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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

One thing that irritates me bigly is when I discover I have a knowledge gap about something — when I find I’m uninformed on a subject commonly known to others. It shows that I’m not as educated and erudite as I like to think. I hate that.

Recently, while on a road trip, I got schooled about something new — new to me — and I’ve been pouting ever since.

It happened earlier this month on a trip to Land Between the Lakes, a national recreation area in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky.

(Before the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were dammed to create Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, the place was called Land Between the Rivers. But that isn’t the thing I got schooled about.)

Among the amenities and attractions at LBL is the Woodlands Nature Station, a small zoo that houses a variety of orphaned or injured animals. In residence there are hawks, owls, deer, groundhogs, a bald eagle, a coyote, and other critters that no longer can survive in the wild.

I found it interesting that, during the day, the raptors are not caged, but instead are restrained by tethers. Each bird has a perch and is free to move in a radius of about five feet. Every day, just before closing time, the birds are transferred to their night-time shelters in the “Parade of Raptors.” A clever bit of marketing there.

Woodlands-1

So I bought a ticket and spent half an hour wandering around the place. The woodsy setting was attractive and pleasant, and the animals seemed unstressed, which was nice.

Before long, in a clearing between the wild turkey pen and the possum enclosure, I arrived at a large turtle pond. Submerged in the pond were three large alligator snapping turtles and a dozen smaller turtles of various types.

(The jaw power of an alligator snapper is impressive. An adult can bite through a broom handle.)

Woodlands-2

My timing was pretty good. Two employees were just arriving with a bucket of lunch for the turtles.

What do the turtles at Woodlands Nature Station eat? On the menu that day was dead mice.

It seems natural enough to feed dead mice to the raptors, the coyote, and other critters, but to the turtles? I would expect turtles to be fed fish, insects, worms, or maybe commercial turtle food. Mice? Intriguing.

With some difficulty, the male employee, a portly gentleman, assumed a sitting position beside the pond near a group of the smaller turtles. He reached into the bucket and withdrew a dead mouse. Holding it by the tail (Of course. How else would you pick up a dead mouse?), he dangled it in the water in front of one of the turtles.

Here ya go, Lulu,” he cooed. “I got a nice mouse for ya.”

Remaining underwater, Lulu propelled herself forward, grabbed the mouse, and quickly retreated from the group; the other turtles had taken notice.

Better feed Alice next so she don’t steal from the others,” the female employee said.

The man dangled a mouse in front of Alice. Alice snatched it and promptly swam away.

By then, the other turtles had assembled in a rough semi-circle, waiting to be fed. One by one, the man presented them with lunch. Then it was time to feed the alligator snappers.

Hey, y’all — wake up!” the man called out. He struggled to his feet and moved the mouse bucket closer to where the three snappers were snoozing. They noted his presence and came to attention.

As the man doled out mice to the snappers, some of the smaller turtles arrived, hoping to score again. The man tried to maintain order and keep the turtles apart. From a nearby bench, the female employee offered advice and occasionally admonished a turtle for getting too close to the business end of a snapper.

Up to that point, I had been quietly observing. I finally spoke up.

The turtles really like those mice,” I said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Oh, yeah, they love ’em,” the man replied.

Where in the world do you get dead mice?” I asked. “What’s the source?”

We buy ’em wholesale.”

Wholesale? Mice?”

Oh, yeah. For places like us, with animals to feed, it’s crucial. We couldn’t operate otherwise. We place the orders automatically. The merchandise comes frozen.”

Of course.”

Anyway, that’s the new thing I learned on my road trip: there is an entire world out there, previously unbeknownst to me, in which large national companies — nay, large worldwide companies — raise mice, rats, chicks, quail, and even little bunny rabbits to execute, freeze, and sell as a food source.

Why wasn’t I aware of this? Because the logistics of animal food supply never appeared on my radar screen. I’ve never had a bird, turtle, or snake as a pet, never had to consider the food issue.

When I got home a few days later, I Googled the dead mouse business and got further informed. In the trade, the product is called feeder mice.

And, as a business, it makes sense. Selling feeder mice is just a case of meeting an industry need. A matter of demand and supply. It’s all there — production, R&D, purchasing, marketing, finance, distribution.

Systems have to be in place to euthanize the little things and sort them by category — size, weight, color, and so on. The merchandise must be properly preserved, packaged, shipped, and delivered. And certified as healthy and disease-free.

What, you ask, is the cost of a dead mouse? There are variables aplenty — size, weight, nutritional content, quantity ordered.

As I write this, RodentPro.com has a special sale on extra-small “pinky” mice, sold in bags of 100. Normally 35 cents each, they are now available for the amazing low price of 24 cents each!

If pinkies are too small for your needs, RodentPro sells small adult “weanling” mice for 65 cents each (bags of 50) and large adult mice (choice of brown, white, or hairless) for 75 cents (bags of 25).

If the sale ends before you have a chance to act, don’t worry. The other big names in the business (Mice Direct, American Rodent Supply, The Big Cheese Rodent Factory, etc.) are sure to have special offers that interest you.

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Woodlands-4

Like I said, it’s mortifying to discover something that is new to me, but common knowledge to others.

On the other hand, looking at the bright side, at least I’ve narrowed my knowledge gap a bit.

 

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The Questions…

1. Four of the five Great Lakes share borders with the U.S. and Canada. The fifth is located entirely within the United States. Name it.

2. What is Morton’s toe?

3. Each year in Scotland, a music festival is held on the banks of Loch Ness, the purported home of the “Loch Ness Monster.” What is the name of the festival?

4. In 1908, SOS was adopted as the universal distress signal sent in Morse code by wireless operators. What signal did it replace?

5. If you use the term peacocks to refer to a group of the birds that includes both sexes, you are in error. The male is a peacock, and the female is a peahen. (Juveniles are peachicks.) What is the proper collective term for a group that includes males and females?

The Answers…

1. Lake Michigan.

2. Morton’s toe is a condition in which the second toe is longer than the big toe. It occurs on 10-20 percent of feet. In the 1920s, Dr. Dudley J. Morton discovered its cause: a slightly short metatarsal in the big toe.

3. Rock Ness.

4. Originally, wireless operators transmitted CQD as a distress signal. CQ meant a call to all stations, and the D was for distress. The world switched to SOS because CQ and CQD are too similar and could be confused. When the Titanic was sinking in 1912, its radio officer sent out multiple calls, alternating CQD and SOS.

5. The correct term is peafowl. FYI, a group of peafowl is called a pride or an ostentation.

Great Lakes

Peafowl

 

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Duel Epilogue

I’m here to report that my eight-year battle to eliminate an unwelcome tree in a local cemetery, a tree that had no business being there and was pushing a tombstone askew, a battle I thought I had won in 2014, in fact continued for four more years.

I didn’t reckon on the stump. The stump turned out to be remarkably stubborn.

The short version of the story is this: I noticed the tree in 2006, when I first moved to Jefferson. It was growing next to the grave of a pastor who died a century ago. It had grown so large that the headstone was beginning to tilt slightly.

No one else seemed to be doing anything about it, so I took it upon myself to eliminate the tree. In June 2014, after a lengthy campaign, I declared victory. At last, the blasted thing showed no more signs of life.

The complete story is in a celebratory blog post I wrote in 2014.

At the time, I assumed the stump would disintegrate fairly quickly. The day would come, I told myself confidently, when I would be able to uproot it with a swift kick, and the pastor could rest undisturbed again.

Secure in that knowledge, I stopped at the cemetery every few months to assess things. Each time, I would administer a kick in hopes of dislodging the stump. Each time, I left disappointed.

The seasons came and went. The stump did, in fact, dry out and crack. It became gray and shrunken. Random chunks broke off. No bark remained.

Twice, I gave it a few vigorous whacks with a sledgehammer,* but still to no avail. The stump remained as solid as a fire hydrant.

Then, about a year ago, I got the first indication that victory might be near. (Nearer. Nearing.) When I administered the customary swift kick, I heard a sharp crack, and the stump moved.

I still couldn’t dislodge it, but for the first time, it was slightly loose and wobbly.

Several trips to the cemetery later, just a few weeks ago, I administered the kick that proved to be final and victorious.

One evening after supper, on a lark, I drove to the cemetery and walked out to the pastor’s grave. There was the stump, old and worn, still wobbly, but still, literally, holding its ground.

This time, my kick succeeded.

I applied it smartly, as usual. To my amazement, the stump popped out of the ground, sailed a few feet, and landed on the grass with a thump. I stood there, blinking in disbelief.

After 12 years, the deed was done. The tree and the stump — gone at last.

And, by God, I prevailed. That tree was tenacious, but not as tenacious as me.

* In hindsight, I realize that entering a cemetery with a sledgehammer was a foolish move. I could have been arrested for intent to deface grave markers.

Stump

Rocky 1, tree 0.

 

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Before the internet made it so easy, people shared funny stuff in another way: they photocopied whatever it was — humorous image, joke, botched headline — and shared it by mail.

Don’t laugh. Not too long ago, that was cutting-edge technology.

It’s also a fact that lots of the material now online is old, dating back to the snail mail days. I was reminded of that recently when I ran across the list below of “Things My Mother Taught Me.”

I’m pretty sure I photocopied this at some point and sent it to my mom. If I didn’t, shame on me.

———

My mother taught me about religion.
“You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”

My mother taught me about time travel.
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”

My mother taught me logic.
“Because I said so, that’s why.”

My mother taught me foresight.
“Be sure to wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”

My mother taught me about irony.
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

My mother taught me about osmosis.
“Shut your mouth and eat your supper!”

My mother taught me consideration.
“Go outside if you’re going kill each other. I just finished cleaning.”

My mother taught me about contortionism.
“Just look at the dirt on the back of your neck!”

My mother taught me about hyperbole.
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t exaggerate!”

My mother taught me about anticipation.
“Just you wait until we get home.”

My mother taught me about the circle of life.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

My mother taught me about stamina.
“You’ll sit there until every bite of that spinach is gone.”

My mother taught me about the weather.
“It looks like a tornado swept through your room!”

My mother taught me about injustice.
“Think about the millions of children in the world who are less fortunate than you.”

My mother taught me about inevitability.
“When your father gets home, you’re really gonna get it!”

My mother taught me about physiology.
“Stop crossing your eyes. They’ll get stuck that way.”

My mother taught me to think ahead.
“If you don’t pass your spelling test, you’ll never get a good job.”

My mother taught me about ESP.
“Put on your sweater. I can tell when you’re cold.”

My mother taught me black humor.
“When that lawnmower cuts off your foot, don’t come running to me.”

My mother taught me how to become an adult.
“Eat your vegetables, or you won’t grow up.”

My mother taught me about genetics.
“You’re just like your father.”

My mother taught me about my roots.
“Do you think you were born in a barn?”

My mother taught me about wisdom.
“When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

My mother taught me about justice.
“Someday, you’ll have kids, and they’ll turn out just like you!”

Momzilla

 

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Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919), the son of socialite parents, was a fascinating and influential figure in American history. At various times, he was a working cowboy, Rough Rider, scholar of naval history, writer, conservationist, and politician. He served as the 33rd Governor of New York, the 25th Vice President, and the 26th President.

Roosevelt was an exuberant personality with a spirited joie de vivre. His public image (and self-image) was that of a robust, manly man. I’ve written about him several times on this blog, to wit “Teddy and Edwin,” “Princess Alice,” and “To Mar the Wonderful Grandeur.”

When Roosevelt and his family moved into the White House in 1901, they proved to be, no surprise, a colorful and entertaining bunch. Teddy was Teddy, and the six Roosevelt children (Quentin, Archie, Ethel, Kermit, Ted Jr., and Alice, ranging in age from four to 17) were pampered and high-spirited.

The Roosevelts, all of them, were ardent animal lovers. During Teddy’s eight years in office, a wide range of pets, livestock, and exotic creatures resided in and around the White House.

TR-1

Teddy and friends.

Among the family dogs were Manchu, a Pekingese; Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; Pete, most likely a Bull Terrier; Rollo, a 200-pound Saint Bernard; Skip, a Rat Terrier mix; and Jack, a Manchester Terrier.

Stabled on the White House grounds were 10 horses (Bleistein, Grey Dawn, Jocko Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, General, Judge, and Yagenka) and two ponies for the children (Algonquin and General Grant).

Other family pets: five guinea pigs (Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady); Eli Yale, a blue macaw; Loretta the parrot; and two cats, Tom Quartz and Slippers.

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Quentin and Slippers.

Alice, the oldest child, had a pet snake named Emily Spinach. She explained that it was as green as spinach and as thin as her Aunt Emily.

Also part of the Roosevelt menagerie: Jonathan, a piebald rat; two kangaroo rats; a flying squirrel; a barn owl; two parrots; a raccoon; a coyote; a zebra; a wildcat; five bears; Joe the lion; and Bill the hyena.

Also, Maude, a white pig; Peter the rabbit; Bill the lizard; Baron Spreckle, a hen; and a one-legged rooster whose name I couldn’t ferret out.

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Manchu was a black Pekingese, a gift to Alice from the Empress of China. Alice relished the dramatic, and she claimed she once saw Manchu dancing on his hind legs on the White House lawn in the moonlight.

Teddy wrote that one of his favorite dogs, Sailor Boy, “had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty.” He said the dog always broke up fights among the other dogs and “himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it.”

In 1907, the President wrote to his son Kermit that Pete the Bull Terrier had killed four squirrels. Teddy said it was proof that “the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow.”

In time, Pete acquired the unfortunate habit of biting people. His victims included a naval officer, a policeman, and a cabinet minister. At first, Teddy said it was “the nature of the breed,” and he resisted getting rid of Pete.

But Pete sealed his own fate when he attacked the French Ambassador. Reportedly, Pete chased the Ambassador down a White House corridor, caught him, and tore the bottom out of his pants.

The French government filed a formal complaint; Pete was exiled to the family’s Long Island estate.

Teddy bragged that Jack the Manchester Terrier “was human in his intelligence and affection; he learned all kinds of tricks and was a high-bred gentleman.” Jack also was known to gnaw on books, and he was afraid of the female cat, Tom Quartz.

When Jack died, he was buried on the White House grounds. But the First Lady soon had second thoughts. She said she didn’t want to leave Jack behind “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Accordingly, when the Roosevelts left Washington in 1908, Jack’s remains were moved to the family estate on Long Island.

TR-4

Jack the Manchester Terrier.

Algonquin was a Shetland pony belonging to Archie. In 1903, while Archie was in bed recovering from measles, he told his mother he missed Algonquin and wanted to go to the stables to see him. His mother told Archie he was too ill and needed to stay in bed.

While Archie sulked, one of the stable hands suggested to the First Lady that they bring the pony to Archie. With the First Lady’s approval, Algonquin was walked into the White House, onto an elevator, up to the second floor, and down the hall to Archie’s bedroom, where a joyful reunion ensued.

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Archie astride Algonquin.

Eli Yale, a Hyacinth Macaw, was the beloved pet of 14-year-old Ted Jr. The bird was named after Elihu Yale, the British philanthropist and namesake of Yale University. The President wrote, “Eli is the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boilerplate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”

TR-6

Ted Jr. and Eli Yale.

Archie had a pet badger named Josiah that was said to be friendly, but occasionally short-tempered. Once, when Teddy saw Archie carrying Josiah in his arms, he warned his son that the badger might bite his face.

Archie replied, “He bites legs sometimes, but he never bites faces.”

TR-7

Archie and Josiah.

Most of the exotic and wild animals were gifts from world leaders. Bill the hyena, for example, was presented to Roosevelt in 1904 by the Emperor of Ethiopia.

According to White House archives, Teddy was reluctant to accept the animal, being of the opinion that hyenas are cowardly creatures.

But he relented, and soon, Bill was allowed inside the White House, where he was known to beg for scraps at the dinner table.

Joe the lion, also a gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia, never set a paw on the White House grounds. Like the zebra, the wildcat, and others, Joe was taken on arrival to the National Zoo.

For reasons I couldn’t determine, Bill the hyena eventually joined him there.

TR-8

The Roosevelt family. Left to right: Quentin, Teddy, Ted Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

 

 

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Here are three stories about animal behavior that, to me, seems odd and unexpected. Presented with the stipulation that I’m a Journalism major, not a wildlife biologist.

Story #1

About a week ago, I was driving north on U.S. 129 toward home. I was in the northern suburbs of Athens where the speed limit is 45 and you encounter a succession of traffic lights. Ahead, a light turned red. We motorists coasted to a stop.

While I sat waiting, movement on the right side of the road caught my attention. I turned to see a possum emerging from the undergrowth. He stepped into the crosswalk and ambled across all four lanes of 129 in front of the idling vehicles.

It was an adult possum, rather portly, seemingly well-fed. He was calm and appeared to be in no hurry.

The cars turning out of the cross street, which had the green light, dutifully yielded to him, as if he were a normal pedestrian.

Just as the possum reached the left side of the crosswalk and disappeared back into the undergrowth, the light turned green, and I drove on. My first thought: wow, that was weird.

Possum

Story #2

The following morning, on my way to downtown Jefferson, I was paused at the stop sign where the road from my neighborhood meets Business 129. In front of me, in the middle of 129, four vultures were squabbling over a roadkill squirrel.

Traffic was fairly heavy. The vultures had to scramble constantly to avoid becoming roadkill themselves.

No one was behind me at the stop sign, so I was able to sit there and observe. Two times, I watched as a scrum of cars went by, causing the vultures to scatter frantically and then reassemble.

Finally, as they were taking flight for the third time, one of the birds grabbed the squirrel’s tail in his beak and carried the carcass aloft with him. He rose to about 20 feet and dropped the squirrel onto the grass, six feet off the pavement.

Whereupon, the four vultures reconverged on the prize, this time in relative safety.

I’ve seen countless vultures feasting on roadkill in my time, but I’ve never seem one remove a carcass from the road. Smarter than the average vulture, it seems.

Roadkill

Story #3

My house in Jefferson is built on a moderate slope that, during construction, made a retaining wall necessary. The wall makes the transition from the hillside to the level ground where the house stands.

The wall is built of railroad ties. It ranges from three to four feet tall and is about 30 feet long. A sidewalk along its base leads to the front door.

Wall

The wall is not only an interesting feature, but also a home to all sorts of critters. There are frog burrows at its base. Lizards skitter in and out of the cracks and crevices. In and around it are crickets, centipedes, worms, moles, ants, spiders, and, yes, snakes.

Most of the snakes are of the harmless variety, although I did encounter a small copperhead a few years ago, sunning himself on the sidewalk. I chased him into the woods.

Sometimes, the snakes use the tight spaces between the railroad ties to help wiggle out of their skins when they molt. The dry skins they leave behind are a common sight.

To the local squirrels, the top of the wall is a good vantage point from which to watch for predators while they feast on acorns. The shells make a terrible mess.

As I see it, the presence of these critters is a positive thing, and I do my best to coexist with them. I try not to bother them. I pull weeds by hand instead of spraying chemicals. The one exception: the time a colony of yellow jackets built a nest in the wall, and I had to call an exterminator.

A few days ago, as I was pulling weeds on top of the wall, I came close to stepping backward onto a rat snake (harmless, easy to identify). I don’t know which of us was more startled.

He was young, but still several feet long. He was backed up against the edge of the wall in a defensive crouch, looking at me, tongue flickering. Every time I moved, he tensed.

Rat snake

This snake was unusually antsy. Maybe he had a recent encounter with a dog or cat. Even though I stood motionless a good six feet away, he was agitated. He slithered rapidly along the lip of the wall in both directions, looking for a passage to safety. He found none.

He seemed to be in a genuine panic. And to prove it, he suddenly turned around, glided over the top of the wall, and launched himself into space. I was astonished.

When I got to the wall and looked over the edge, the end of his tail was disappearing into an opening at ground level.

At the spot where he jumped, the wall is four feet tall. That had to hurt.

Frog burrow

One of the frog burrows at the base of the wall. Sometimes, their little heads peek out.

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The Questions…

1. The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense, has 284 restrooms, twice as many as the occupant level requires. Why is that?

2. What American president financed his first run for public office with poker winnings?

3. Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. How many?

4. In 1865, Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son of President Abraham Lincoln, fell from a platform in a busy New Jersey train station into the path of an oncoming train. Who stepped forward from the crowd and pulled young Lincoln to safety?

5. Rodney Dangerfield, the “I don’t get no respect” comedian, died in 2004 and is buried in Westwood Cemetery in Los Angeles. What epitaph is inscribed on his tombstone?

The Answers…

1. When the Pentagon was under construction in 1943, Virginia insisted that it have racially segregated restrooms in accordance with state law. To avoid a hassle, the feds complied and built extra restrooms. But they never posted white and colored signs, thus leaving the facilities open to both black and white employees. Touché.

2. Richard Nixon. He was a skillful poker player while an ensign in the Navy, and he used $5,000 of his winnings to finance his successful run for Congress in 1946.

3. Nobody knows exactly, but at least three million.

4. The well-known actor Edwin Booth. A few months later, Booth’s brother John assassinated President Lincoln.

5. “…There goes the neighborhood.”

Pentagon

Dangerfield

 

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