to say goodbye, but I'd have enjoyed sharing the case of the improper envelope with the deceased. I'll miss the opportunity for such things.


Weather was coming in. It's always coming in, but the fall day was so lovely I wanted to duct tape it in place so that it couldn't wiggle away.

I have it on good authority that most hummingbirds have left. That authority is the hummingbirds themselves. I've had no flocks of robins visiting the yard yet.

Dragonflies are incredible flying machines that catch insect prey by grabbing it with their feet. Large dragonflies (three inches long) called green darners cruised about my yard. Some green darners migrate on two-inch wings. They are one of our most abundant dragonflies. Research published in Biology Letters found that in early spring, the first generations exit the shelter of their southern ponds and fly north an average of 400 miles. They lay eggs and die. The second generation hatches in the north and, by the end of September, has flown south where they lay eggs and die. The next generation winters in southern U.S., Mexico or the Caribbean. At least three generations make up the annual migration.

The crows were particularly chatty, doing a color commentary on the yard. They called "hawk" and they were correct. When it comes to knowing things a crow should know, they are knowledgeable.

Tom Boevers of Faribault and Dan Ruble of Albert Lea reported large numbers of broad-winged hawks heading south to their wintering grounds in southern Central and northern South America. Broad-winged hawks form kettles (they circle on warm air thermals and resemble steam spiraling up from a kettle) of hundreds to thousands of birds.

Most raptors are reluctant to cross large bodies of water. When they migrate south and encounter Lake Superior, the birds veer southwest along the lakeshore. They concentrate in impressive numbers on the bluffs overlooking Duluth and can be seen from the overlook at Hawk Ridge. On days with northwest winds, impressive numbers of birds can be seen migrating past the Ridge. Westerly winds produce large numbers of migrating hawks. Southerly or easterly breezes don't generally produce large flights of raptors, but the birds are often lower and easier to see. The record number of broad-winged hawks seen there was 101,698 on Sept. 15, 2003.

Look for these natural occurrences

1. Wild grape and hackberry leaves turn a lovely yellow.

2. Muskrats build dome-shaped houses from vegetation in marshes and ponds. Woodchucks carry dried leaves into their underground dens in preparation for hibernation. Beavers cut down trees for winter food.

3. Cedar waxwings and American robins feed on crabapples.

4. Rafts of American coots (mudhens) on lakes.

5. Chimney swifts migrate through. The "flying cigars" are headed to South America.

6. A northern cardinal has brown feathers and a dark beak when it leaves the nest. A prebasic molt (by which birds replace all feathers, usually occurring annually after the breeding season) produces an adult plumage. A young cardinal might have blotchy coloration.

It's nice to see people when they are still alive

Ken Burns' recent film documentary on country music that aired on PBS inspired a group of us to discuss live music we've enjoyed. My wife and I saw B.B. King and Etta James in concert. It was mighty good. A woman said she liked jazz and saw Dave Brubeck. "That was when he was alive," she added.

I suspected that had been the case.

Life wasn't all cows and plows

We used to swing from a long rope hanging down from the peak of the roof inside the barn's giant haymow. The word "haymow" is a memory-producing generator. We'd grab the rope and jump from a stack of hay bales. We'd yell like Tarzan swinging on a vine and let go when it was safe to drop into a welcoming pile of loose hay. A city cousin, who had recently become a Tarzan in training, asked a reasonable question. "When do you replace this rope?"

"Whenever it breaks," I answered thoughtfully.

Meeting adjourned

It's easy to be kind. If someone drops something, pick it up for them.

Thanks for stopping by

"Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now how comfortable it will be to touch the earth instead of the nothingness of the air and the endless freshets of wind? And don’t you think the trees, especially those with mossy hollows, are beginning to look for the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep inside their bodies? And don’t you hear the goldenrod whispering goodbye, the everlasting being crowned with the first tuffets of snow? The pond stiffens and the white field over which the fox runs so quickly brings out its long blue shadows. The wind wags its many tails. And in the evening the piled firewood shifts a little longing to be on its way." — Mary Oliver

“Never compare your insides to everyone else's outsides.” ― Anne Lamott

Do good.

© Al Batt 2019