The secret to winter survival is simple . . .

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER This rooster (it’s both a bird and a crested Polish chicken) fell asleep while on sentry duty.
By : 
For the Birds

Winter has problems. Who doesn’t? I like the season. A blizzard gives one time to prune the impatience. I was laying in supplies at a grocery store. Running to the store between storms becomes an Olympic event.

“How are you doing?” asked a fellow shopper.

“Temperature is normal, pulse regular and appetite strong,” I replied. 

Winter is too much of one thing and not enough of another. There’s too much snow, but not enough time to enjoy it and explore its mysteries.

There are those deprived people who don’t get to relish our winters. We overwork our memories deciding how this winter stacks up against those of the past.

The secret to winter survival? Don’t die.

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

My uncle died.

I’m sorry to hear that.

I hadn’t heard from him for years.

Death tends to quiet some people.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor, named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: I drove what I’d guessed was the speed limit as the city tapered away. Farms replaced convenience stores, fast food restaurants and hotels. I was tailgated by a car with a severely smashed front end. Fast driver, slow learner.

I was on my way to Primghar, Iowa. Its name is an acronym derived from the names of eight early settlers who had planned the city. A sign proclaimed it as the world’s only Primghar. I was there to speak at a thing. I also had board and room there. I was happy to get to it. RIP — rest in Primghar.

In local news

The Already Angry and Easily Offended Club Meeting canceled due to bad weather. Members were outraged.

The local palindrome team loses 81 to 18.

Student considers joining basketball team, but fears he is too short to belong.

The Two Bits Zoo and Laundromat has no animals other than monkeys to make sure that zoogoers get their monkeys’ worth.

Customer comments

Lynn Berven of Albert Lea was a rural mail carrier for years. Whenever someone complained about getting mail meant for another, Lynn told them they were lucky they didn’t live at the end of his route. Those people got all the mail that was left.

Tom Benson of Albert Lea told me about the late Otto Sorenson of Hartland. When someone said that the deceased at a wake looked good, Otto commented, “He should. He just got out of the hospital.”

Ask Al

“Why do people drive so fast during winter storms?”

It’s because they believe that the less time they spend on the road, the less chance they have of going into a ditch.

“What is the dew point?”

It’s the opposite of the dew not point.

“If they go south, they are snowbirds, but what are people from Minnesota and Iowa who stay home for the winter called?”


Al Batt’s brain cramps

Why do movie trailers have to yell at us?

We’ve had driverless cars for years. They are called Hot Wheels.

I like mustard on a hot dog. Ketchup makes me see red.

There is nothing more rare than a “Smooth road ahead” sign. 

When I was a lad, an unlimited data plan was a library card.

Nature notes

I stopped in Monticello, Minn., to look at the trumpeter swans that winter there. As I marveled at the sounds and sights, I mumbled an old tongue twister, ”Six sleek swans swam softly southwards.” I’ve always liked that one as I’ve found it one of the easier for me to say.

As I drove home from Bagley, Minn., I saw an American kestrel perched on a utility wire. Data collected from research studies have indicated long-term declines of kestrel populations in North America. Undetermined causes have contributed to an average drop of 50 percent across the continent since the 1960s.

In my yard, starlings with yellowing bills hit the suet like a gang of marauders. Blue jays spouted obscenities at a hawk. A rooster pheasant tried to run through tangled vegetation after seeing the raptor. His actions nudged something inside my thinker. I thought of John Cleese. A Monty Python sketch depicted Cleese as a civil servant who, after purchasing a newspaper from a newsstand, walked through the London streets in a peculiar manner before arriving at his office in The Ministry of Silly Walks. If his walk was any indication, the rooster must work at the same place. 

As it rains in March so it rains in June. Spring is near. I know because nothing is far away.


The blue jays were talkative. Mark Twain wrote, “You never saw a blue jay get stuck for a word. He is a vocabularized geyser.”

A snowplow grumbled by. It sounded tired. I was happy to see it. February was cold, but its warm sunlight melted snow. It had given itself plenty of snow to melt. “Light tomorrow with today!” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Freed from home by the snowplow’s good work, I drove around entertaining my camera. Most of the miles were on rural roads, some gravel and some hard surface. The snow gave a soft wind visibility. I saw more bald eagles than cows. How times have changed. You could say I drove the wrong roads, but it’s what I saw.

Brandon Brackey of Albert Lea and I talked about the weather. It’s hard not talking about the weather. Brandon is an avid pheasant hunter and is concerned about the survival of the birds over our harshest season.

The loss of food due to a persistent cover of snow and/or ice is a killer. Waste grain, an important food source, becomes unavailable under a deep accumulation of snow.

I read once that 300 kernels of corn per day would maintain a pheasant’s weight. Captive pheasants have been able to survive several weeks without food, but they don’t expend energy avoiding predators and staying warm. A healthy wild pheasant could go at least three days without food.

The annual survival rate of ring-necked pheasants is around 50 percent. Hens are more likely to succumb to starvation than are roosters as the females enter winter in poor condition due to the high energy demands of nesting and rearing chicks. Strong winds can sometimes be beneficial to pheasants as they might free feeding areas of snow. Another problem for pheasants is the lack of suitable winter cover.

Meeting adjourned

Pretend your second-grade teacher is hovering nearby and be kind.

Thanks for stopping by

“The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball — the further I am rolled the more I gain.“ — Susan B. Anthony

“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.”  — Welsh Proverb


© 2019 Al Batt