Column: Swallows help escape the mowing doldrums

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 17, 2008

Al Batt, Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

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

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&8220;I took my father to see the doctor. Pappy had been complaining about a pain in his leg and he wanted the doctor to check him over and fix him up. Well, sir, the doctor checked out Pappy&8217;s leg, but he couldn&8217;t find anything wrong, so he gave Pappy a full physical exam and he still couldn&8217;t come up with any possible explanation for the pain. Pappy wasn&8217;t happy.&8221;

&8220;He wanted a diagnosis right or wrong,&8221; I say.

&8220;You must have read The Idiot&8217;s Guide to Morons to come up with the things you say. The doctor told Pappy that the pain in his leg was caused by old age, but Pappy didn&8217;t buy it. Pappy said that he&8217;s no doctor, but he doesn&8217;t need a medical degree to know that the doctor is a quack.&8221;

&8220;How can he say that?&8221; I ask.

&8220;Pappy says it&8217;s because his other leg doesn&8217;t hurt a bit and it&8217;s the same age as his hurting leg. I thought I&8217;d better do something to get Pappy&8217;s mind off his aches and pains. I decided to buy him something. He likes gifts. I went shopping for some go-to-town bib overalls for him. The problem was that they were all plenty expensive. I looked at more overalls than I could count. I lost my patience with the store clerk who was losing patience with me. I told him that I&8217;d like to see something really cheap.&8221;

&8220;What did he show you?&8221; I ask.

&8220;A mirror.&8221;

Easy to swallow

I mow the lawn.

It&8217;s a tedious task for me.

My wife mows much more often than I do. She&8217;s better at it than I am. She finds a reward in a nice lawn that I am unable to discover.

A barn dwallow flies past my Lawn Boy. Another swallow follows an instant behind. Resembling stealth fighter planes, the swallows gather insects that the mower dislodges from their hiding places.

The cheerful twittering of the birds sustains me.

Shakespeare wrote, &8220;Hope is swift and flies on swallow&8217;s wings.&8221;

I used to hope I&8217;d run out of gas while mowing the lawn. That was in the days before gas pumps offered loan application forms.

Now I watch the feathers fly by and I escape the mowing doldrums on swallow&8217;s wings.

Goose love

I once owned a goose named Igor &8212; a weird name for a beautiful bird. She fell in love with the shiny hubcaps on a 1961 Chevrolet Bel Air. The mirrored image became the goose&8217;s steady companion.

Q and A

&8220;I see &8216;ugly fruit&8217; sold in grocery stores. The sign claims they will keep spiders away. What are they and do they work?&8221; They are Osage oranges, also called &8220;hedge apples&8221; or &8220;hedge balls.&8221; Somehow, these have developed the reputation for keeping spiders out of basements. There is no scientific research that has been able to prove this claim to be true. I was in rural Kansas not long ago and saw large numbers of the Osage orange tree. It does not grow in Minnesota, finding southern Iowa its northern boundary for growing.

&8220;Why do some birds walk while others hop?&8221; Lighter birds generally hop and heavier birds walk or run. Small birds that spend much of their time in trees hop rather than walk because hopping is an efficient way to move from branch to branch. Birds that spend most of their time on the ground walk or run. Hopping would expend a lot of energy.

&8220;What exactly are pussy willows?&8221; They are the male catkins (pollen-producing parts) of several species of shrubby willows.

&8220;Will a fox kill and eat a cat?&8221; It does happen, but it&8217;s rare. I would think it would be most likely to victimize a kitten.

&8220;Are there tumbleweeds in Minnesota?&8221; Yes. They first showed up in the United States in South Dakota around 1877 in flax seed brought from the Ukraine. When the plant matures it breaks off at its base and is gone with the wind. It is called a peregrinating plant. That means that it travels. The tumbling action helps the plant scatter its seeds as it rolls along. There can be as many as 250,000 seeds per plant.

Backyard battles

A pair of mallards waddled through my yard the other day. They came for the corn I put out. Suddenly, a grackle flew in and began running behind the drake, pecking him in the rear end. The ducks waddled away.

I could almost hear Daffy Duck saying, &8220;You&8217;re despicable!&8221;

I&8217;ve been reading

This from James Burke&8217;s The Pinball Effect, &8220;It should be recalled that, at the time, European cuisine would have been best described as almost inedible. In winter there was nothing but old salted meat or fish and a few roots to eat. In summer, more often than not, meat and fish were available, but they were usually rotting &8212; since there was no means of keeping them fresh. Food was so dreadful that it was generally referred to only as &8216;that which goes with bread.&8217; So when the Crusaders experienced their first taste of Eastern spices, they couldn&8217;t get enough.&8221;

&8220;Sugar was so profitable a commodity that the Dutch swapped New York for sugar-growing Surinam, and the French abandoned Canada in return for the cane fields of Guadeloupe. China tea had first appeared in Europe in the middle of the seventeenth century and by the eighteenth century, particularly in Holland and England, had become an indispensable necessity.

The only problem was that the Chinese merchants supplying the tea insisted on being paid in gold and silver bullion. Since the only English goods to sell successfully on the Chinese market were chiming watches, clocks and music boxes, a serious trade deficit soon developed. In 1793 Lord Macauley went to China as ambassador, carrying samples of other British industrial goods, only to be told by Emperor Ch&8217;ien Lung, &8216;Strange and costly objects do not interest me. We possess all things. I set no value on strange and ingenious objects, and have no use for your country&8217;s manufactures.&8217;&8221;

Thanks for stopping by

&8220;Happy is the man and happy is he alone, he who can call today his own. He who is secure within can say, &8216;Tomorrow do thy worst,

for I have lived today.&8217;&8221;&8212; Horace

&8220;Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.&8221; &8212; Kurt Vonnegut


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