Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just a very brief message to say I will be off line for a while. My father has been in the hospital since Tuesday, February 16. The doctors seem baffled and his condition isn't improving.

Right now, I can't seem to work up much inspiration for blogging. Hope to be back with good news soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An interesting visitor

This is Diddle, so named because of his scientific genus Didelphis virgiana. Diddle sometimes shows up in the evenings to vacuum the areas under the bird feeders. He cleans up the seeds and hulls the birds miss.

As a young child, I never remember seeing an opossum around our home which is odd since we lived in a very rural area. Probably our collie, who always had the run of the place, kept them away. My first encounter was at grade school. Somehow one had gotten into the coat room of the old country schoolhouse and our teacher promptly called the sheriff. The deputy walked up to it, grabbed it by the tail and handed it off to his partner in the patrol car. Holding the opossum by the tail out the open window, they told us they were going to drive it down to the woods and let it go. We all stood at the windows watching the little creature hang limply out the window as the sheriff's car drove slowly away. Some of us waived goodbye to it as children will do:)

Some very interesting things I learned about opossums:

They are usually nocturnal and seldom seen in warmer months but will come out to forage for food during the daylight in winter months.

From a health viewpoint, opossum's immune systems are better than most animals and they groom themselves like finicky house cats. They are unlikely to spread disease, in fact much more unlikely than dogs or cats. Opossums have a great natural resistance to rabies.

They are not territorial and tend to wander. They shift den sites frequently throughout their short lifespan (1-4 years).

Learning and discrimination tests rank opossums above dogs and and put them at about the level of pigs.

They will eat almost anything including rats and mice and they consider slugs and snails a delicacy. They are immune to viper venom and will sometimes eat snakes.

They don't attack and seldom bite. When confronted by an enemy they sometimes hiss and show 50 fearsomely pointed teeth. If that doesn't discourage the attacker, they go into a shock like state which often makes the attacker believe the animal is sick or dead.

Opossums have opposable 'thumbs' on their hind feet.

They are the only marsupial found in the US or Canada.

In a letter, Captain John Smith gave us the first English language description of the opossum in 1608. "An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein shee lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young."

According to some sources, the name opossum comes from "apasum" an Algonquin Indian word meaning "white animal".

Possum Crossing by Nikki Giovanni

Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Couldn't resist that old Jerry Lee Lewis song title:) In the midst of our latest winter storm, we had, of all things, an earthquake. Winter snow storms we get a lot, but earthquakes are rare here. I was asleep at 4:00 am when my bed started shaking and the drawer pulls on my old highboy began rattling. It wasn't long before the TV newsmen were on the air giving us details. A 4.3 magnitude earthquake was centered in Virgil, IL near Dekalb and NIU. The disturbing factor is that no one knew there was a fault in Virgil even though NIU has very sophisticated seismology equipment. Luckily, a relatively small quake like this does almost no structural damage.

The sun is shining today, something we haven't seen in a while. The snow is pristine and glittering. The beginning of a beautiful day.

A couple photos taken on the farm. Ever wonder what happens to apples that don't get picked? No, you probably haven't given it much thought. This old apple tree in the pasture used to provide shade and treats for the horses. Now the deer enjoy the apples they can reach and the ones that fall to the ground.

The birds must not find these berries very appealing.

I hope you all have a wonderful week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Town

All the fun and excitement of the holidays is over and February looms cold, gloomy and cheerless. February on the northern prairie is as bitter cold and snowy as January. In the south, you are turning the corner toward spring but here it will be March before we see even a little improvement in the weather.

One really pleasant note to start the month. I actually won something. That never happens. Jamie and Randy at Creating Our Eden (Use the following url if the linky doesn't work had a drawing for a really nice bird feeder. I can't believe that I could be so lucky. An absolutely perfect prize for a wild bird watcher such as myself.

If you don't already know Jamie and Randy, stop and visit their blog. Be sure to check out the archives and see what an amazing job they have done constructing their gardens.

This is primarily a garden blog but this time of year garden topics are hard to find. Maybe today I'll just mention one of the more interesting things about my town.

Rockford has a tiny natural history museum that used to be located in an old house on the banks of the Rock River. Burpee Museum has grown quite a bit in the last few years and one of the reasons for its growth is Jane.

Jane is an adolesant tyranosaurous rex discovered, excavated and cleaned by staff and volunteers from Burpee. It is extremely rare to find a young example of a T. Rex and Jane is in wonderful condition. A very interesting story surrounds the finding of Jane. In the summer of 2001, a team from the Burpee museum had been scouting in Hell Creek, Montana for unusual specimens to bring back to the museum. On the last day of the expedition, the toe and leg of a large dinosaur were found protruding from the banks of a creek. Time had run out so the team 'hid' their find with rocks and dirt and returned to Rockford hoping no one else would discover the amazing find before they could reorganize and apply for permits to excavate the site.

While Jane was alive, the Hell Creek area was a flood plain

The team returned in the summer of 2002 and began to excavate Jane. Enduring weeks of blazing heat, torrential rains that turned the area to a sea of mud, swarms of biting insects and poisonous snakes, the team carefully uncovered Jane's skeleton from the surrounding rocks.

Finding the jaw bone gave the team a pretty good idea of what kind of dinosaur they had discovered.

Jane is a favorite with children. Kids love dinosaurs but Jane is extra special. She was a youngster herself and the kids must identify with her. Buses unload daily at Burpees doors bringing school children to view her.

All photos courtesy of Jane's web site.

You can read more about the discovery of Jane at this site: Jane, the diary of a dinosaur