Friday, May 15, 2009

Fear Factor

June 27, 02

Something spooked a neighbor's horse just after I got home last week. The owners were gone and one of the kids from a farm down the road asked if I could come help catch it before it got in with the dairy cows.

I just happened to be in the process of pulling the 15th baby skunk out of our rhubarb patch and didn't want to let this one get away. I had just read a news release that Philadelphia was trapping and selling baby skunks for $250 each, and they were selling like hotcakes! On hearing this news I cringed at just having let 14 babies go in the woods.

With dollar signs in my eyes, and a skunk in hand, but a kid needing help with a rampaging horse, I ran to the truck to toss it in the pickup bed only to find that it was full of rolls of new fencing that I had neglected to unload. I knew that if I threw it in there, I'd have a heck of a time getting it out again, so I opened the front of the truck and tossed it in there. Where could it hide in there? Right?

We caught the horse after a small chase, and I went back to retrieve the skunk. I could not find it. Baby skunks don't exactly spray like the adults, but they certainly have a distinct odor that seems to be enhanced in warm confined spaces. The cab of the truck was beginning to reek, but there was no sign of a baby skunk. There are more hiding holes in the cab of a truck than there are in good Wisconsin baby lace Swiss cheese: up under the upholstery of the seats, under the dashboard, behind loose trim, under corners of floor mats, etc. It took three days before I recaptured that skunk and sent it off into the woods. I don't even want to think about the money that could have been had any more.

After that my wife decided that it was a good weekend for me to fix the chain on the manure spreader and clear the barn lot of a winter's worth of stall cleanings. Her hope was that I would replace my lingering rancid skunky stench with a more natural barnyard aroma in the process, I guess.

The timing was unfortunate for me, though. This week there was a huge hatch of "friendly flies". Last year the North Woods experienced an incredible infestation of forest tent caterpillars. According to the Minnesota DNR, in mid- to late- June, adult flies deposit live maggots on tent caterpillar cocoons. The maggots move into the cocoons, bore into the pupae and feed on them, which kills the developing caterpillars. After completing their feeding, the maggots drop to the ground, form their own pupal stages and remain dormant until the next summer.

Friendly flies (Sarcophaga aldrichi) resemble houseflies, but they are larger, slower and distinctly more bristly. They measure 6 to 12 mm long, are gray, have three black stripes on their thoraxes, and their abdomens are checkered. They drone persistently and swarm over everything. They don't bite, but they can soil things with their regurgitations. Unlike other flies, they can't be shoo'd away. They must be brushed off. Imagine one of those Fear Factor segments where a person is covered with spiders or bugs, and you have a pretty fair image of me working on the manure spreader and tractor. Ah, the joys of country life. I think I'd rather brush off snowflakes than flies and mosquitoes. Anyway, the barn lot got cleaned up to the point that the tractor overheated and the spreader chain broke again and wrapped around the drive gear.

And I had to drive the truck to work this week with the windows down so that my wife could have a usable mode of transportation.

Moral of the story: Greed stinks.

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