A well-hidden Christmas gift delivered in January

Does a downy find winter weather a downer? AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
By : 

I was dealing with an eyebrow that had become a curb feeler or something seen in one of those creepy movies shown at the local drive-in movie theater, the long-closed Passion Pit, when my wife happened upon a forgotten Christmas gift. I knew it would happen. It happens each year. We’d purchased the gift early and my wife had put it away in a good place where we wouldn’t forget about it. Maybe it was forgotten so the finding would flabbergast. Someone received a late Christmas gift of underwear.

My mother was a marvelous cook and prepared meals consisting of massive amounts of many varieties of food. At holidays, after we’d become more stuffed than any turkey, my mother announced that she’d forgotten to put out the carrots. That dish had hidden cleverly in a corner of the kitchen. She’d pass it around. There weren’t many takers. We’d already had pie and whipped cream.

I tend to ramble

Work took me to Texas. I thought of my father-in-law as I visited the Iwo Jima Monument and Museum in Harlingen, Texas. A full-sized model of the Iwo Jima Memorial is found there. My father-in-law, Gene Nelson, was a Marine at Iwo Jima. I miss him.

A friend I’ve often birded with in Texas got a bad diagnosis. I’ve had a couple of those (I only remember one), but his was much worse. I didn’t blame anyone when I heard mine. I just wanted to step out of the way. I thought the doctor must have been talking to someone behind me. Life became a dance with unfamiliar steps. I wanted that day to become an Etch A Sketch. A day I could draw upon and then shake to erase.

I’m good. I hope my friend will be, too. I wish my buddy with the bad news all available mercies.

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

Do you remember what we were doing last year at this time?

Sure, we were complaining about the weather.

It didn’t do much good, did it?

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: I had both hands on the wheel and my shoulders reared back just as Roger Miller sang in his song, "Do-Wacka-Do." A car passed me as if I were backing up. About 20 minutes later, it passed me again. I figured it had circled the globe in that time.

I was taking a highway out of town when I was stopped by a policeman who made me return it. I turned off the highway and drove down a commercial strip of a city. Auto parts stores had proliferated there. I wondered how they all survived. It seems as if everyone has a newer car than I do. A report by an auto industry analyst found the average age of light vehicles on U.S. roads was 12.1 years. We grow tired of automobiles before they wear out. Replacement parts keep older cars passing me.

Nature notes

The snow squeaked underfoot. That happens when temperatures fall below 14 degrees, give or take a smidgen. One of the beauties of the cold is the possibility of seeing sundogs, also called mock suns, phantom suns or solar parhelia gracing the sky.

Parhelia is a Greek word meaning "beside the sun." Sundogs form as sunlight is bent (refracted) by ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. In medieval times, the bright lights were interpreted as a sign of the trinity and of great fortune.

When I was a boy, a neighbor, upon seeing sundogs, declared, “Tonight will be clear as a bell and cold as hell.”

I watched a Cooper’s hawk chase a starling across the road. Fast food took on a different meaning.

Roadside birds were apparent on a blustery winter day. Small flying things fascinate me. These were beguiling birds come to roadsides to feed on days with cold winds that stung my flesh. Tiny birds came in the forms of dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows. Lapland longspurs insisted in moving across the road in front of cars as if they were feathered squirrels. Horned larks moved from the road into the fields when a car neared. Snow buntings moved away from the road, but often seemed intent on racing vehicles. Snow buntings nest farther north than any other land bird. 

It was a perfect day — naturally. I could be accused of being quixotic, when I take the time to notice nature, wherever I look, there is something beautiful looking back at me.


I tell myself that winter is on my side, but it can be ornery. At least I don’t have to shovel the cold. Here at the Hartland field station in January, I turn to the birds as sunflowers turn to the sun. I endeavor to notice things. It’s an expression of life and of hope.

The crashing temperatures painted frost patterns resembling ghostly plants on the window glass. 

I watched a handsome red-bellied woodpecker fly to a feeder. It was a male with a red crown and nape. The female has the red nape, but lacks the red crown.

I saw a pair of critically acclaimed birds — cardinals. Each time I take a good look at a bird, I’m reminded why I’m a card-carrying birder. 

A squirrel chattered at me the entire time I filled the feeders. Squirrels have a salty vocabulary. I enjoy squirrels even though they can be hard on feeders. It’s as the psalmist said, “Harden not your hearts.” I reckon that applies to all things including squirrels.

We’d just received somewhere between 8 and 143 inches of snow — most of it parked illegally. It reminded me that Harmony became the Minnesota state annual precipitation record holder by receiving 60.21 inches in 2018. This proves that planning and hard work pay off. Harmony crushed the old record of 56.24 inches set by Waseca in 2016.

A downy woodpecker flew in as I was filling the feeder. I wondered if a downy finds winter weather a downer? I told it about Harmony’s record in hopes it might bring cheer, but the woodpecker wasn’t interested.


“Where do eagles roost during Minnesota winters?”

Bald eagles find shelter in protective areas, in brush, branches and conifers, which reduces exposure to wind. These microclimates hold heat more efficiently than do open spaces. An eagle’s 7,000 to 7,200 feathers are effective insulators and its large size helps it retain heat.

“Do chickens sing?”

I think they do. Chickens make a wide range of sounds and communicate with one another. Roosters sing loudly when they crow and they call hens whenever they find a tasty treat they wish to share. Hens cackle after laying eggs. It’s better singing than I hear from many humans. 

“What butterflies use nettles?”

Nettles are host plants for the caterpillars of the Milbert's tortoiseshell, red admiral, question mark and eastern comma butterflies.

“Do vultures have enough carrion space when they fly?”

No, and they don’t fly cheep. Vultures asked that I remind human fliers that just because it has a handle, doesn’t make it carry-on luggage. Turkey vultures generally eat mammals, but feed on other carrion such as birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. I’ve seen them eating rotting pumpkins. A vulture prefers freshly dead animals, but wait for carcasses to reach a condition that George Foreman wouldn’t consider grilling. This makes it possible for the vulture to pierce the skin. 

Thanks for stopping by

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King

“We have probed the earth, excavated it, burned it, ripped things from it, buried things in it, chopped down its forests, leveled its hills, muddied its waters, and dirtied its air. That does not fit my definition of a good tenant. If we were here on a month-to-month basis, we would have been evicted long ago.” —Rose Bird, former Chief Justice of California Supreme Court 

Meeting adjourned

Be kind to the people near you.


© Al Batt 2019