Saturday, May 30, 2009

Little Rice Lake and Crows

May 30, 09

Our 40 acre farm lies in a little piece of Paradise in a valley near the headwaters of the Wolf River. Further downstream, the Wolf has been designated as one of the Nation's Wild and Scenic Rivers and is protected. Up here a small historic mill dam creates Little Rice Lake, and it's from this flowage that I supply our household with fresh fish almost year round.

I love that lake because it is so low and boggy that there is very little development around it, so there are almost never any water skiers or jet skiers on the water. Instead there are geese and loons and sandhill cranes. The sounds of marsh birds prevail. The lake is shallow and covers a large area, so it makes a wonderful propagation pond for panfish, mostly bluegill, sunfish, yellow perch, black crappie, bullhead, northern pike and largemouth bass.

The upper end of the lake is dominated by wild rice that is so dense that in a few weeks it will not be navigable by motor. Now you can see the new plants starting to take off just a few feet below the surface of the water.

There are numerous boggy islands in the lake that actually float around sometimes if the water gets high. They aren't stable enough to walk on, so they act as wilderness sanctuaries to all sorts of small wildlife.

One small island up in the wild rice area is called Pancake Island. On it is a tree that has an eagle's nest that must be decades old. The structure has to be six to eight feed deep. The eagles should be nesting there soon. I have seen eagles occupying nests on power poles along the highway recently.

I was out fishing this week in the lee of an island and saw more muskrats than I have ever seen before. When I was younger, living in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, I had a Native American friend that used to trap them and sell the pelts to furriers and the carcasses to a local restaurant. Once in a while he would bring me a few dressed out carcasses, and I would parboil them and then saute them in garlic and butter. There wasn't a whole lot of meat on them, but it was good eating. I'm well enough fed not to be tempted to go out and start trapping them myself, though.

At home, Deb has been doing some yard work and cleaning up. Yesterday, we were trimming a lot of deadwood out of our trees and shrubbery. I put the trimmings in our little utility vehicle and took them into the woods out back where we have a couple of brush piles.

As I drove up, there was a crow perched on the pile, and it hopped down to the ground. I was surprised that it didn't fly away, because crows are usually pretty wary. So I got out and started walking toward it. It kept hopping away, but obviously could not fly. I picked it up and could see no visible signs of injury, so I tucked it into the cab of the truck while I emptied my load. The crow just sat on the seat and remained surprisingly calm.

Back home, I showed it to Deb.

"What in the world are you dragging home this time? You're as bad as a little kid."

"Can I keep him? Please? Please? Pretty please? They're supposed to make great pets."

I really knew better. In the United States, it's illegal to keep crows or ravens as pets. They are wild birds, and that status is protected. But if an injured bird is unable to be rehabilitated and released into the wild, it either will be destoyed, or in rare cases there is a chance that it can be fostered out as a pet.

Corvids are exceedingly intelligent birds. European Magpies have passed the self-recognition mirror reflection test, where a mark (in this case, a yellow spot under the chin) is placed on the bird where it cannot be seen by direct self-examination. When a magpie is placed in front of a mirror it tries to reach the mark on itself either with its beak or its feet to remove it. This is the
only non-mammalian species to show this behavior (so far). In non-human mammals, it has been demonstrated in apes, dolphins and elephants (http://biology.

European rooks can not only use tools, but actually fabricate them to get at food (

Crows can also be deviously smart, too:
George was an orphan crow whom my wife, a wild-bird rehabber, raised and released five summers ago and who hung around for several months after that. George was mischievous. He liked to fly straight toward me and then veer away at the last second; grab my sandwich when I ate lunch on our deck; peck at my newspaper as I tried to read it; and so on. One day I was in the house and heard all this yelling outside. I went downstairs and found Suzie, Mac, Skye and George standing outside this big cage we have in our backyard, a cube of wood and chicken wire about eight feet on each side. The cage has a door with a bolt latch on the outside. Mac and Skye often lock each other inside it for fun. Mac and Skye claimed that they had both been playing in the cage when George had locked them in. Suzie, hearing Mac and Skye yelling, had just unlocked the door and let them out. Skeptic that I am, I found this story hard to believe, especially since my wife and children like to kid me. So I sent Suzie, Mac and Skye to the deck, about 30 feet away. Then, as George watched me, head cocked, I entered the cage. After I turned my back on the door and on George, I heard wings flapping and turned in time to see George fly over to the door, which I had left ajar, and grip the chicken wire just below the latch. He flapped his wings until the door eased shut, then slid the latch over with his beak, locking me in. Then, I swear, I thought I saw George smile. (

Not only that, but like their mynah bird cousins, they can learn to talk ( A friend told me that the old-timers used to split their tongues to allow them to talk, but I doubt that's necessary.

Anyway, I decided to take this guy in to the Northwoods Rehab Center to see what was wrong with it and to make certain that it wasn't suffering from West Nile virus. When I got there, the chief rehab man found that it had a badly dislocated shoulder (wing). He said that they would keep it for a few weeks to see whether it would tighten back up again so that it could be released. In his experience, though, the prospects are not good. If not they would have to put it down. He also told me that it is too early to be seeing cases of West Nile virus.

OK. That gives me two weeks to cajole Deb.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Transferring Mothers and Squirrels

May 12, 09

I was able to make a brief run down to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to see my Mom for Mother's Day. She can no longer bear weight on her legs and is wheelchair bound, but is able to transfer to a car. So we spent time going out and about to restaurants, nurseries for flowers to decorate my Dad's grave site, and just touring the area. We ended up doing a lot of transferring.

To get into and out of the car, and for transfers to and from bed, because she cannot be lifted, Mom uses a transfer board. This is simply a hefty piece of hardwood about two feet long and six inches wide that is slightly tapered at the ends. It is delicately slid under the bum of the transferee and serves as a bridge along which the transferee slides along to the destination site.
One would not think that this simple device could be the source of much controversy, but I found myself smack in the middle of a major dispute. At first I just slid the transfer board under Mom not paying much attention to which end of the board went where. I must have done it "right" a few times before I took notice of the handy grab hole conveniently cut into one end. Then I started putting that end under Mom first so that after she slid across it, I could wrap my fingers through the hole and pull it out easily. Mom, however, thought differently. For some reason, she was deathly afraid of either becoming hopelessly snagged in that hole, or maybe even falling straight through it. She has never been a gambler and didn't realize that the odds against either one of those things ever happening were zilch. So I appeased her for a while, but then thought, this is stupid. I'm doing it my way. Grumble. Sniff. I can deal with it.

That night, I was staying at my brother's place and happend to mention the day's issue of contention as we were sitting around the kitchen table. My brother's wife, who normally takes on the responsibility of driving my Mom hither and thither, just laughed. She has had the same debate and has dealt with it in an identical manner.

My brother, who is a wood carver in his "spare" time has a shop full of very sharp tools and suggested that he could just cut another hole in the other end of the board. That would not only put an end to the controversy, but also give my Mom twice as much to worry about. Sounded like a good plan to me. "Yeah, I'll have to do it when I get around to thinking about it," he said. For some reason, his wife just rolled her eyes.

In the meantime, I was glancing out the kitchen window into their beautiful back yard with its deer wandering through and bird feeders hanging from tree branches. Then I noticed some mighty fat squirrels sitting in the trees contemplating whether they really wanted to attempt the acrobatics required to get to some of the seed. "That's odd," I thought. "I've never known squirrels to be hesitant before." They also seemed to be casting a wary eye toward the house.

Just then, I looked down at the floor by the bottom of the patio door and noticed in its well worn original box a genuine Wrist Rocket sling shot. "Wow, Gary. That's neat. I've always wanted one of those."

"Oh, that's not mine. It's hers."

Apparently Karen loads up the ammo pouch on the sling with an ice cube from her ice maker every time she spots a squirrel raiding the bird feeders.

"Yeah. Fortunately I'm a lousy shot and have never hit one, but when the cube goes whizzing past them, and especially if it shatters against a tree trunk, it really sends them scampering. Plus, we don't have to worry about the lawn mower picking up stones and hurling them against the house."

Well, that's interesting.

Next, the conversation turned to wood carving. I told my brother that the one thing that I'd like him to show me is how he sharpens his carving tools. So we disappeared down into his shop for a while, and I came back up with a leather stropping board that he had made and gave me as a gift.

We then sat back down around the kitchen table again, and I commented on what a nice setup he had down there.

"I like it. The next thing I need, though is a surface planer and a dust collection system."

That got a rise out of his wife. "Mister, you need to learn the difference between wants and needs. You don't need a surface planer, and I thought that all of your tools were dust collectors."

Now that's just cold. I swung around, casually picked up the sling shot and asked Gary if he needed some ice.

(P.S.: That wonderful photo of the squirrel was pulled off the internet some time ago. I tried finding it again so that I could give proper credit, but couldn't. My apologies to the original photographer. Let me know if you know the source so that I can give credit where credit is due.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Retrenching for Winter

Early in 2007, I had lost a good job with no prospects on the horizon for a new one. We were still providing elder care for Deb's mom, so Deb did not want to return to work full time. So we decided to find a smaller place and downsize our farm operation. To make a long story short, we put most of our equipment, our cow herd, and the farm up on the auction block. The cows and equipment sold, but our farm didn't. It was our worst nightmare. Now we still had the big farm, but no equipment to work it with. We are still on the farm and most of the stories from here on relate to our struggles to stay afloat while maintaining a semblance of good humor.

Mid November 07

We haven't had enough snow to shovel yet, but it has been enough to start us worrying about how we are going to keep our drive clear this year. Until now we had our pickup truck with the big snowplow on it. It was easy to climb into the heated truck cab, push the snow around with it, and then clear baths to the barn and paddocks with the walk behind snow blower. Both were sold at our auction, though. This year we decided to try to use a snow blower attachment on the riding lawn mower. So we bought wheel weights, tire chains and the blower attachment and had them delivered. The salesman assured us that it was no big problem to detach the mower deck and install the blower.

To mount the snowplow on the truck, all I had to do was line up the truck to the plow, connect two wire harnesses, pull out a couple of spring-loaded attachment pins, climb into the cab, put the pedal to the metal, and voila! We were set for a blizzard.

To prepare the riding mower to deal with snow, I had to find the manual and try to unhook belts and pins and mounting rods and brackets, some of which were described in the manual, but absent on my mower, and others of which were dangling from the mower, but not described in the manual. But eventually, off it came with parts eventually needed for remounting wired together and now hanging on the shop wall for next year. End Day 1 of lawn tractor conversion.

Day 2: Open the crate only to find boxes and bags of hundreds of parts along with an assembly manual. Step 1: unpack all parts and lay them out for easy identification and inventory against the manual checklist. I didn't expect to have to clean out my whole shop to find the room to spread everything out. So Step 1 took an entire day at the end of which I sat down to briefly scan through the manual only to find that 65 steps were listed.

Days 3-5: Suffice it to say, it took quite a bit of innovation and creativity to interpret and reconfigure the lawn tractor to look like the drawings in the manual and to make the parts that were supposed to fit to actually remain semi-stably mounted. At the end of Day 5, I drove it to the back door of the house, and Deb assured me that the blower auger turns when engaged. Now we'll see what it does in the snow. Hopefully it turns in the right direction. All told I count 49 extra pieces that I could not find a use for. Out of 65 steps, I figure that I must have 16 of them done as described. Time will tell.

The first of our holiday decorations are up. Deb and I mounted garlands of pine boughs around the front and back doors rendering them essentially unclosable, but they look festive.

That's all for this week. Hope that your Thanksgiving is enjoyable and that your belts are expandable.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hunting Season and Fresh Bread

November 19, 07

It is hunting season again so we have all of the animals up in the front paddocks so that they won't be mistaken for "Big Game". My largest worry is that Shaniah (the calf) or Griffin (her mom) will step through the board fences and go off cross country. So far, so good.

Next year, I'm going to raise pumpkins again and put a bunch of them in trees out back so that when the hunters spot orange in the trees, they'll think that there are already plenty of hunters in the area. They say that there are around 700,000 hunters every year that kill about 460,000 deer. That doesn't include the road kill. I think I'll stick to killing fish for now.

On these cool, crisp fall mornings, there's nothing better than to walk into the house and be washed with the aroma of fresh bread in the oven. Over the years, we have settled on one basic recipe for all of our bread. It's not the greatest for sandwiches, but for a hot bread at the table, or for breakfast toast, its hard to beat. And it's easy.

Deb's French Peasant Bread

2 cups of warm water
1 Tbsp sugar (brown or white)
2 tsp salt
1 pkg dry yeast
4 cups flour (mix and match types at will)

  • In a large, warm bowl, place water, sugar, salt and yeast. Stir until dissolved. If you have any doubts about whether your yeast is any good or not, you can let it sit at this stage to see whether it will form a froth on top after about 15 minutes.
  • Stir in flour and whatever else you want to flavor the bread with. Experiment with herbs, granola cereals, cinnamon and sugar, nuts, seeds, grains, cheeses, etc. The dough will be sticky, but there is no need to knead it.
  • Scrape the sticky dough into a greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place 45 minutes or more until about doubled.
  • Stir the dough down and decide how you want your loaves to be. You can make flatter round loaves that you pass around and just tear hunks off for dipping in herbed olive oil at dinner, or you can use ceramic bowls or bread pans to make taller loaves that can be sliced for making some great toast in the mornings or for snacks.
  • For flat loaves, grease two baking sheets with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal so the loaves won't stick. Mounnd half of the dough on each sheet.
  • For bowls or loaf pans, oil and coat with cornmeal and then fill about 2/3 of the way.
  • In a small dish or glass, mix one egg white and a bit of water, and brush the tops of the loaves with the mixture. Set aside the remaining egg white mixture to use later. (This egg white glaze is just to make the loaves look pretty and maybe making it a bit crustier. There's no harm at all in omiting the glaze.)
  • Let the loves rise uncovered for 45 minutes or more.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Bake 10 minutes.
  • Pull the loaves out and coat with more of the egg white glaze. Turn the oven heat down to 375 degrees F and bake for 20 more minutes. Put the loaves back in the oven as soon as you glaze them. The oven does not have to cool down before putting them back in.
And that's it. No kneading. No flour dust spread all over the place. No sticky fingers. And it's pretty darned good bread. When fresh out of the oven it has a nice crispy crust, too. Let us know what flavor combinations you come up with. We like to add rosemary, or crush up generic honey nut and oat type cereal to add, or ground flax seed and bran. The combinations are endless.

And speaking of bread, did you know that Chillicothe, Missouri is the home of sliced bread? The first time that sliced bread was ever offered for sale anywhere was smack dab in the center of the US. Old Otto Rohwedder sold his invention, the Rohwedder Bread Slicer, to the Chillicothe Bread Company, which put it into its first use back in 1928.

But for me, I just like tearing hunks off Deb's flat loaves like an old French peasant. I have officially vetoed the purchase of Otto's invention for our kitchen. I guess that says something about my social status.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Just Like a Good Neighbor

Time passed and some things changed, including an unexpected early retirement for me.

November 12, 07

I was sitting at home one day and got a call from Deb. She was over at Squirt's house unbeknownst to me. Squirt is a lady of diminutive stature in her 70's who helps take care of Louise several mornings of the week at our farm. She lives in a house in town that she rents from a niece of hers, but the niece refuses to do any maintenance on the place. So we help out when we can, just like a good neighbor.

At the other end of the line, Deb was sitting under the bathroom sink with the trap taken apart and with a bunch of parts that she and Squirt had bought to try and fix it with. "Squirt's sink trap had developed a leak and we are trying to replace it. Can you come over and help? I have all of the parts, but can't figure out how they fit together."

"OK. I'll be over in a few minutes."

Well, I got there and sure enough, the sink trap was taken apart, and there were enough fittings spread over the floor to plumb a small city. Part of the problem was that because of the alignment of the sink drain and the floor drain, the trap not only had to have a "U" in it, but a whole "Loop-de-loop" going from one size pipe into a slightly larger pipe. The adapters that the hardware store had sold them were the wrong size and without the proper threading. But with all of these parts, I figured that I ought to be able to rig something.

So I started rigging and attaching and cutting and fitting and before long, I had a contraption innovated that ought to work. So I turned on the faucet. I watched for any leak and there was nothing coming from the drain or trap, but there was a significant leak coming from the metal wire coming down from the faucet fixture that moves the drain stopper up and down.

That made no sense at all since there was no water that flowed through the area that it comes from. So I decided to take apart the faucet fixture to see what the heck was going on.

Off came the handles. Then on to the valve mechanism, hot side first. I took out the screw and had to pry the valve up for it to come off. When it finally popped off, there was an exploding jet of hot water that shot up, hit the bottom of the medicine cabinet and succeeded in soaking everything in the room.

"She#*f!~uzzleduckin jabberflam." (Squirt is a very religious person, so I had to temper my language.)

After determining that a finger jammed over the hole was not going to work, and after a few more additions to the Oxford English Dictionary, Deb suggested that I may want to shut off the water valves under the sink.

"Oh, yeah."

That did the trick. I then took apart the rest of the faucet and discovered that the water spigot was loose and that may have allowed water back into the area where the drain plug rod goes down. So I tighteded that and went to put the faucet back together. But when I went to put the hot water valve back together, I found a short conical spring that had no apparent function. So I crammed it into a likely looking hole and put it all together again.

Then slowly... ever so slowly, I turned the water valves back on. No leak now from the plunger rod, but interestingly the hot water ran out the spigot no matter where the handle was positioned... on or off or anywhere in between.

It was time to turn off the hot water supply valve and take the fixture apart again. Maybe the conical spring was upside down. I did the change and tried again.

Again the hot water flowed regardless of the handle position.

OK. Now what?

I turned the hot water supply valve off and took the fixture apart again. Maybe the spring went someplace else. Nope. There was no other possible place for it. OK. I hadn't noticed a spring in the cold water valve, but maybe I hadn't looked close enough. That side worked, so let's take it apart and try to see the difference.

I pried the cold water valve up, and sploosh. Now not only was every inch of me and the bathroom wet, but it was cold and wet. "Spivvelmattr Bingledorrf!" Again, the finger in the hole succeeded in intensifying and dispersing the water jet about like a finger over the end of a garden hose. Again, Deb suggested turning off the cold water supply valve under the sink.

"Oh, yeah. Of course. Just testing your memory, darling."

While I was laying in the puddle under the sink, I noticed a sharp needling pain in the back of my neck. When I reached up, I found another one of those springs. Hmmm.

Well, there was absolutely no place for a second spring in the hot water faucet, so I stuck the second one in the cold water faucet like I had in the hot water side and put together the fixture yet again. Then I turned on the water supply valves again.

Miracle of miracles! Now both the hot and the cold water valves did not work.

"Squirt, I think that I have determined your problem. There is a dying spouting whale stuck in your water supply plumbing that is slowly working its way out. Now it is no longer under the sink causng problems, but has worked its way up to the faucet handles. I don't kill whales, so I think you may have to just live with it."

"I could do that, I guess, but why don't you just go out and buy a new fixture?"

"Good idea," says Deb, and off she races to the hardware store to find a replacement.

In the meantime, I'm wondering whether this is really what retirement was meant to be.

Deb got back with a new fixture. One look at the box, and I could see that it didn't have the required drain rod. This time, I went to the store while Deb and Squirt left to do other chores out of town.

I found one that looked like it would work and finally got it installed and working.

Later that night, I got a call from Squirt: "What did you do? The faucet handles aren't the same as the old ones!"

I can't win! Someday I'll tell you the reason why I never want to be a landlord.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Snow and Hungry for Hen

October 17, 02

We had our first snow this week. Saturday night Deb drove home in a blizzard.

Then her niece and significant other came from Missouri to visit with their new baby boy on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday night, to celebrate, we roasted Cornish Game Hens over an open fire while it was spitting snow. Boy, there's nothing better in my mind than the smoky flavor of these little hens roasted over fire. My mouth was watering.

It takes about an hour and a bottle of wine to cook the birds over a good fire, and just as I was unspitting the birds from the cherry poles, Deb stuck her head out the door and hollered that it was going down into the teens that night, and I had better put Kook in before I ate dinner.

So I went out into the pasture with Dolly (the Clydesdale), Clyde (the bay Quarter Horse that looks like a Clydesdale,) 5 Holsteen cows, and Kookamunga (our Dromedary). Now Dolly and Clyde were no problem because they remain terrified of the camel and kept their distance. But Kook has become practically inseparable from the cows. They hang out together all the time, and Kook seems to delight in sporadically and randomly slapping a foot on the ground and bucking to see the cows scatter. The cows don't seem to hold a grudge, though, and before you know it they are all back together again.

Anyway after weaving my way around the cows, who are becoming pretty pushy because they have come to know that I keep tasty horse treats in my pockets at all times, I was able to walk up to Kook and get his halter on without much problem. This is a process in which he must cooperate, because there is no way that I can reach high enough if he chooses to hold his head up. He was being a good camel.

Putting the halter on was one thing. Leading him away from the cows was a totally different matter. First, there was the task of getting him to the gate. Not too much problem, because the cows followed us: elapsed time -- only 20 minutes and 3/4 of my horse treats gone. (I figured that my Game Hen and wild rice were getting pretty tepid by now.)

Then there was the tricky matter of getting Kook through the gate without the accompanying throng. All the hollering and whistling and waving of arms that normally keeps the cows at bay had the same effect on Kook. I think this process was turning him a bit schitzy.

Finally, I ended up with a camel on one side of the gate, and the cows on the other. Elapsed time: another 20 minutes and the rest of my horse treats. (Maybe I could nuke my Game Hen in the microwave to warm it up.)

I now faced the task of leading the camel away from the gate with the cows bawling away beckoning him back, bringing him through another pasture with the miniature horses and ponies in it, through another gate, and in through the back door of the barn. The bigger the horse, the more frightened they are of the camel. The minis show no fear and are constantly under foot searching my pockets for treats. So I had another sorting task ahead of me. Kook wanted no part of it. Period. I was getting a lot of roaring complaints from the camel, but no spitting.

After another 30 minutes, I had the camel through the gate, separated from the horses, and into the barn. Now I had to lead it into its stall. By this time we were both rip snorting mad at each other and he refused to go into the stall and finally succeeded in ripping the lead rope out of my hands to go tromping off in the arena trying to find an escape exit.

After chasing him around for a while, I decided to try a trick that I have tried with obstreperous horses who don't want to be caught. I lay down in the pasture and play dead. Within a relatively short period of time the horses will walk up and sniff me and actually paw me with their hoof to see whether I am still among the living. I think that my chest x-rays will prove to you the efficacy of this procedure.

So I laid down in the middle of the arena, face down with my hands clasped over my head for protection, and I waited. Time passed. I peeked up and after Kook had given up trying to go back out the door, he seemed to have calmed down, and was parked in front of the mirror that we use to show riders how they are sitting. He seemed to be smiling at himself, proud of his victyory and pleased with his good looks.

I tucked my head back under my arms to wait. About then Deb walked into the arena, wonderring where I was.

"Graig! Are you dead?"

"No, Deb, I'm showing Kook what to do in the event of a tornado or nuclear attack."

She then disappeared into the feed room, grabbed a carrot, and calmly sweet talked Kook into his stall without even using the lead rope. Razzerfrattindrazzlefratin' camel!

By that time I had to hit the hay so that I could get up at 4:00 a.m. for my weekly commute to out-of-town work the next morning. I sure hope that three-day old Game Hen tastes good in a sandwich or a soup or something.

And the last laugh may still be on the guy that puts together the Living Nativity Scene in Crandon, when all that shows up is the Wise Man sans camel.

Hungry for Hen.

The Old Gray Egg

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Left Hanging and Needing a Translator

October 10, 02

While I was gone last week, Debra got a phone call from an acquaintance who owns and operates a boarding stable. Someone had purchased a wild mustang filly last spring for their daughter at the Bureau of Land Management Mustang and Burro Adoption. The parents had boarded it at the stable over the summer. Evidently the daughter messed with the mustang for only a few weeks, and found that it was not quite the appreciative, cooperative, cuddly horse that she had envisioned. So the parents decided to sell her (the horse) at auction, and if it went to the killer, so be it. The boarding facility owner thought that the filly had too much potential for that, so she called us and said that we could have it if we wanted it. Deb went to see it, fell in love, and agreed to pick it up.

Translation: "agreed to pick it up" -- get Graig to figure out how to load a young, wary, nearly wild mustang into a trailer, so that it can be hauled home.

First of all, the BLM does not allow any mustangs to be hauled in regular horse trailers because too often, they have gone totally nuts inside them and ended up hurting themselves and demolishing the trailer. Plain Jane open stock trailers are required, and the horse can't be tied during transport.

So Deb arranged with the owners of the horse to have them transport the horse in their stock trailer as long as I would volunteer to load it. They agreed.

Hmmm. So I was "volunteered". In the past I have had success with training our horses (over time) to load into our horse trailer without major battles, so Deb had every confidence in me. But, just in case, she had our sawyer friend come to help if I needed a hand.

The day came to load her up. Of course it was pouring rain, and the footing in the loading area was eight inches of mud, but the job had to be done. We got there plenty early to mess with the horse some so that its first moments with us would not be spent forcing it to move where it did not want to go. The horse had never been turned out to pasture for fear that it would not be caught, so it had been in its stall all summer. Our own horses act squirrely if we leave them in the stall for more than overnight. We were concerned over what this one would do when we tried to lead it out of the barn. But the filly seemed to be reasonably calm and allowed us to lead it up and down the barn lane while waiting for the trailer to arrive. All seemed to be going well, considering. I was beginning to think that this might be doable.

The woman arrived with her truck and trailer, and our sawyer backed it up to the loading gate for her. Now it was my turn to perform. I tied two lead ropes together so that I could connect it to the horse's halter, then wrap it around an inside post in the front of the trailer, and be able to hold the free end of the lead while standing at the back door of the trailer with the horse. That way I could try to pet and calm it so that it would walk right in. This strategy seemed to work when I trained our horses. I took my time.

At first the mustang led right up to the back of the trailer. It looked and sniffed around and actually swung a foot up into the trailer, but immediately withdrew it. Then the struggle ensued. She pulled backward, but couldn't go anywhere because of the way that I had her belayed. My strategy is to gently gain an inch of rope, relax the horse, and let it see that the best way to releave the pressure on her pole is to move forward. But no amount of cajoling would get her to relax. There was a good deal of struggling and bucking going on. Finally, I had Deb take the lead rope and called the sawyer over to link arms with me so that we could push the horse forward from the rear while position ourselves on each side to avoid being kicked. We moved her forward, but her front feet remained down. Then the boarding facility owner lifted one foreleg into the trailer, and the filly obliged by lifting the other into the trailer as well, but was still sitting back with stiff legs and would not move in. So the sawyer and I started lifting.

Our sawyer friend is about five feet tall in his boots, but is built like a tank, and we managed to lift the hind end of that horse up about four inches off the ground, but not high enough to get it into the trailer. And there we stood with the horse essentially sitting in our linked arms, feet suspended in mid air, but not high enough to move forward and up into the trailer.

I can't remember what exactly happened next, but everyone watching started to laugh at our suspended dilemma. I think that my partner and I gave each other a look and must have relaxed enough for the horse's feet to touch the ground. The new noise of crowd cackling must have been enough to scare the bejeebers out of the filly and make it jump right up into the trailer to get away. We quickly slammed the door. Now, at least, it was in with Deb, and she unhooked the lead from the halter. She then beat a hasty retreat as we cracked open the rear door.

The ride home was uneventful. The horse did not go wild, and it unloaded into our barn without problem.

Since then, she has proven to be a very mellow girl. Deb, in her usual imaginative way, named her Mustang Sally. Every night we let it out free in the arena to roam and explore, and she comes right up to us to be caught and led back into her stall. She doesn't even mind much when Bob, our Shitzu/Dachshund pup, barks its fool head off at it.

I sure wish that I knew what Bob was saying to that horse. Someday I am going to learn Japanese and find out.

Why Japanese?

No. Not because Shitzu's speak Japanese.

It's because the Japanese have invented a translation machine for dogs. No fooling. It is called the Bowlingual Translator. It is a small transmitter that links to the collar of the dog. When the dog barks, a signal is sent to a hand held translator that interrprets the message. It then shows Japanese language phrases to fit the emotional state, such as "I am sad." "I want to play." "I am super angry, and I am going to explode!" By golly, I'd pop for that one if I only knew how to read Japanese.

What's that? You don't believe me...................again?

Check it out:

My sources say that it is selling through the woof!

The Worm Turns

October 3, 02

I suppose everyone has their moments. This week it was Deb's turn. She's always planning and scheming and wanting to build something. In an attempt to save money, Deb swung a deal with the guy that runs the local sawmill to provide her with a bunch of rough cut construction lumber in exchange for two Clydesdale/Shire foals to be used as a hitch team. The sawyer has had his eye on Dolly (our Clydesdale mare) for years now, wanting to breed her to his neighbor's Shire stallion. Because Clydesdale stallions are few and far between (in fact, nonexistent) in the North Woods, I consented. So he loaded Dolly in the trailer and shipped her up to her neighbor's pasture. This was to be a natural, hands-off breeding. It was to be Dolly's first blind date.

We got a phone call about a week later, telling us that Dolly must have come into heat and the stallion took an aggressive interest. But before the match could be consummated, Dolly had kicked the stallion square in the head and split his face deep enough to require stitches. But the Shire owner agreed to keep her on for another cycle to give her another chance.

Then Monday night, up drives our sawyer friend pulling a stock trailer with Dolly in it. Evidently she had started jumping fences and wreaking more havoc. The sawyer and Shire owner decided that it was time for her to go.

She unloaded and walked with me on lead just as calm as could be and was happy to be home. She got pretty scratched and bit up in the experience, and I don't know whether she has been bred or not. Maybe she actually picked up on the verbal training that I used to give her while grooming her and messing with her. It was the same talk that I tried to drive home to my daughtrs about what they should do if a similar situation arose on any of their dates. I used to worry about Dolly because once in a while, a neighbor's quarter horse stallion would appear in our pasture. She behaved perrfectly.

Then Deb volunteered to take care of a little mini horse belonging to a neighbor because their daughter was sick and would be in the hospital for weeks. Our neighbor was supposed to lead the pony down to our place on Sunday, while my wife was working. I waited and waited. Finally, the neighbor drove up and said that she had just spent all morning trying to lead that horse down the road and she couldn't get it to budge. She was in tears and beside herself. She told me that I'd have to bring the trailer to get her.

Well, heck. That horse isn't much bigger than our Golden Retriever. So I took a long lead rope down, caught the pony, and led her home just fine and gently using a butt rope (a rope clipped to her halter, then wrapped around her hind end and up to her head again so that you pull her butt forward instead of tugging on her head).

I put her in with Baaabette and Baaaboo, the Pygmy goat Baaah Family, and she did just fine until my wife wanted to catch her and move her into a stall the next day. She would not be caught, though. So I was assigned the job. But she ran from me now, too.

I had to resort to the strategy that I used to use on a stubborn mule I had to catch one time. The trick is to get down on all fours and start grazing. Seeing you with your head down and hearing the sound of tearing grass seems to have an amazing calming effect on skittish hard-to-catch equines. I was able to move right up to her and eventually halter her without problem.

My only worry now is that the procedure previously outlined for removing grass stains from textiles will also work on teeth and gums. I wonder what banana oil tastes like.

Monday, May 18, 2009

4-H Fair, Wise Men, and Goose Carving

September 26, 02

Last spring, Debra had volunteered to assist the 4-H leader in teaching kids to work with horses and show them at halter. There were seven girls with various levels of previous experience. It all came to fruition last weekend at the Forest County Fair, the last, and probably smallest fair of the year. By Thursday night when I got home, all of the horses had been bathed, manes banded and/or braided, and tails braided and wrapped. Their coats were so slick, a rider would have slid off like water on a duck's back.

Friday morning at the crack of dawn, I was assigned to get up early to claim stalls and transport horses. I had eight horses to transport, so it took four round trips. All went without a glitch. Deb wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream of camping out with her animals at the fair, so I swept out the horse trailer as thoroughly as any man should be expected to do, and set her up a cot with blankets, sleeping bag, lantern, books, magazines, candy, and a cooler full of soda. When I showed her, she seemed to be truly touched. But the next morning I found that everything had been transferred into the trailer's tack room. Apparently I had neglected to use air freshener when I set her up in the horse compartment.

The show went without problem, and the girls walked away with fistfuls of ribbons and were happy.

This is the one event where you see a lot of local people of similar ilk once a year. Apparently, word had spread about me. I got cornered by the man that has staged the annual Living Nativity in Crandon for many years. I guess that it's quite a show, with markets and soldiers and beggars... the whole scene. Anyway, hemming and hawing did not suffice to get me out of agreeing to be a Wise Man. Evidently they have been searching for years to find one, so I finally agreed for the purpose of authenticating the scene. After all, I would be a natural at it. With quite a bit of fast talking, I was also able to finally convince the guy that I should bring Kookamunga as well. We shook hands on it and parted. I was pretty proud of my negotiating skills.

A few minutes after that, I saw the guy guffawing with my wife, though, and went to join the fun. But I stopped short when I heard Deb say, "See, I told you that strategy would work! I knew you could get that camel for the event." I'd been bamboozled again. Darn that woman.

The good part of the fair for me, though, was being introduced to two new breeds of animals that I had never seen before. One was a miniature Scottish Highland cow. This one was all furry with big eyes, huge ears, a wet nose and a friendly disposition. It looked like a stuffed toy. I think I'll get a couple of those guys. This one was not for sale, though. What was for sale, but back on the guy's farm was a Curly Bashkir. Have you eveer seen a horse with curly hair? These critters are covered top to bottom with curly hair. I haven't had a chance to go buy the horse yet, but pictures of them are interesting. I'm sure that Deb won't mind taking care of a few more critters while I'm off writing.

Then on Sunday, my brother came to visit for a few days for the first time in a couple of years. I took advantage of the situation and had him help me separate out the camel, horses and steers from the heifers. None of our horses are trained cutting horses, so we each had to settle on flapping our hats and whistling and hollering while straddled over broomsticks. After several hours of working up a big sweat and growing hoarse, Kookamunga finally got tired of chasing us around, so the cows stopped chewing their cud, stood up and gladly sauntered into their respective corrals. Who needs cutting horses, anyway?

Then it was time to go pick up a bull from the neighbor's house. The owner mentioned that we might want to remove the dividing partition in the horse trailer before we move the bull, so we did. However, we failed to measure the length of the bull prior to the project. The owner told us that the bull wasn't mean or anything, but warned us not to get him riled and angry. Neither my brother, nor I had moved a bull before, but could not for the life of us, figure out how to fold a big, long-bodied bull in such a way that he would fit into the trailer without raising its ire. We had no choice, though, and finally, after much prodding and pushing and sailor talk, got him stuffed in and the doors shut.

It was a loud, jolting ride home. I had no idea that a truck with all of that horse power in its engine could be bucked around so much by one squirming, kicking, banging animal trapped in a trailer. Once we got him home it was simply a matter of parking the truck in the pasture with the heifers, both of us climbing up on the roof of the trailer, and having brother hold my legs while I dangled down and unlatched the door. The bull exploded out of the back of the trailer, all steam and rage. It was not unlike opening one of those cans with a spring snake in it. I had no idea how I was going to get him back in that trailer by myself without a cattle chute after its service was performed.

Later that night, it was time to relax, and I started asking my brother about how his duck carving hobby was progressing. This is something that he has been doing for quite some time now, and is getting ribbons for his work. Living in the city, however, he doesn't get a chance to observe the real thing up close and personal. So I decided to go out in the dark and try to catch a goose to bring in the house for his detailed inspection. I was hoping that the geese would be like the chickens setting on their roost at night and easy to catch. No such luck. It was a chase. All squawks and hisses and flapping wings. Fortunately their bellies are white so I could see where they were. Finally, I made a diving tackle and caught one.

I took it into the house tucked under my arm, and after I had someone put the four barking, leaping dogs up behind closed doors, the goose settled down in my lap. There are feather patterns on a goose that I didn't know existed. My brother took close notice of where the folded wing tips ended in relation to the tail, and was pointing out the cape pattern on its back, when all of a sudden the goose let loose with a huge stream of what I can only describe as rank, foul, canned spinach. I have never waited and watched, but I always see pellets in the yard. This is a form that may never have previously been reported. It splashed everything within a seven food radius. Fortunately, Deb was upstairs, but Louise was tucked in for the night in her hospital bed in the living room, and started hollering, "Get that goose out of here. It stinks. You ought to be shot for bringing that thing in the house..." and on and on. So I took it back out, and went through a roll of paper towels cleaning up the mess and a drawer full of candles were lit to calm Louise down. Thank goodness Deb didn't come down through any of this.

The good thing is that next time my brother carves a goose walking across a marshland scene, that's another little detail that he can include.

I'm getting too old for this.


Should I place photos on this blog? Or are word pictures enough? You're opinion matters to me. Thanks.

The Dog-Horse and Banana Oil

September 19, 02

Normally, no matter where I go, I have three dogs racing and jumping around my feet (and a cat draped across my neck coming along for the ride). I'm apparently not paying enough attention to our Golden Retriever, Riley, though. He has invented an unusual new attention grabber.

He is my second Golden, and I have come to the conclusion that Golden Retrievers are exceedingly handy with their noses. When they want attention, they poke, nudge, prod or kick you with their nose, then stare you down with those big brown eyes, and proceed to attempt telepathic communication while fanning dust bunnies across the floor with their tails. All of this is normal behavior.

This past week, Riley has adapted a new tactic. I can't take ten steps across a room without him coming up behind me, wedging his head between my legs, so all of a sudden I have a dog head protruding from my anatomy where there shouldn't be one. Now this isn't all that bad when he decides to walk right along with me. It is not unlike riding a horse bareback without reins. But lately he has discovered that he can bring me to a screeching halt (and it's not my heels that are screeching) by throwing his head upward to look at me while assuming a sitting position, thereby providing an impassable post suddenly placed in the most effective position to cease any forward progress in the lower part of my body. My upper torso seems to continue in a downward arc, though. Tain't cute folks!

Well, after one too many repetitions of this move when I got home from work one day, I decided that what he needed was a good wrestle/romp in the grass. So we all went out and rolled and played like puppies for a good hour.

Upon coming back into the house, Deb took one look at me and reacted, in what seemed to me to be an overly chagrined manner, at the new green stains appearing on the elbows, knees, shoulders and rump of my office clothing. I guess I had forgotten to change into my barn clothes for the romp, so I was in the doghouse once again.

To make amends, I needed to demonstrate that grass stains were no big deal and could easily be removed. So I started searching the Internet again and found that my timing was incredibly fortuitous. The textile experts at Cornell University had just posted their laboratory-tested details on removing 250 different stains (from adhesive tape to wax crayon and wine) with products that can be found in most grocery stores or pharmacies (

So I copied down the recipe for grass stains and smugly presented it to Deb, thereby proving that she had totally over-reacted, and that it was no big deal.

For those of you who find yourselves in similar trouble, I present the Cornell University solution to removing grass stains:

Blot first with banana oil (amyl acetate), then blot with detergent solution and flush with water; blot with ammonia solution and flush with water; blot with vinegar solution and flush; sponge with alcohol, blot and flush; remove final traces with bleach solution as many times as it takes, flushing with water after each application; apply vinegar solution to remove excess chlorine, then flush with water.

They say that this should work most of the time, especially if the stain is fresh.

Easy right? I must have been sweating as I watched her read this recipe because she very politely took an armfull of grass-stained clothes and dabbed my face with it from across the room.

This makes the procedure for removing skunk scent seem like a breeze!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Swashbucklers and Moving Targets

September 12, 02

Deb and I took a whirlwind trip down to see House-on-the-Rock for the first time, while her brother and sister came up from St. Louis to stay with Louise. For those of you who have been expressing off-the-mark comments about a certain Scientific Writer's eccentric nature, I highly recommend that you visit this tourist attraction to find out what eccentric really means.

It was nice to get away, but of course while we were gone, the water stopped flowing out of our taps at the house. The one demand placed upon Deb's brother and sister was not to go into the basement. Remnants of multiple floods still mold and fester down there. But, with no water in the house, and her brother being a specialized plumber (commercial sprinkler fitter), the call of duty was too great and the demand was disobeyed. Aaaargh! I told them that they could have and should have dipped the green water out of the numerous stock tanks that abound on our place to wash up with, but noooo... he just had to identify and fix the problem. Well, I guess that is one less chore I had to do when I got back, and it freed up time for much more important experiments.

I found a source for Tanglefoot in a squeeze tube. So I got out a 6-inch flower pot, spray painted it bright blue, and layered a spiral of Tanglefoot around the body of it, topped off by what I hoped would be an enticing landing platform for pesky flies. Then I searched desks, the barn, and all of my tool and tackle boxes for an appropriate rubberband. This search took hours. Finally, Deb pointed to the doorknob leading down to the cellar that serves as her rubber band storage device. How ingenious. Harumph.

Anyway after mounting a rubber chin strap on the flower pot, I took it in and proudly presented it to Louise, who showed more movement and energy in shooing me away with her swatter than I have seen her display since her accident.

I couldn't let my work go to waste, so I offered it to Deb to wear. I married my wife for her looks, but not the one she gave me then. So it was left to me to have all the fun.

I donned the hat and provided the requisite moving target by roaming our stable, pasture, chicken house, kitchen, basement and woodlot. Results: Not one bug of any kind caught. It must work only for ambush flies like deer flies, but not stable flies, face flies, house flies, fruit flies, cluster flies, ladybugs, gnats or mosquitoes. I hope the Tanglefoot stays sticky until next year's deer fly season. I'm not ready to give up yet.

Kookamunga is starting to look like a Chesapeake Retriever. He is growing his winter coat and is now covered with short curly hair. Tuesday night we put him out with the cows for the first time, and he thought he was in heaven. Playmates at last! I'd be willing to wager that you never saw so much galumphing and bucking and roaring and drooling from a lot full of camel and cows. Our beef this fall may be a bit leaner in the end.

On another front, I think that maybe Deb is softening to the idea of a monkey. At the annual Labor Day sale at Foster & Smith, she bought a strong wire Gorilla cage (honest, look at their catalog) that was marked 90% off. That surely must be a hopeful sign. Since Louise refused to wear the flower pot, the first thing that I will teach that monkey is to wield a fly swatter and smack anything that lands on her. That should provide her long-desired and well-deserved relief from her fly swatting duties. .... On second thought, maybe I should teach it some fencing skills at the same time, just in case those two decide to duel it out. I think that if and when the time comes, I'll name the monkey "Old Swashbuckler".

I'm ready to foster a monkey for Helping Hands whenever they are.

Party Hats

September 5, 02

My three-day Labor Day weekend was spent serving as an attendant for my 84 yo mother-in-law, Louise, while my wife took a day off and then worked two extended 12 hr shifts in the ER.

Louise seems to be recovering well from her broken hip, but still can't put any weight on it. She spends so much time sleeping that she sometimes has a hard time distinguishing reality from dream, especially as she wakes up. Once she wanted to hop out of bed, make it, then go into the kitchen to whip up a meatloaf and mashed potatoes. No can do, darlin'.

So she is restricted to lying in the hospital bed, moving to the recliner, or perching on the commode. That leaves reading and TV and one other activity at which she is becoming unbelievably adept.... swatting flies with her swatter.

On our farm, flies are constant companions and they drive her crazy. She can be laying seemingly sound asleep with swatter in hand, and without opening her eyes, obliterate a winged intruder. The first time I saw that, I couldn't believe it. So I picked up a fluffy goose feather out in the yard, and snuck in while she was sleeping, and lightly tickled her arm.

SMACK! Boy did I get stung. And she didn't even wake up.

Well, to relieve her torture, I decided to see if I could find a new method for trapping flies. Fly paper is a mess, and the liquid fly traps stink too much to have in the house.

Then I ran across an article about a guy with a farm in Northeastern Ohio that got sick of being bitten by deer flies while out on his mower. His trick: take a bright blue plastic flowerpot, covered with sticky material (Tanglefoot) and suspend it upside-down on a pole, waving in the wind. The results were amazing: "The deer flies didn't even look at me - they were all buzzing around that darn flowerpot." Deer rflies are ambush predators. They wait for prey to walk by rather than actively searching for it, so they are highly attracted to movement.

Then a guy down at the University of Florida's North Florida Research and Education Center tried to figure out which shape worked best. After numerous experiments, the trap that wooed the most deer flies proved to be a 6-inch flowerpot painted bright blue, capturing as many as 30 deer flies in a one-minute test -- 35-50% higher than for any other shape. An assistant discovered that the traps also worked when attached to a baseball cap and trolled by the hat's wearer.

Now all I have to do is find some Tanglefoot and convince Louise to wear a blue flowerpot on her head. Come to think of it, I might just make party hats for all the cows, horses and the camel while I'm at it. I don't think that the neighbors would be surprised at the sight any more.

When I sat down and told Deb and Louise about my discovery, they refused to be guinea pigs themselves. Louise said that she'll stick with her swatter. I just nodded and told her about my observation that she could even swat flies (and me) in her sleep.

She just asked, "What makes you think I was sleeping? With you around, who needs a pesky monkey?"

O.K. No more goose feathers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Helping Hands

August 29, 02

It's been a rough week on the farm, especially for my mother-in-law, Louise.

Her pacemaker started wearing through her skin, which led to surgery to have it repositioned under her pectoral muscle. That resulted in quite a lot of pain, which created the demand for pain meds, which caused constipation, which triggered the use of laxatives, which caused dehydration, which exacerbated her orthostatic hypotension. And in a resulting morning rush to the bathroom, she took a tumble and shattered her femur, big time, resulting in complicated orthopedic surgery with pins, plates, and bone grafts, all ending in a return home for rehabilitation in a hospital bed in our living room. Now she is going to need pretty constant care and assistance for the next few months. My wife has decided to stay home during her recovery.

There must be some good in all of this.

When Louise first came to our home, she was totally bed-ridden, catheterized, disoriented, and was told that she would never walk again. It sounded pretty grim. We were able to get her up and going again, though, so that until this most recent incident, she was doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking meals, and this year canned some bread-and butter pickles that she wants to enter in the county fair along with the best of her African violets. I attribute a big part of her recovery to the fact that we had her bottle raising a pygmy goat and hatching out chicken eggs in the house last winter. Right now we have no babies to raise, though, and the chickens have slowed way down on their egg production.

After Louise was all settled into her hospital bed this time, one of our friends came over to see how things were going. She had gone out and bought a stuffed monkey for Louise, explaining that she had seen a show about a quadriplegic person that had a helper monkey to help fetch things and feed him, etc.

Wow! Light bulbs started flashing in my mind's eye. What a great idea! Why mess with a stuffed one, when you can have the real thing? (Don't tell anyone, but I've always wanted a monkey.)

Anyway, I looked on the Internet and there was the answer: Helping Hands--Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. And they are seeking foster families with one person in the home not working. These families can apply to raise and train a capuchin (organ grinder) monkey for a few years for eventual use in the disabled helping hands program. They explain that raising a young monkey is similar to raising a human child, and requires nearly as much time and patience. Foster parents are expected to bathe and diaper their monkeys on a daily basis. Young monkeys are quite active. They run around exploring their homes, knocking things down. (With a nursing background, my wife loves to clean... I'm pretty sure, anyway.) As with human children, an adult must be there to supervise and intervene at all times if necessary.

In fact, not too long ago, my wife mentioned that she was interested in fostering a child. "Wouldn't it be neat to raise a child around all of our animals?" she asked.

Having fostered a difficult child long ago, and with daughters up and out of the roost now, I wasn't terribly keen on the idea. But fostering a monkey would be perfect!

It would fulfill my wife's desire to care for a foster child.

It would give my mother-in-law a goal in life to get the monkey trained to eventually assist her and others even less fortunate than her in fetching things.

Bob would have a playmate more his own size.

And I would have my revenge on the cats.

Now I just need to sell Deb and Louise on the idea. Hopefully, selling them on the camel was just a warm-up pitch.

Stay tuned.

A Sleepless Night in the North Woods

August 22, 02

After the last farm report on mosquitoes and West Nile Virus, I received word from a colleague at the Research Foundation, that the newest and best mosquito repellent is catnip oil. She claimed that she had heard that it works even better than repellents containing DEET.

I checked on the Internet, and sure enough, last year at the American Chemical Society meeting, some investigators from Iowa State University had found that nepetalactone, the oil in catnip that gives it a distinctive odor, is a highly effective mosquito repellent. They put 20 mosquitoes in a two-foot-long tube, half of which was treated with catnip oil. After 10 minutes, only four remained on the treated side. In a similar test with DEET, almost half remained on the treated side.

Well, you just don't plant a seed like that and expect it not to grow in curious soil. I thought to myself, "Heck, I have a small stand of catnip in the corner of our garden, and I spent 20 years in research extracting lipids from tissues. I have got to give this a try.

So I went to my wife's herbal books to see how people normally go about extracting essential oils from herbs at home. The advice: Don't even think about it. It takes a ton of material and specialized chemical apparatus like retorts and condensers and specialized stills.

Baaah! I figured that I could just find some way to modify the old Folch chloroform/methanol extraction procedure that I used to use every day. The problem was that I don't have access to chloroform any more, so I had to try to find another suitable nonpolar solvent that is adequately volatile to be air evaporated. How about WD40? It seems to either volatilize or soak in pretty rapidly. I decided to try that.

Next, I needed more catnip than I had in the corner of our garden. So I rounded up all of our old catnip-filled cat toys and emptied them out.

WD40 and a small pile of chopped up fresh and dried catnip, when mixed together make: ......a mess.

OK. Plan B. First I needed to find more catnip. I weent to Rhinelander to the Foster & Smith outlet store to either buy a bunch of cheap cat toys, or ask if they sold bulk catnip. And, lo and behold, as I was browsing the aisles, I ran across a bottle of "Doctors Foster & Smith High Potency Catnip Mist". The label read, "Pure catnip extract ... formulated by our veterinarians ... made by extracting the essence of catnip from the highest quality leaves. These leaves come from the finest catnip Nepeta cataria grown in the world. ... harvested at the peak of their potency and freshness, then air dried and crushed in the extracting process. This produces the most aromatic catnip scent available without synthetics."

Well, hot dang! Ready made. So I bought it.

Now for the experiment.

Last week, my daughter and her boyfriend came for a visit and to announce that they are getting married. Putting my new-to-be son-in-law to the test, I decided that we would all spray one arm with the magic mist and leave the other arm as a control. Then we sat outside in the pasture as the sun set, and remained there well into the darkening hours. Sure enough, the sprayed arm remained unbitten, while the unsprayed arm developed itchy welts. Eureka! Maybe I can try it on the horses and camel.

The only problem? One adverse side reaction.

None of us slept very well that night because our three house cats would not stop jumping on us in bed and using our sprayed arms as scratching posts. The cat that chose to attack me was our black cat with the white chin and bib. My wife named it Bibs because of its white chest patch. From now on, though, I call it Bibs because it comes on like a Biblical Plague.

I don't know which is worse: Mosquito bites... or cat scratches from persistent pestering cats... or a daughter who is madder than a wet hen for giving her new fiance second thoughts.

Edgar Allen Poe and the Mayo Werewolves

August 8, 02

After last week's story, one of my colleagues at work phoned and explained that farmers in Nebraska contend that chickens are for the freezer, not for hypnotizing. Another co-worker told me that my description of mesmerizing chickens is exactly what bird hunters do to train their dogs. They take a pheasant, tuck its head under its wing, rock it a few times and lay it down in some brush where it will stay until the Pointers find them. Then the hunter walks up, nudges the pheasant ever so gently and humanely with the tip of his boot, at which point the bird takes to the air.... and gets shot. So far I haven't had to resort to gunfire upon waking any of my chickens up, but....

We do have way too many roosters. We haven't culled out the boys from our crop of straight run hatchlings that we raised from eggs this winter. The poor hens are taking a beating. Not only that, but our three geese seem to find fulfillment in life by acting as the chicken yard sex police. Every time a hen gets mounted, the geese come charging, necks outstretched and squawking like a flock of Canadians (geese, that is) heading south for the winter.

All of this generally takes place under the bemused eyes of several crows. Do you remember when our economy was run by "trickle down" policy, whereby if you feed the horses enough grain, the sparrows at their feet will eventually get fed? These days it seems that the barnyard operates under "trickle up" economics, whereby if you feed the hens, geese, goats, sheep and camel enough grain and table scraps, the crows up above have some fine dining.

I see that crows in certain parts of the state (not unlike several of their human counterparts at the top of the economy) are dropping like flies. I walked into work this week, and one of the researchers said, "Follow me." He led me through several code-locked security doors, and finally into a cold room. There, stacked on carts and in fume hoods were stacks of dead crows wrapped in plastic grocery bags (as in that seemingly universal modern phrase heard all across America these days, "Paper or plastic?" Whichever I feel like choosing that day, when the cashier gives me the total, I respond by asking her "Do you want paper or plastic?"... the other seemingly universal meaning of the phrase.)

Anyway, my research friend is being sent dead crows from all over the state to be tested for West Nile Virus. He said that there are confirmed cases in the state now. Not quite as bad as Louisiana yet, but.... as the little girl in Poltergeist said, "They're here..."

I guess that I should not mind the crows in our chicken yard serving as sentinels for the virus. When they start dropping over dead, I had better keep all of the critters inside the barn at night to protect them from the mosquitoes. Come to think of it, I guess that I should also make sure that the stickers on the mosquitoes that I slap on me are all pointing away so that I don't get injected. Anyway, will I ever again scorn the crows?.... Nevermore. Nevermore.

Finally, speaking of tales of horror, another colleague pointed out an article to me that confirmed a "tall tale" that I had told her previously about ther origins of the Werewolf myth. It seems that in Central Europe years ago, a number of persons had a disease called porphyria. In this syndrome, compounds called porphyrins are deposited in the skin and teeth. These compounds cause photosensitivity, so the victims avoid the daylight. People with porphyria also usually suffer from hypertrichosis (an abnormal hair growth that can occur in patches or all over the body). Porphyrins are also fluorescent, so that they emit red light whedn stimulated by ultraviolet light.

Anyway there was a point in history when you could roam the night streets in Central Europe when the moon was full and reflecting lots of ultraviolet light. On your stroll it was not uncommon to pass people with excessive facial hair strolling in the moonlight. If they smiled at you, their teeth would glow blood red... hence the story of the Werewolf. Don't believe me? The best example I have ever seen is in an article entitled "Childhood Porphyrias" in the most recent issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2002;77:825-836.

Chicken Stunts

August 1, 02

My wife finally allowed Crazy Ray back on our property. (He was the guy that was with me when I bought the camel.) He and I were standing around among the goats, sheep, geese and chickens admiring Kookamunga, when Ray said, "Ever hypnotize a chicken?"

I had heard that Al Gore could hypnotize a chicken, but put it in the back of my mind when it became obvious that it didn't get him enough votes to win the last election.

"Heck no, but I'm always ready to learn."

So I chased down my favorite rooster, Brewster, which didn't take much effort since I like to hold him on my lap while watching an occasional television program. He seems to like it too. So he allows me to catch and carry him around pretty much at will.

I held Brewster and Ray started twirling his finger around a few inches in front of its beak. That didn't seem to do anything, though.

"Huh! Something's wrong with that chicken. Go catch another one."

No luck with the next one either.

So Ray says, "I don't know what's wrong. My Dad used to take a stick and draw a line on the ground and make the chicken look at it. I could never get it to work, though."

So we got a stick and scratched a line in the gravel of the drive. I put the chicken down on its side placing its beak at the end of the line so that it was staring directly down it going off into the distance. When I let go, the chicken didn't move a muscle for ten or fifteen second. Then it just got up and strolled away. That seemed to sort of work. Enough to intrigue me into going on the Internet to learn more.

I learned that the phenomenon is called "tonic immobility" by animal behaviorists, and it is actually used as a stress test in the poultry industry. If a chicken has been put into a state of fear during handling, the immobility can last hours. The less stressed the happier the chicken. I guess that my chickens are just too happy.

I also learned that you can put the chicken on its back and rub its belly to immobilize it. I tried that one and it seemed to work for as long as I was willing to hold it. I always suspected that a chicken had a lizard brain. It must be true since rubbing bellies is supposed to work on alligators too.

When my mother-in-law found out what we had been up to, she said, "Well, you didn't have to go onto the computer to learn how to hypnotize a chicken. All you do is just tuck its head under its wing and spin it in a circle in front of you about three times, and it will be out."

So I tried that with one of our other roosters. I tucked his head up his armpit and held it there, drew a circle in the air with it three times while saying, "One. Two. Three. Alakazam. Fall asleep, or you're chicken Spam." I then layed him down on the ground and he stayed. And stayed. And stayed. Finally, I pulled his head out from under his wing. His pupils dilated from a constricted state. And he just strollled off calmly as though nothing had happened.

So now I know how to hypnotize a chicken, but the question is what ideas dare I plant in their little minds?

What's next? While doing my internet search, I also found that llamas are supposed to become hypnotized if you gently rub thier upper gums between their split lips. A llama is nothing but a South American camel, and I know that you cam immobilize a difficult horse for shoeing or vaccinating by running a stud chain up under his upper lip.

Well, I've tried and tried. So far, though, Kookamunga just raises his head out of reach every time I stick my finger up his gums. And Crazy Ray wants to know why I am so darned set on brushing the camel's teeth.

I think I'll be working on my Master's of Mesmerism for a while.

The Smallest Critter on the Farm

July 25, 02

Normally, I'm not a little dog fan, but our neighbors ended up with an unexpected litter of puppies this spring, and my wife decided to get her mother a lap dog. We got the pick of the litter. It is a Shitzu/Miniature Dachshund mix, which means that it is a furry, long-bodied, low rider with hair around his eyes in big dishes like an owl. He has half a nose and stubby legs that seem like optional accessories. He has a brown/black, almost brindle coat with a light under down ending in dark tips. He fits quite conveniently in my jacket pocket when I go to do barn chores on chilly mornings.

It turns out that he is really quite the clown and my mother-in-law gets a pretty big kick out of him. He piles up toys in one spot under the dining room table, and then sleeps in them resembling that scene of E.T. in the closet among the stuffed animals.

His favorite toy is a small plastic butter dish with a lid on it. He chases that thing around like a hockey puck. The other day out in the barn, my wife gave him a butter dish with water in it. He took one drink then grabbed the far side of the cup in his jaws and carried it off, succeeding in spilling it all over his chest and the lane. At the far end of the lane he dropped it, looked around, then grabbed the near side of the butter dish in his jaws, which succeeded in totally enclosing his head in a little yellow helmet. He then came racing back down the lane only to smash into an open stall door. After pulling his head out of the dish, he did a whole body shake, and looked all around with a look that said, "I meant to do that, you know."

He plays like a big dog. He's all jaws and pin teeth. Our Golden Retriever, Riley, lies down on the floor on his back so that the pup can maul him. Our Aussie, Sprocket, tolerates him for the most part, but doesn't play much. Riley and the puppy will get going chasing each other. The puppy will make a dive at Riley as he goes flying by, and the pup usually ends up with a mouthful of yellow fleece. Once in a while, though, he will get hold of the tip of Riley's tail and hold on for dear life. The puppy looks like a water skier zipping across our wooden floors until they reach the end of the kitchen where Riley makes a sharp U-turn at which point the pup goes crashing into the wall. Undaunted the pup keeps coming back for more.

He definitely has a big dog attitude and doesn't seem afraid of anything. More than once he has come too close to our goats and sheep, and has been sent rolling like tumbleweed in a desert wind.

Our biggest problem was coming up with a name for him. First, we decided to let my mother-in-law name him. All that she could come up with was "Tiny". Deb and I thought that was a pretty ho-hum name, so the naming chore went to Deb. She started calling him "Little Bit". But I still didn't like that. Then she came up with "Ein Bischen", which is German for a little bit. I didn't much care for that one either.

Then one day, I was watching the puppy yelping at one of our cats perched on an unreachable shelf. It was a surprisingly loud bark for a dog that size. The cats mostly just glare down at him in disdain. That made me think of a perfect name for him: Bob..... Bob Barker. He had been given to us free of charge. The price was right. And he is a big barker. The name stuck.

Surprisingly, I found that I like Bob so much that I was thinking of contacting the neighbor again and getting another one just like him, so that he would have a playmate more his own size. My wife said, NO though, and threatened that if I do get another dog, she will banish it to the paddock with my camel. Well, I haven't decided what to do yet, but if I decide to be bold enough to actually get one, I've come up with a name for it. I'm going to call him King...... King Arfer of the Camel Lot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Wet Camel

July 18, 02

The weather was hot last week while I was on my working vacation on the farm. It was good weather for putting up hay as long as I didn't sweat on it too much. Anyway, after spending a few days on the tractor out in the field, I decided to see if I could pull some of the wool out of Kookamunga's coat to provide him some relief from the heat. It came off by the fistful. I pulled about eight grocery bags of wool off his hide. I don't think that he'll have any problem keeping his body warm this winter.

For being a hot weather animal, Kook sure enjoys cooling off. He is the only critter in our menagerie that stands with both front legs in the water trough splashing water up onto his belly. On seeing this, I took the hose out to refill the tank and discovered that he relished being hosed off from neck to tail. He made it clear that his head was off limits, though.

Having been enlightened with this new insight as to his potential affinity for water, I decided to walk him down to our nearest boat landing to see if he would take a swim. Unfortunately, a grandpa was there with two grandkids just about ready to push off from the dock for an evening fishing trip. I guess that it was a good indication that the Joe Camel ads hadn't hit this new generation, because the kids had no idea what in the world that animal was and they seemed a bit beyond ill at ease. They rapidly crawled to Gramps' end of the boat for protection. Gramps, of course, was trying to play it cool and knowledgable, explaining that this had to be the legendary North Woods Hodag that comes to eat kids in the early evening. Not to worry, though. He would protect them.

While putting on the brave act, I noticed that Gramps seemed to be scrambling to get the boat launched in an awfully big hurry. In confirmation of my suspicions, once the boat was pushed off from the dock and he went to start the motor, he pulled the string right off the starter.

I was trying to be polite up to that point and keep old Kookamunga at a distance so that he wouldn't take a bite out of those kids, thereby proving Gramps knew what he was talking about with his positive identification of the huge lurking creature. But Kook was getting impatient and the lake was beckoning. So I led him to the water's edge not knowing for certain what Kook had in mind. He waded right in with no hesitation.

At that point, I think that Gramps started cursing at the engine, but I'm not quite sure whether the epithets were being directed at it or me or Kook. Gramps started ranting at the kids to have them start paddling with their hands to get them away from the dock into deeper water. Kook and I went in even deeper.

Just then, a second truck pulled up with a young couple obviously wanting to launch their boat as well. Being the considerate person that I am, I started tugging on Kook's lead to get him out of the water so that we would not be in the way.

Now if you can picture the Loch Ness monster with a snaky head sticking out of the water being trailed by a hump protruding some distance behind, you will have a fairly good picture of what swimming camel looks like. I guess the site of an old man and two screaming little kids paddling a boat with their hands trying to get away, and the sight of a full grown man apparently being chased out of the water by the Loch Ness monster, or the mythical North Woods Hodag, or whatever the heck it might have been, was just too much for the passengers of the second car. I heard a muffled scream and watched as the truck spit rocks leaving the parking lot.

So, wetter but wiser, the next time I guess I'll have to try to find a different place to take Kook swimming.

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.

Shifting Time Frames

June 20, 02

In the time interval between last week's skunk report and the current writing, I trapped two more adult skunks and 14 baby skunks. That seemed like quite a few in a relatively short period of time. The babies were like little kittens. I played with them for what I thought was minutes, but my wife claims was hours.

I also toured them around to all neighbors that had kids so that they could see them and pet them and experience a tiny bit of nature up close. Most adults that had been born and raised in the country up here said that they had foxes, or raccoons, or woodchucks as pets when they were kids, but nobody had skunks. They all assured me that skunks make great pets if descented, but they also assured me that they can't spray until they are at least a year old.

Upon relaying this information to the last family that I visited, they said that they would take four of the babies for the kids to play with for a while before deciding whether or not to keep them. Evidently, after I left, not ten minutes had passed before one of the kids received a direct hit at point blank range inside the house. Clothes were stripped and burned, windows were opened, and farmhouse evacuation procedures were executed. I never heard whether they remembered to pack out the skunk kits in midflight.

If you happen to hear of a family of Rainbow People living out in the forest surrounding Crandon, don't believe it. They are just some of my neighbors on a spontaneous outing. I am sure that time will pass quickly while they await return to their domicile (but it may be some time before I am allowed to darken their doorstep again).

Time got a little warped for me when I was playintg with Kookamunga Camel in the paddock this week, too. I was generally messing with him, trying to get him used to me picking up his feet and feeding him treats. I also plucked a bunch of wool out of his coat. We are saving it for carding and spinning. It is very soft, luxurious, tan wool. He is being really good about not biting or spitting.

Anyway, I was ready to end our session, and decided to leave the paddock by crawling between the boards of the fence rather than going through the gate. I bent down and got about a third of the way through the fence when Kook decided that he wasn't ready for me to leave yet. He snuck up behind me and pinned me down to the ground with his chest, which meant that he had to get down on his knees to do it. And then he just sat there. No biting, no spitting, and no kicking on Kook's part. I can't report that I was quite as well behaved, though. That is when time started warping a bit for me. The mind races, but time drags when you are all alone and have a camel lying on your back. After a length of time that only Einstein could define in terms of general relativity, the camel just got up and sauntered away. I walked up to him and asked him what that was all about, but he plead innocent ignorance. The big dummy.

From now on, I leave the paddock through the gate.

Recipe of the Week

June 13, 02

Last week our neighbors were out walking and watched as my favorite quarter horse, Clyde, approached a skunk traveling across the pasture. My horse had his head down, ears perked, and was all innocent curiosity. Then the air around Clyde's face turned blue. He got it square between the eyes. That sent him prancing and bucking with his lips curled back in what they call the flehming response. The neighbors had a good chuckle, but I was none to pleased when I went to mess with him.

We had known for a while that a skunk had taken up quarters under our chicken coop, but live and let live. Right? Then we noticed that one of our geese had lost its eggs in the night. Then the weather turned warm, and my wife started gagging every time she opened the chicken coop door.

OK. It was high time to get rid of the skunks (and for me to make up for some recent acts that my wife had quite arbitrarily deemed as mistakes in judgement on my part). I would catch that skunk and absolve my good name. So I got out the live trap and stuffed some bread in it and set it outside the chicken coop Monday night.

Tuesday morning came and all I could think of was returning to the joys of writing clinical and scientific papers, so I blissfully left home for my office early without giving the trap another thought.

It didn't take long for the phone call to come. My wife discovered that I had successfully trapped the skunk, but far from being pleased, she wanted me to drop what I was doing and come get rid of it. I guess I hadn't thought about that part.

So I asked around the office, and was told that others had tried shooting skunks in live traps, but that didn't stop the skunks from signing their last testaments in their death throes. They said the best thing to do was to throw the trap in the river and drown the critter before taking it out. They didn't say how you were supposed to get close to the trap and get it to the river before the skunk took notice of your presence.

Well, I considered the drowning option, but my daughter in Montanas had just called me that weekend and related to me her story of nearly drowning when her kayak flipped on a squirrely, elevated eddy line in a flooded whitewater gorge in Montana. She had been literally sucked out of her boat and down into "the green room" where there isn't much light. After swimming and swimming, she still couldn't find the surface. She is also a scuba diver, and was trained to hold her breath for long periods in ememrgency situations. She had nearly passed the point of choking back her violent urge to ghasp when she finally broke the surface, got to the rock face of the gorge wall, and scratched herself up to a firm handhold to wait for a rescue. That was too close for comfort, and having been a whitewater boater myself, I could relate all too closely with her experience.

Could I put a poor skunk through the drowning experience? Naw. There must be another way.

By the time I got home, a couple of guys building fence for us had tried to throw a blanket over the trap, and in so doing, gave cause for everyone in the valley to close their windows and light some candles. That was the extent of their attempts. So now I faced a pungent trap half covered with a blanket.

Think. Think. Think.

Then I got it. I went to the barn and got out my old faithful can of tractor engine ether spray starting fluid. I slowly approached the trap and pulled the blanket over the entire thing, lifted a corner and emptied half the can. Then I waited. Then I peeked. The polecat was wide-eyed and looking at me, so I sprayed again and waited. There came a point that I thought that it was surely knocked out or overdosed, at which time I gently, but gingerly, picked up the trap, still covered, and moved it to the truck. I found a spot in some remote woods and slowly lifted the edge of the blanket enough to open the trap door. Well, out he came and "high tailed" it out of there. Unfortunately I was standing in the jet stream. Which brings me to the Recipe of the Week:

Go to th cupboard and find that you have no tomato juice (which never worked in the past anyway).

Then remember your college chemistry. Alkaline hydrogen peroxide (30% water, 6 M NaOH) is used to scrub hydrogen sulfide from waste gas streams in the laboratory, and it also works well for destroying excess thiols in dilute aqueous solutions. Skunk spray is composed mainly of low molecular weight thiols, so try a version of the alkaline hydrogen peroxide reagent:

1 qt 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tsp liquid soap

Use it for a sponge bath; rinse with tap water; and VOILA!

It actually works.

So much for Papa Skunk. Now for the Mama and her babies. Now that she has sen how it is done, I'm trusting that my wife will take care of them while I'm working. I just hope that she goes out and buys some more hydrogen peroxide before she attempts it. (Which reminds me. I left what was left in the jar on the rim of the bathtub. I hope she doesn't think it's shampoo. Oh well. I always wondered what it would be like to be married to a bleached blond).