The woods: a source of endless fascination

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 5, 2006

Columnist Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

&8220;How are you doing?&8221; I ask.

&8220;I gave Pop a velvet smoking jacket for his birthday. He smoked it. It&8217;s hard to keep him off the sofa. He was the world&8217;s laziest man and he retired undefeated. I squeeze my own orange juice. I do it the hard way. I put an orange in my mouth and then slowly close a door on my face. I still remember a meal with my ex-wife &8212; the third one, I think. We were eating when she said, &8216;The two things I cook best are meatloaf and apple pie.&8217; That&8217;s when I made the mistake of asking, &8216;Oh? And which one is this?&8217; Did you hear about Pappy? He got picked up by the police.

&8220;They finally nabbed your Grandfather, eh?&8221; I add.

&8220;Yup, he&8217;s as slippery as an eel in a tubful of butter. He was pulled over for driving too slow by an officer of the law who asked to see his driver&8217;s license.

Pappy said, &8216;I don&8217;t have one.&8217;&8221;

&8220;That wasn&8217;t the right answer,&8221; I say.

&8220;The officer asked Pappy how long he&8217;d been without a license. Pappy replied, &8216;Never had one.&8217; The law asked how long he&8217;d been driving. Pappy said he&8217;d been behind the wheel since 1926.The officer then asked how he&8217;d managed to get by driving all those years without a driver&8217;s license.&8221;

&8220;What did Pappy say?&8221; I ask.

&8220;He said, &8216;I never needed one until right now.&8217;&8221;

It&8217;s a chickadee

I marvel at the chickadees that come to my bird feeders. They come every day. They are not uncommon, but I watch them in amazement. I&8217;ve become too old not to be impressed by almost everything I see. I see things today and the things I see are immediately commingled with my memories. The result is the ability to be greatly entertained by the feeding antics of one small gray and black bird. For this, I am most thankful.

A dirt bath

Many birds clean themselves by rolling around in the dirt. They toss dirt onto their feathers with their wings and beaks. They take a bath in dirt. This is a procedure I tried to perfect as a boy.


I enjoy seeing the arrival of the white-throated sparrows. I seldom will see one at a time. These native sparrows are flocking birds that are comfortable with thick cover nearby. White-throated sparrows are polymorphic; meaning that the adults occur in one of two distinct forms. Some have bright white striping on their heads with a bright yellow spot between the eyes and bills.

Others will have tan striping on their heads with the yellow spot less distinct. Males and females can occur in either form. All adult white-throated sparrows will have a clearly outlined white throat. You might also see white-crowned sparrows. White-crowned sparrows are closely related to white-throated sparrows, but prefer more rural, open areas with isolated fencerows and weedy patches.

All adult white-crowned sparrows have bold black and white stripes on the head.

They are like racing stripes. They are a clean, solid gray underneath, whereas a white-throated sparrow is generally more of a dingy gray. The white-crowned sparrow is lacking the white throat of the white-throated sparrow.

The woods

I enjoy going into the woods and discovering something new, as I do on each visit, and then leaving it alone. It is a source of endless fascination for me. It&8217;s nice to be able to go to a place and view something that hasn&8217;t been changed much by man. It&8217;s the perfect place to rest the mind.

Man gives himself too much importance. We want the world to be the way we want it to be. We want to say which creatures are good and which ones are bad; which ones shall live and which ones shall die. We strive to improve on things that need no improving. God has given us a thrifty world &8212; no living thing goes to waste. Everything is here for a purpose.

Horned larks

Look for horned larks on the graveled edges of rural roads. They may look like sparrows, but they walk instead of hop. They have black tails with white edges that are distinctive in flight. They have small feathered &8220;horns.&8221; Horned larks are true larks, related to those fabled birds of song and tale.


A fellow who seemed to know things told me that he had good luck keeping mice out of his parked vehicles by using fabric softener sheets and Fresh Cab (a commercial rodent deterrent).

A researcher found 29 white-breasted nuthatches in a single tree cavity on a cold night.

Native Americans sometimes called the red-tailed hawk the &8220;talking hawk.&8221;

Anonymous wrote this, &8220;The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will poor robin do then? He&8217;ll sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing.

Poor thing.&8221;

The nuthatch is named from the English term for this bird: nuthack.

Egrets were named for their long back feathers called aigrettes, which appear during the breeding season. These feathers sold for $32 an ounce in the early 1900s–twice the price of gold.

In appreciation

My thanks to Ed Shannon, a fine man and a great writer, for the nice article he wrote about this old ink-stained wretch.

Thank you to all who stopped by for the Audubon Birdseed Sale and Garage Sale at the Skyline Plaza. Thanks, too, to the workers &8212; Louise Ashleson, Cheryl Schnarr, Wendy Hagen, Ann Bryson, Gail Batt, Ken Bertelson, Earl Jacobsen and Les Schroader. My apologies to anyone I might have missed. Kudos to Albert Lea Audubon past president Paul Moore and to current president Carol Bertelson.

Thanks to Harp Bartness for the kind donation of the binoculars. We&8217;ll find good use for them.

Costa Rica

Please join me on a March 13-22 tour of Costa Rica.

For more information, call 507-346-2494 or go to Please call 800-990-6811 to request a brochure.

Thanks for stopping by.

&8220;Almost all of the unhappiness in life comes from the tendency to blame someone else for something.&8221; &8212; Brian Tracy

&8220;Blessed are those who give without remembering and those who take without forgetting.&8221; &8212; Elizabeth Bibesco


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at