Pinkish-purple milkweed flowers smell like summer

Published 6:27 am Sunday, July 21, 2013

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. My sister Cruella has been talking to herself a lot. She thinks I’m listening. She talked me into almost going skydiving. I got up in the airplane, but I couldn’t jump. All I could do was to keep saying, ‘Help! I’ve gotten up and I can’t fall down!’ I sat down for lunch at The Eat Around It Cafe the other day. I noticed tripe on the menu. I hadn’t had tripe for a long time, so I ordered it. The waitress told me that they didn’t have any and that they never have any. I asked her why it was on the menu.”

“Good question,” I said. “What did she say?”

“She said, ‘Oh, I guess some people like it.’ She’s a little loopy. She thinks I’m paranoid just because I’ve noticed that cashiers are always checking me out. She and Cruella are a lot alike. Cruella gave me one of those little weather stations. I decided to hang the display console in the kitchen. I couldn’t find a hammer, so I was trying to drive the nail with a scrub brush. Cruella watched for a bit before saying, ‘You’re going to need something harder than a scrub brush to hammer that nail. You’ve got to use your head.’”


Nature by the yard

The breeze blew through the cottonwood trees. It moved the leaves enough that they produced a sound that nearly quenched my thirst.

The breeze kept the mosquitoes momentarily at bay. You’d think that by this point of the year, the mosquitoes would be bored by my taste.

I examined some common milkweed. I searched for a monarch butterfly egg — a ridged, spherical, white, 1/8-inch long egg. The eggs are laid singly on the underside of milkweed leaves. The female attaches the egg to the leaf with glue she secretes with the egg. The egg hatches in three to five days. I celebrated the whiff of milkweed in bloom. The pinkish-purple clusters of flowers generate an intoxicating scent that is a manifestation of high summer.

One of my favorite writers, E.B. White, said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

I figure that promoting the growth of milkweed covers both desires.


Q & A

“What kinds of gulls follow tractors in the fields?” The planting and harvest season bring gulls that shadow tractors. A farm implement pulled by a tractor is a food processor to gulls. The primary tractor groupies are either the ring-billed gull (slightly larger than a crow) or the Franklin’s gull (size of a rock pigeon) with black on head.

“What vines, shrubs or trees could I plant to provide berries for birds?” Elderberry, dogwood, viburnum, raspberry, blueberry, serviceberry, highbush cranberry, chokecherry, mountain ash, black or pin cherry, crabapple and mulberry are good. Find a species that’s hardy.

“What is a windhover?” The windhover is an archaic name for the kestrel, so named due to its habit of beating the wind (hovering).

“How can I keep ants out of my hummingbird feeders?” An ant guard is a moat-like saucer from which a feeder hangs. Fill the moat with salad oil or dish detergent. Ants become trapped in the liquid. Some feeders have built-in ant guards.

“Do skunks dig their own dens?” A skunk may excavate its own burrow, which can be six to 20-feet long and running three to four feet below the surface. More often, a skunk takes over those of woodchucks or foxes. Skunks often reside under decks, porches, barns and crawl spaces.

“The tiniest ants I’ve ever seen are in my kitchen. What are they?” I’ve spent hours lying on the ground staring at ants. That has nothing to do with your question, but it feels good to get it off my chest. Your minuscule visitors sound like thief ants or grease ants, the smallest household ants we see in our area. They get their name because of a habit of nesting near other ant colonies and stealing their larvae. Thief ants are yellow to light brown in color and the workers measure about 1/20 inch long.

“I feed peanuts in the shells to the birds. The blue jays love them. A jay picks one up, puts it down, picks up another and puts it down before finding one to its liking. Why does it do that?” It’s seeking the heaviest nut.

“What is a turtle dove?” It’s a nickname for the mourning dove. There is a European turtle dove featured in “The Twelve Days Of Christmas.” That bird is the symbol of true love and fidelity from Chaucer to Shakespeare to rock and roll. It’s celebrated in the Bible, where in the song of Solomon, it says, “The voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

“Are opossums immune to snake venom?” They are impervious to rattlesnake venom.

“What’s the best way to remove a tick?” Use a tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with a steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk because that could cause the tick’s mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. Avoid folkloric remedies such as painting the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using a match to make the tick detach.


Duck stamp

The latest Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp has been released — featuring a painting of a common goldeneye by Robert Steiner. Purchasing a migratory bird stamp benefits birds, mammals, plants and water quality. The $15 cost helps pay for habitat acquisition and the stamp also serves as admission to National Wildlife Refuges.


Meeting adjourned

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“We can never have enough of nature.” — Henry David Thoreau




Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at