Horseflies

July 13, 2021

When I got into my car yesterday morning there was a huge horsefly sitting on the hood of my vehicle.  While horseflies were a constant pest in the agricultural areas where I lived in Kansas, I have not noticed many in the urban area where we live in Arkansas.  Horseflies mostly occur in warm areas with suitable moist locations for breeding, but they can occupy a wide range of habitats from deserts to alpine meadows.  They are also adaptable to altitude and range from sea level to at least 10,800 feet (3,300 m).  I believe this was the first horsefly I have seen since we moved here three years ago.  It was huge.

Horseflies are true flies in the family Tabanidae in the insect order Diptera.  They are often large and agile in flight.  They avoid dark and shady areas and prefer to fly in sunlight and are inactive at night.  Horseflies are found all over the world, except for some islands and polar regions (Hawaii, Greenland, Iceland).  Both Horseflies and Botflies (Oestridae) are also called gadflies.  Adult horseflies feed on nectar and plant discharge, and the females bite animals (humans) to obtain blood.  While males have weak mouthparts, the females use specialized mouth parts that allows them to bite and then obtain enough protein from blood to produce eggs.  Female mouthparts have a stout stabbing organ with two pairs of sharp cutting blades.  They then use their spongelike “tongue” to lap up the blood that flows from the wound.  Horseflies act like tiny vampire bats.

Since female horseflies bite their hosts, they can transfer blood-borne diseases from one animal to another.  In areas where diseases occur, they have been known to carry equine infectious anemia virus, some trypanosomes, the filarial worm Loa loa, anthrax (among cattle and sheep), and tularemia. They can reduce growth rates in cattle and lower the milk output of cows if suitable shelters are not provided.  I have watched as horseflies have relentlessly aggravated both horses and cattle.  They seem to prefer the unprotected areas around the eyes and the animal’s backs, both outside the range of the animals’ tails.  Horseflies have appeared in literature since Aeschylus in Ancient Greece mentioned them driving people to “madness” through their persistent pursuit.  Shakespeare also included horseflies in three of his plays (gad flies) where they aggravated the madness of the character.  The do the same to horses.

Thoughts:  While some attribute the horseflies’ name to their size (as big as a horse, at least compared to a house fly), it comes from the fly’s persistence in attacking Equines.  Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) is a viral disease affecting only members of the Equidae family (horses, ponies, zebras, mules, and donkeys).  There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease.  There is no evidence that EIA is a threat to human health.  While EIA is carried by horseflies, many believe covid-19 was originally transported by a bat.  Horses infected by EIA either die or become a lifelong carrier.  Regardless of where it started, humans do have a vaccine against covid-19.  The problem is getting people to receive the shot.  It seems some would rather risk death.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Crepe

July 12, 2021

Several weeks ago, I noticed the beginnings of some small shoots coming up in both beds beside the driveway.  These beds had been dominated by crepe myrtle bushes for over twenty years until we decide to remove them last year.  It was not that they looked bad, we just wanted to try a new look.  I had cut off the trunks and even dug into the ground to remove as much root as posible.  After we cut out the crepe, melissa planted both beds with a large agave and several smaller hen-n-chick succulents.  You may recall that between the moles and the harsh winter we lost everything in the south bed, but the hen-n-chick in the north bed survived and are flourishing.  I pointed out the unknown plant last week to Melissa as we got ready to leave the house.  Without hesitation she told me it was the crepe myrtle.  Apparently, my eradication had not been enough.

When I looked online, I found that common crape myrtle bushes (Lagerstroemia indica) are “attractive varieties of multi-stemmed flowering shrubs with showy red, white, pink, or purple flowers.”  It seems the only difference between the crepe myrtle bush, tree, and dwarf varieties are their size.  Crape myrtle trees can be as much as 20 ft. (6 m) taller than the bushes and grow up to 35 feet (10 m) high.  Dwarf crape myrtle bushes may be as short as two feet (0.6 m). The larger crape myrtle shrubs can be between five feet and 15 feet (1.5 – 4.5 m), depending on whether the bush is a semi-dwarf variety or a small shrub-like tree.  Most types of flowering crape myrtle shrubs have a broad crown that is usually wider than the bush is tall.  The spread can be between five and 15 feet wide.  I recall that this is what we had before (and now), as it was about three feet high and four feet across.

Since our agave had died anyway, Melissa decided we should allow the crepe myrtle to regrow rather than cutting it out again.  It had looked nice, and she thought it would provide good shade for the hen-n-chick that would do well in the shade.  This time we are planning to monitor the bush.  Rather than allowing it to take over the beds, I am determined to keep it pruned and allow it to grow taller with the foliage confined to the top cap.  This will provide both protection and sun for the succulents and the creeping phlox that are currently in the bed.  At times you just need to bend with the will of nature.

Thoughts:  Just like with my crepe myrtle, there are times when we think we have resolved a problem when it comes back to haunt us.  That is the case with covid-19.  At the end of May it looked like we were approaching the end of the pandemic, at least in America.  That is when complacency set in.  Governors and states relaxed precautions and people went back to business as usual.  Biden’s prediction that we would be free from the worst of the virus by the Fourth of July was predicated on the rate of vaccinations we saw during April and May.  There were whisperings that the virus had been defeated, and America lost all sense of precaution.  The masks came off and gathering in large groups returned, but the required vaccinations to reach our goal of 70% stagnated.  Now cases of a deadly mutation are again rising, and the hospital beds are full.  Few of these cases are among those vaccinated.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Aspirin

July 10, 2021

I came across a new study yesterday from the University of Alberta saying researchers found common anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), can help treat the most harmful outcomes of covid-19.  Most people infected with covid-19 recover without serious symptoms, but some develop inflammation in the lungs, causing coughing and shortness of breath.  A few develop hyper inflammation that can lead to organ failure and death.  That is especially true for men, people over the age of 60, and those with metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes.  Covid-19 interferes with a person’s natural immune response, causing them to produce inflammatory molecules rather than anti-inflammatory molecules.  Drugs like aspirin can help reduce the inflammation.  An aspirin a day!

When I looked online, I found that salicylic acid was first patented in 1890 and was cheaply produced as an effective inflammation reliever for rheumatoid arthritis.  The problem was it had some unpleasant side effects (nausea, gastric discharge).  Acetylsalicylic acid (or aspirin) was synthesized in 1897 by Felix Hoffmann at Bayer and was tested pharmacologically by Heinrich Dreser.  Production of this new drug started in 1899.  Aspirin was sold as the first pills ever in 1900 and became popular when the public realized it had fewer side effects compared with salicylic acid.  Aspirin is the first medicine produced at industrial level and is still manufactured in high amounts today.  An Aspirin a Day!

When I went in for my wellness visit last year, the doctor told me I should add a baby aspirin to the handful of vitamins I take every morning.  While aspirin has been used as a pain reliever for more than 100 years, since the 1970’s it has also been used to prevent and manage heart disease and stroke.  Studies say a low-dose aspirin each day for at least 10 years can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 10%.  Aspirin helps the heart by easing inflammation.  Plaque may be more likely to cause a heart attack or stroke if the heart is inflamed.  Aspirin blocks an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, and that makes your body less likely to produce chemicals that can cause inflammation.  It also helps prevent blood clots.  I have only nine more years for it to take effect.  An aspirin a day!

Thoughts:  In High School I got extremely sick with a fever and body aches and called the emergency hotline.  The nurse gave me what I thought was a dismissive response, “Take two aspirin, drink plenty of fluids, and if the fever persists, call me in the morning.”  I did what she said, the fever broke, and I started feeling better.  The Marx Brothers were a family comedy act successful in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in motion pictures from 1905 to 1949.  I recall a sketch performed by Groucho where he played a doctor.  No matter what the patient’s malady, his response was, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”  Given the recent discovery of this wonder drug, maybe Groucho was not too far wrong.  About 80 billion aspirin tablets are taken a year for swelling and inflammation, as well as to help prevent heart attacks.  There might be a good reason for a doctor to say, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”  With aspirin now being used against covid-19, there might be another.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Wheat

July 09, 2021

Even while we sped past the vast prairies of the Flint Hills, their competition was also evident.  Scattered along the highway were fields of cut wheat that seemed to go on forever.  While I never worked the wheat harvest, I knew others who did.  They would form great caravans of grain trucks pulling combines from field to field.  The wheat harvest would start in Texas and then work its way up to Canada.  The harvest always revolved around rain.  You needed the right amount (not too much) to make the wheat grow, but it also had to stop long enough to let the wheat dry out.  You needed to get into the dry field to cut the wheat before getting more rain.  It always seemed to be a juggling act.  I was once told if you held your tongue exactly right you might have a good crop.

Winter wheat (usually Triticum aestivum) are strains of wheat that are planted in the autumn to germinate and develop into young plants that remain in the vegetative phase during the winter and resume growth in early spring.  Classification into spring or winter wheat traditionally refers to the season during which the crop is grown.  For winter wheat, the physiological stage of heading (when the ear first emerges) is delayed until the plant experiences vernalization, a period of 30 to 60 days of cold winter temperatures (32F to 41F; 0C to 5C).  Winter wheat in the US is usually planted from September to November and harvested in the summer or early autumn of the next year.  Hard winter wheats usually yield more than spring wheat and have a higher gluten protein content. They are used to make flour for yeast breads or blended with soft spring wheats to make the all-purpose flour used in a variety of baked goods.  Pure soft wheat is used for specialty (cake) flour.  Durum is the hardest wheat and is primarily used for making pasta.  Bread, cake, and pasta.  Sounds like a meal!

The county where I grew up in Kansas had for years made the claim to be the Wheat Capital of the World.  The claim was supported by the fact the county grew the most wheat in Kansas (the Wheat State), which grew the most wheat in the US, which grew the most wheat in the world.  Even as a boy I recognized the potential flaw in this logic.  That did not keep my county from making the claim, or from holding the Wheat Festival every year in late July.  This event roped off three blocks of Main Street and filled them with rides, arcades, and food trucks calling for my attention.  I have fond memories of walking the five blocks to Main Street during the summers I lived there to wander about the fair.

Thoughts:  A recent study of the wheat harvest by Kansas State University researchers found that in the coming decades at least one-quarter of the world’s traded wheat will be lost to extreme weather from climate change unless adaptive measures are taken.  The USAID Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (how about that name!) at K-State found wheat yields are projected to decrease by 6 percent for each degree Celsius the temperature rises.  Based on the typical harvest worldwide of 700 million tons, the resulting temperature increase would result in 42 million tons less wheat per degree.  That amounts to a quarter of the global wheat trade.  That is more challenging as the world will have to double our food supply in the next 30 years if we are going to feed the estimated 9.6 billion people.  As my brother commented, “Hurricanes and wildfires are one thing, but now climate change is threatening my sandwich!”  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Prairie

July 08, 2021

I find it interesting what people stop to view as they speed along the nation’s highways.  Kansas has two of these oddities located on either side of the state.  One is found out west on US 56 near Dodge City, where a scenic overlook allows weary travelers to stop and view the largest stockyard in the world.  As you might imagine, there is a distinct smell that comes with the privilege.  On the east there is another representation of the cattle industry with the Bazaar Cattle Pens located along I-35 near Emporia.  The cattle that range free across the Flint Hills are rounded up at the pens to be transported to stockyards like Dodge City for final fattening before being processed.  While the reason for the turnout is for trucks going to the cattle pens, the real view is the vast expanse of uninterrupted Tallgrass Prairie.

The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem native to central North America.  The five grasses that dominate the tallgrass prairie community are Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Big Bluestem (Andropogon geraridii), Yellow Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and Side Oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula).  Natural fires caused by lightning strikes, anthropogenic fires set by the Indigenous people as a hunting technique, and grazing by large mammals (primarily bison), combined to keep the prairie intact.  As early pioneers crossed the prairie they called it the Great American Desert, and it covered 170 million acres stretched throughout the American Midwest and smaller portions of south-central Canada.  Within a generation after invention of the steel plow, most of the prairie had been transformed into farmland.  Today less than 4% remains intact, and most of that is in the Kansas Flint Hills.  This prairie is listed among the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the world.

When I directed a convention center in south central Kansas, I decided to restore 10 acres of the 62-acre camp to native tallgrass prairie.  There were two reasons for the restoration.  Pragmatically, mowing the grass on 62 acres was a constant chore during the summer.  Just removing 10 acres made a huge difference in time, gas, and equipment upkeep for the camp.  The real reason was to restore a rapidly vanishing resource.  We overseeded the Big Five that first winter, posted descriptive signs, and cut nature trails through the grass which grew as high as six feet.  The ecosystem was complete when we also overseeded the wildflowers that abound in the prairie system.  Over the course of five years the tallgrass reestablished and brought back the birds, animals, and insects that had once dominated all of Kansas.  While several deer did take up residence, there were no buffalo to roam our prairie.     

Thoughts:  I received a variety of comments when I decided to restore the Tallgrass Prairie at the camp.  The immediate response was offers to help mow.  I took several up on this offer and volunteers mowed most of the camp’s other acres.  Others decried the loss of the well-manicured lawns that were replaced by the overgrown tangle of grasses that initially grew.  I remained adamant and proudly told any who would listen that we were doing our part to maintain this rapidly diminishing ecosystem.  When you try to rebuild an ecosystem, you need to include the entire system.  That means the pretty flowers and towering grasses, but also the snakes, critters, and birds.  They need to interact and support each other for the system to work.  Humans are highly adaptable to live in any ecosystem.  The problem is, we always seem to destroy the “undesirable” species as we adapt.  We need to learn from extinctions in the past, eventually nature always wins.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Spawn

July 07, 2021

On our way home from Kansas Melissa and I decided to stop at the big outdoor retailer in Tulsa.  This chain of stores is known for the staged displays of stuffed trophy animals as well as the fish displayed in large aquariums.  The store in Tulsa has a small stream/pool that holds several ten-pound Rainbow Trout.  While I went up the elevator to look for a new pair of hiking shoes (the last ones only lasted 10 years of near daily wear), Melissa watched the trout in the pool.  It was not long before she texted me saying I needed to come down and see what she was watching.  When I arrived, she pointed out a pair of fish that were spawning.  The female would swim around in the same spot and occasionally lay a flurry of eggs, which the male would quickly fertilize.  We continued to watch for several minutes.

When I looked online, I found the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a species of salmonid native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America.  The popularity of the fish as a fighter and for food have spread the species around the world.  The exact timing for the spawn varies slightly based on the river system.  In most cases however, rainbow trout spawn in the spring or late spring (March through late May).  The snow runoff often hits a few weeks after the spawn is complete.  In tailwater fisheries where the water temperatures see little variance below the dam, the spawn can even cycle out of season at random.  The constant temperatures of the human made stream had obviously resulted in a random July spawn, several months later than normal in the wild.

The real show we watched was the male defending his territory.  There were two other large Rainbows of the same size who were constantly challenging the male for access to the female.  While the female stayed relatively still over her improvised nest, the male was constantly on the move.  The other big fish would take turns entering the basin where the female was only to be driven back by the protective male.   This was happening as he kept an eye on the female to see when she showered the bottom with eggs.  While I never saw him, Melissa said there was another much smaller male who would sneak in and try to eat the eggs.  While I had not thought much about trout eating their own eggs, I did know salmon eggs are one of the preferred natural baits when fishing for trout.  I guess one spawn is as good as another.

Thoughts:  In the wild, the female trout will build a nest, called a redd, to lay the spawn.  The redd is easy to identify either by the fish gathered or by the cleaned section of pea gravel.  When building a redd, the females fan their tails over the gravel to create the nesting zone, and the area stands out visually when compared to the rest of the river bottom.  It is not uncommon for the female to stay on the redd as other males wait downstream, jostling for position to spawn or eat any free-floating eggs.  The store fish live in an anomalous environment.  There were no pea gravel beds to form the redd, nor were there additional females for spawn.  The fish adapted as their innate nature allowed.  While humans are driven by natural instincts, we are not bound by them.  We make individual choices that ensure personal survival (or wants), and at times at the expense of others.  We can choose to protect others as well.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Parade

July 06, 2021

When we arrived at my nephew’s house in Topeka on Sunday they had just got back from a local parade.  We were told it was being held in the park near their house and they had all walked over.  I envisioned a large city-wide parade with 1000’s of spectators and was not keen on attending.  We drove by the park, and it was a small square about half the size of a city block.  While the parade could not have been large, we were told it was festive.  My son also sent pictures of the parade they had at their beach house.  This is a community of about 30 houses and the children had dressed up and decorated their bikes to circle around the park located in the center of the community.  The parades were not Gala, just enjoyed.

While parades are a good way to get people’s attention and to honor individuals or events, they are not always the best approach.  During the waning months of World War I, officials across the country were being pressured to sell war bonds, or Liberty Loans.  On Sept. 28, 1918, Philadelphia city officials refused to cancel their parade amid the Spanish flu pandemic.  The decision is now held up by the CDC as an example of what not to do during a pandemic and has obvious parallels with modern-day refusals.  The Spanish flu was a new strain of the influenza that gained a foothold among soldiers in the trenches of Europe.  It would eventually infect a third of the world’s population and kill an estimated 675,000 Americans and 50 million people globally.  Boston had held a parade that resulted in the city’s hospitals being “taxed to their limits.”  St. Louis faced the question and chose to cancel the parade rather than face the risks.  Philadelphia instead warned people to cover their mouths when they coughed or sneezed.  “If the people are careless, thousands of cases may develop, and the epidemic may get beyond control.”  Within a week, 45,000 citizens were infected, and the city had shut down.

While I missed the two parades mentioned on the 4th, I was able to participate in a parade at mom’s retirement community celebrated on the 5th (the observed day off).  This began with a dedication service for the recently installed flag poles as part of a remodeling campaign for the community.  Then about thirty of the residents joined in a parade that has become a tradition, except for last year during the height of the pandemic.  The residents decorated the bicycles and golf carts they use to move around the campus and wound their way through the community’s streets.  Mom and I stood on the porch and watched the parade go by.  It even included the traditional candy toss to the children visiting their grandparents across the street.  I enjoyed it.

Thoughts:  The three local parades mentioned indicate a resurgence of our need to reunite our local communities.  Humans are by nature social animals, and we crave interaction.  The parades also illustrate we can come together without large crowds in potential super-spreader events and still have fun.  The 70% vaccination rate sought by Biden by July 4th did not happen, primarily because of a parade of people who refuse to do anything unless “my team” says it is right.  There are two approaches for achieving the interaction we desire.  We can split into competing teams and hope to choose the winning side, or we can unite across barriers to become stronger together.  Choosing to cross barriers is harder because it means we need to care for others rather than just ourselves.  It is also the only workable long-term solution.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Fireworks

July 05, 2021

The fireworks display we watched last night were some of the most impressive we have seen in years.  I am not fond of large crowds, and it is hard to go to community displays without encountering one.  Instead, we stayed home.  I tried to watch one of the national displays on TV, but it is not the same watching on a small screen without the noxious smell of gunpowder.  That was when the sound of exploding shells began outside our house.  When I walked out, you could just see the bursts over the top of the trees from the three different community displays near us.  More impressive were the personal displays that began at the same time and lasted well into the night.  These were not just roman candles and bottle rockets.  They included all the chrysanthemum bursts, artillery shells, and crackles usually reserved for the community displays.  They even appeared to have “Repeaters.”  These preset boxes of are chain-fused fireworks that shoot a series of aerial shells, comets, or mines from collectively attached tubes to produce various colors, noises, and effects.  I could not imagine what those might have cost.

The earliest fireworks came from China during the Song dynasty (960–1279) and were used to accompany celebrations and festivities.  The art and science of making fireworks developed into an independent profession in China, where pyrotechnicians were respected for their knowledge of complex techniques in mounting firework displays.  Fireworks displays were common among both the local people and the grand displays by the emperors.  Fireworks were produced in Europe by the 14th century and became widely popular by the 17th century.  Music for the Royal Fireworks was composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749 to celebrate the Peace treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which had been declared the previous year.  The modern-colored fireworks were invented in the 1830’s as modern chemistry added different chemicals to make the brilliant colors.

As we approached the fourth of July all the talk was about the potential lack of fireworks.  When I looked online for the reason, I found that fireworks were the latest casualty of the supply chain crisis.  Many large vendors have not been able to replenish their inventory from last year.  Last year also saw a record demand for fireworks as the pandemic canceled many of the community shows and “forced” Americans to create their own fireworks shows.  The buying frenzy caused vendors to sell out early and depleted supplies for 2021.  First manufacture, and later shipping problems, have caused the prices to soar and availability to wane.  Just like the toilet paper run last year, my neighborhood seemed to get their supply of fireworks before they ran out.

Thoughts:  Not long after we were married Melissa and I decided to checkoff one of her bucket list items, attending a Pops Fourth of July.  We arrived in Boston the night before and took in some of the sights.  One of the things I do not like about crowds is trying to drive home after the event is over.  We instead walked to the Commons.  Even though it was early afternoon, we joined the throng of people moving toward the park.  We soon heard the 300,000-person capacity near the stage had been filled.  Instead, we joined the rest of the 3,000,000 who sat near one of the 40’ screens that dotted the park.  While we did not get the smell, the screen and the crowd were large enough to make you feel you were there.  As we come out of the pandemic, there are many traditions that have been altered to meet the new normal. This is neither good nor bad, as much as different.  It also illustrates the ingenuity humans have when it comes to continuing traditions.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Travelers

July 03, 2021

Yesterday Melisa and I got back out on the road as travelers for the first time since last September.  Even then it was a solitary trip to the White River where we were joined by friends for one day and a fishing guide for another.  We saw few additional people, but if you recall, the “girls” (the neighbor’s two dogs) kept us entertained throughout the week.  This time we decided to go north to see mom again.  While we try to get to Wichita several times during the year, it has been 19 months since our last visit due to the pandemic and the travelers shutdown.  We had tried to go up over Mother’s Day but got sidetracked and went to Melissa’s surgery instead.  This time we made it.

We were not surprised by the State Troopers and County Sheriffs we saw between the Arkansas boarder and Tulsa.  This weekend is predicted to have 47.7 million travelers, the most since pre-pandemic days.  Melissa heard on the news that the worst times be car travelers were 3 pm Friday (when we took off) and 3-6 pm Monday (when we come home).  What did surprise me was we did not see a patrol car of any type from outside of Tulsa all the way to Wichita.  I began to wonder if they were just trying to crack down on the crazy travelers from Arkansas. 

As we got off 412 to drive north into Kansas, we were passed by a constant stream of travelers driving north from Texas and Oklahoma.  Oklahoma had raised the speed limit since the last time we were travelers on this stretch and Melissa was happy to take the extra 5 mph.  Apparently, that was not enough for the cars who seemed to pass in caravans coming from the south.  We were amazed to see cars zip past and then weave in and out of traffic.  Each driver seemed to think it was their right to pass and then cut off the car that had just passed them.  Every car that passed us for 90 miles had either an Oklahoma or Texas license plate.  I was glad Melissa did not get caught up in this passive-aggressive game of these travelers. 

Thoughts:  The Red River Showdown, more commonly called the Red River Shootout, is an American college football rivalry.  The game matches the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Texas Longhorns.   In October, both teams are travelers to a neutral site at the Cotton Bowl.  The name is derived from the Red River that forms part of the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma that has caused conflict between the two states in the past, most notably the Red River Bridge War in 1931.  Both teams see the rivalry as bitterly emotional and territorial in nature.  This stems from the states’ proximity, past border disputes, and economic and cultural differences.  As we drove, I wondered aloud if the rivalry had not spilled into the travelers on the road.   During the pandemic, the cases of homicide and road rage dropped dramatically across the US in part due to restrictions on travelers.  We are now seeing those rates again rise dramatically.  Hatred and uncontrolled rage are a choice.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Rough

July 02, 2021

When I went out to look at my feeders yesterday, I noticed one of the hanging tripods had broken and it was dangling along the fence.  I had previously written about the mystery of the suet feeder first being knocked to the ground, and then completely disappearing from the same general location.  While I had not mentioned it, the squirrel feeder had the Plexiglas barrier torn off and thrown to the ground several weeks ago.  I have never seen the perpetrator for any of these events, but as I mentioned previously, the likely suspects are one of the three squirrels that I have seen feeding in all five stations.  Now they appear to be getting rough.

Squirrels are best known as the cute little animals found in parks across America.  What you may not know is they are often intentionally placed in man-made parks.  They are generally not aggressive toward humans, but they can be rough toward each other.  That is especially true when humans decide to feed the squirrels.  When you feed wild animals such as squirrels, others that are not getting fed get jealous.  Just like gulls at the beach, when you feed one you will observe that quickly becomes countless birds also wanting their share.  The same is true of squirrels, and they will get rough with each other for food if they are hungry.  Feeding squirrels in the park also makes them become more aggressive toward humans.  That is why most parks have signs advising visitors to not feed the animals.

While I am not feeding park squirrels, I am suffering some of the same consequences.  My squirrels have become rough with the feeders and have driven off the birds to keep the food for themselves.  There are two differences between the park and my yard.  First, many people in the park feed processed human food to the squirrels.  Even the peanuts that are still in the shell are often heavily salted to conform to the human pallet.  Processed food does not have the nutrients that the squirrels need and find in their normal diet.  Second, as I mentioned when I started feeding them, they were robbing the feeders whether I fed them or not.  These are not hand fed, and they still run away when I come out of the house.  I guess I better go get some more shelled and unsalted peanuts to add to the squirrel mix.

Thoughts:  I admit I did resonate with one of the statements made by the anti-feeding site, “How many squirrels are you willing to feed?  One?  Two?  One hundred?”  Whether you deliberately feed wild squirrels in your backyard, or actively try to keep them out of your feeders, the result is the same.  They will get their cut and will be rough with each other and the other birds until they do.  Apparently, they are just as rough with the feeders if they do not provide access to the needed seed.  About 14 percent of U.S. households, or roughly 48 million people (1 in 7), go hungry at some point during the year, child rates are higher (1 in 5 in US and 1 in 4 in my community).  The major cause of food insecurity is the lack of jobs (especially with high enough wages to avoid food insecurity), lack of job skills, and single parent families.  When we see hungry animals, we place feeders in our yard to help keep them from going hungry.  When we see humans who live in the food deserts of the inner cities and rural areas of the US, should we not do the same?   Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.