Monday, May 12, 2014

Nature's Olympian - The Jumping Meadow Mouse -1

     Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1841 journal "A slight sound at evening lifts me up by the ears and makes life seem inexpressibly serene and grand." 
     Thoreau loved his days at Walden Pond and each spring I marvel as he did at the nighttime sounds of spring and summer.  The serenade begins.  The woods, fields and wetlands abound with music.
     Three weeks ago in mid-April we in southern Michigan were still living with cold and snow and now as of May 12th, the green leaves are emerging on trees and Spring is bursting at the seams.  For the last three days beads of sweat have run down my face as I raked up the leaves of autumn and prepared the garden for tilling.  It is warm, muggy and buggy tonight.  No longer can I sit outside in silence, but now I must endure the highly explosive duck-like quacking calls of thousands of mating frogs and can hear the humming of thousands of immature mosquito wings.  Nature's vampire of the night struck blood on my arm and now we have five itchy months to endure the ladies seeking a blood meal for egg laying.
     The Chorus frogs are uttering a rapid series of "it" sounds with an increasing tempo and pitch as the warm nights thunder showers approach.  The males chirp with glee to attract a female and soon after mating the cheerful sounds will wane.  We Michiganders wait all winter and it was longer than usual just to hear the sweet singers at night and within a span of three more weeks the rites of spring cease.  By July, all the newly metamorphosed froglets will leave drying ponds and take up life in the foliage near our windows and trees will provide more local music on muggy evenings.
     A bunch of small red, orange and black Painted turtles are basking in the bright sunshine soaking up radiant heat.  The warm heat felt good after a long winter's nap buried in deep mud.  As water warms they surface and forage for a mate and food.  In another month they'll be sampling succulent strawberries - the nibblers of night.
     Even the snakes are beginning to emerge from hibernation.  Heard some neighborhood boys scaring some girls tonight with snakes they found near a pond.  The squealing girls brought back memories of my youth when I threatened to tie my sister to a post and burn her at the stake when playing Cowboys and Indians.  Captured she stood atop a bushel basket and when I tossed down the wood she tipped the basket over and beneath was a six-foot Blue racer.  She fainted and I got my bottom warmed and grounded for a month.
     I've seen past sawdust piles covered with sunning Garter and Watersnakes.  Looked like chocolate dripping down the sides so thick with serpents.  The Garter is daytime and Water snakes are nocturnal, but both will bask and soak up the sun's rays during daylight hours.  They lay motionless on rocks and logs in the Rogue River.  The first warm days the snakes head for water, because that where they can find a mate and food; frogs, toads, salamanders and insects.  Meadow jumping mice prefer the wetland settings to.  The wetland is a veritable buffet of tasty food.  They are bent on moving around looking for food or predators.
     Male Meadow jumping mice are beginning to stir, too, but unlike their counterparts, reptiles and amphibians who hibernate during the winter in mud and decaying aquatic matter, they dig deep tunnels and live below the frost line.  After a 7-8 month nap they surface to resume life topside.
     Meadow jumping mice are the Rip Van Winkle's of mousedom and believe it or not, these jumping mice cuddle up with Rat snakes for body warmth and the snakes will make no attempt to eat their bed partners when shacked up in hibernation chambers.  Nocturnal water snakes feed upon these mice.
     Generally male meadow jumping mice emerge from hibernation the first week in May.  Saw one already and some young White-footed Deer mice in my flower boxes.  Nearly scared me to death this morning - all those twitchy noses sniffing the air and wondering if they should leave.  The meadow mice love the moist fields and marshes since they favor high humidity areas, however they frequent brushy fields and cherish living beneath the delicate waterside flowers known as Forget-Me-Nots, which just so happens to be Alaska's state flower.
     Startling a jumping mouse causes human hearts to flutter.   They sport yellowish sides with brownish backs, a white belly with long tail and big feet.  They highly developed hind limbs are for jumping long distances in a single bound.  They themselves measure 7-10 inches long, the hind feet measuring up to one and a half inch long.  They are often referred to as the Jumping Jacks of mousedom.  They are guaranteed to really make you jump over the moon, should you beam one with a flashlight on nocturnal walks at night.  They disappear almost like magic - faster than a speeding bullet.  No it wasn't Superman, but a jumping mouse that can cover 10 feet in a single bound and run  8 feet per second.  (to be continued).

Dandelion - The Yellows of Spring - 3

     Dente de lions.  That's the French name for the most plentiful yellow wildflower in the Midwest and southern Michigan has waving fields of Dandelions and Mustards.  The word Dente de lion means the "tooth of the lion" because of the lobed and jagged basal toothlike leaves that range from 2-16 inches in length.  Each slender stalk bears a single flower, which fruits with its own parachute for flight.  When cut with high powered mowers they shatter easily and the fruit sails upward 10-12 miles as long as the humidity is below 70%.  Above 70 the fruit falls back to earth sometimes thousands of miles from its origination.
     The dandelion is a favorite of children who love to blow the seed heads or bring mom one of spring's first bouquets, but to husbands the sight of just one dandelion flower in their weedless lawn - well they become beasts.  Dandelions can bloom anytime between April and November, but when seen the bright yellow heads can be seen swaying on breezes and releasing their fruit.  Warm spring days children and adults like to walk or run barefoot across lawns, but beware of honeybees collecting nectar.
     Dandelions are similar to Bananas.  Both are yellow and its truly amazing how every conceivable part of dandelions and Bananas serve a useful function today.  Nothing is wasted and all make many valuable and delicious food items.  The leaves of dandelions plants attract gourmet cooks from around the world.  Tender young leaves are worth more than $3.50 per pound because the greens are high in vitamins, A, B, and D including minerals.  The leaves of bananas when ground and mixed with cotton makes fine stationery.
     Englishmen and Irishmen love to eat dandelion greens in salads and dandelion wine is a spring tonic used to purify the body.  I bet it was better tasting than what my grandmother taught my mother when I was young.  At the first hint of spring out came the bottles of cod liver oil or Watkin's Beef, Iron and Wine tonic.  I hated that tablespoon full each morning, but then again I hated spinach, too, but it sure isn't as unsavory as broccoli.  Yuck!
     When wine is made from the flowers it is a light yellow color with a pungent odor, but when the entire plant is brewed it makes a palatable beer.  That's if no herbicides were applied anywhere near the plant.  The rites of spring begin in earnest with the first flowering dandelions, but in some parts of the world, the dandelions are steeped in traditional folklore and superstitions.
     In Silesia, which is a district of northwestern Czechoslovakia and southwest Poland, the people gather on Midsummer's Eve to collect dandelions to keep witches out  of their communities.  We have them in America, too.  In the United States we have many warlocks running around with poisonous spray guns to kill dandelions sprouting up from crack in driveways.  In another instance I met private gardener who quit his job because the homeowner, his boss, decided not to follow application instructions and applied triple strong herbicide to kill dandelions beside his home and killed 24" diameter oak trees and gave some stubborn dandelions a stronger dose on driveway cracks and then disaster struck.  A severe thunderstorm caused the herbicide to leach and run down to his 60-acre lake killing all his beautiful flowering water lillys and all lower form of life; frogs, minnows, crayfish leaving the lake barren.   Never use a herbicide even if there is a chance it'll rain.
     Dandelions are an amazing flower.  You don't need to listen to a TV meteorologist to forecast the weather.  If dandelions open in the morning sun it means "fair" weather.  Remaining partially closed means "chance" of rain and if buds remain closed by mid-morning it will "definitely" rain so bring rain gear or umbrella.
     You know you can tell if a couple is married just by studying their habits in a car or truck.  Before marriage and after for about a year they will snuggle close.  When the honeymoon is over they sit apart, but did you know that in America a young woman can predict her future by blowing the fluffy seeds off a dandelion stem.  Legend has it that one deep of breath and blowing all the seeds away indicates she'll never have to file for a divorce.  She can also measure the depth of her sweetheart's thoughts about her, by the amount of remaining fluff left.
     Without a wrist watch any person old enough to read can tell the time of day with a fluffy dandelion head.  The correct hour will be the number of puffs it takes to blow all the seeds away.  Give those sunny dandelions a break and enjoy the fields of swaying yellow flowers on a breeze, but where a dust mask when cutting mass fluffy seed heads.  If the honeybees can love them so, too, can you.  The mustards, marsh marigolds, trilliums and many colors of violets have replaced the grays, tans and white snow.  Enjoy the yellows of Spring  2014.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Yellows of Spring -2

     Yesterday, spring officially arrived in southern Michigan.  Spring arrived with a crash, boom window rattling thunderstorm touched off by a warm front moving north.  I threw open the bedroom window and took deep breaths of fresh rain fragrances.  As I traveled to church, the skies were clearing - the dark gray scud clouds scurried west while an angry dark sky moved east and then the sky opened to beautiful blue.  What a glorious way to start a new day.
      After some light cleaning I had just exited the church and was sidestepping all the worms and night crawlers on the asphalt when along an island curb there was a solitary yellow dandelion.    Although beautiful in the bright sunshine it was blooming just to lift my spirits.  I find nothing wrong with dandelions.  Whenever they bloom they put the yellow in spring wildflowers, the first to great me at the start of a new spring day.  I love to see the swaying yellow heads bobbing on a breeze, but not everyone shares my love enthusiasm for dandelions. 
     Shucks I missed my chance to put that yellow head under Pastor Ken's windshield wiper.  He's a lot like "Mickey" from an old time oatmeal advertisement.  He seemingly hates dandelions with a passion.  He loves not the beautiful sunshine flower God created.  I can't help it that my halo flickers.   
     Seldom do I use the word "hate" because it leads one to violence.  Never should man learn to hate something so bad he feels he must kill it and that goes for a beautiful flower that God created.  Ken like millions of other dandelion haters boil when they see young children pick up the fruit heads with attached parachutes and  blow the seed heads apart.  Shattering, they drift up into the sky and disappear out of sight going where only God knows where they will land.  If the humidity of the day is less than 70% they can rise to 65,000 feet and can circle the globe.  That's 10-12 miles up and when the humidity rises above 70% they fall back to earth.
     We all have our hangups.  I dislike mice and rats only because I've had bad experiences with them when I raised rabbits for food.  Rats are notorious for killing baby rabbits.  My wife is terrified of spiders, my sister hates snakes and dyslexic or Downs Syndrome children are easily frightened by even butterflies and bee's, wasps and other flying insects.  All humans have petty hangups and many have wondered why on Earth did God create them?
     Those who dislike Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) don't understand that just because they see yellow head doesn't mean you should spread herbicides all over the lawn to control one plant.  It not only kills the dandelion, but thousands of beneficial worms and crawlers that keep the lawn aerated to accept water. 
     Big "D's" are members of the aster family, but I think its ridiculous when men of faith try to destroy one of God's most beautiful flowers used in food production.  The dandelion is not native to North America - it is from Europe and it was brought to America by the Pilgrims as a food source, such as, salad greens, tea and for honey production.  The pilgrims deliberately brought dandelions into the Midwest to increase food for bees.  Thousands of honey bee hives were lost this past winter.
     In America, yes dandelions are seen as weeds in lawns or gardens, but it depends on where you live.  The tender leaves when mixed with other green salad leaves are delicious. Older thick leaves are boiled like spinach or collard and other green vegetables.  Whether fresh or cooked they are a rich source of vitamins A and C and who doesn't like honey.  Boiled flowers make dandelion wine, yellow dye, the roots red dye.
     Native American Indians once loved dandelions for they learned how to make dandelion-leaf tea.  Some Indians made tea from the roots as a tonic for heartburn.  Another brew from the roots acts as a diuretic brew for the treatment of liver ailments.  Every part of this flower or plant can still be harvested for beneficial use.  That's if it hasn't been treated with herbicides for its destruction.  Killing dandelions is not the end of them, its the beginning of an even bigger problem.  Whether living or dead they exude Ethylene gas that discourages other weeds and grass from sprouting underneath them.
     Well, like you I must stop and go to work.  Wish I could write all day, but my body would sag too much, besides I love to eat.  Watch for "The Yellows of Spring - 3."