Albert Lea Tribune -- 5/29/05       

My neighbor Crandall stops by.
"How are you doing?" I ask.
"We're all cats in the same bag. Pappy is mad at me again. He has a true case of the surlies. That man is a quarter stubborn and three parts fool. He travels with hope and a fork. He'll eat anything that hasn't been previously swallowed.
"He's a terrible driver. He's been signaling a left turn since June of 1987. Ma says he's getting hard of hearing. She told me that he said his prayers last night while kneeling on the cat.
"He lives by a simple motto, 'Fill what's empty, empty what's full and scratch where it itches.' He called me David Copperfield and Oliver Twist."
"Wow! Sounds like he was really giving you the Dickens," I say. "I saw your father the other day. He looked like a new man."
"He ought to look new. He's barely been used. He says I'm lazy. I'm not lazy. It's just that I believe what's not worth doing is not worth doing well. He says I have unlimited limitations. Pappy has nothing to talk about. He moves so little that he could teach patience to rocks. He finds snail dust irritating.
"Just talking to Pappy can suck all of the ambition out of a person. He wants me to put a satellite TV dish on top of the house I was born in. I don't know why I should. I helped him build that house. I can't believe he's getting a dish. He is so backward that he voted for Walter Mondale for president."
"Lots of people did that," I say.
"Last year?"
Q and A
"What is grunting up earthworms?" If you want to become an earthworm grunter, all you have to do is to drive a stake a few inches into ground where earthworms are known to be. Then rub a notched stick across the top of the stake, causing the stake to vibrate. Done right, this will bring the worms to the surface. It's vibrational extraction of earthworms at its finest.
"What is a mosquito hawk?" That's another name for a dragonfly. Dragonflies eat a lot of mosquitoes.
"What is the fool's hen?" Once plentiful like the buffalo, the prairie chicken was dubbed the "fool's hen" because it was so easy to shoot.
"What is a hoop snake?" A reptile that puts its tail in its mouth, arranges itself in a circle, and travels by rolling like a hoop at impressive speeds. No such creature exists.
"What is biophilia?" It is a term coined by famed Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson.
It describes the innate human yearning to have direct contact with nature. This contact may be nothing more than a houseplant or the glimpse of a cardinal at a feeder.
"I see an insect that looks like a huge mosquito in my house. What is it?" It is a harmless crane fly. I have been asked if they eat mosquitoes. They do not. Adult crane flies barely eat anything, maybe a little nectar. The crane fly larvae eat decaying plants.
"What are passerines?" Perching birds. Many are referred to as songbirds.
"Why do pigeons and chickens bob their heads?" These strange head movements allow the bird to get a series of views that allow the bird to determine spatial relationships.
"How can I tell which end of the earthworm is the head?" The earthworm usually travels headfirst and the clitellum (a saddle-shaped, swollen area) is nearest to the head.
"How did Embarrass, Minnesota, get its name?" French priests and fur trappers tried to navigate the twisty, driftwood-strewn river that flows through the area in the 1700s. Logs and low water levels of the windy river wreaked havoc on canoeists.
The French called it Rivière d'Embarras-best translated as "River of Obstacles" or "River of Obstructions." The Anglicized version, Embarrass River, started showing up on maps in the early 19th century.
"What is an oligochaetologist?" An earthworm scientist.
"What is a granivorous bird? "It's one that feeds in grains or seeds. Frugivorous birds are those that feed on fruit.
"Why are insects drawn to light?" This is called phototaxis, by the way. Nobody really knows, but there are a number of theories.
Some say that insects are attracted to ultraviolet light that we can't see. Others believe that some insects - bees and moths, especially - take their bearings from a light source. Bees orient themselves to the sun and moths steer by the moon. It's possible that they confuse a light for the moon or sun. Not all insects are attracted to artificial light. For instance, butterflies love sunshine but are repelled by artificial light.
"How many steps in a mile?" One mile is equal to 5,280 feet. It takes about 2000 steps to cover a mile. Everyone's stride is different, but an average stride is usually somewhere between two and three feet in length. So on average it takes between 1760 and 2640 steps to complete one mile. To measure your stride, mark off a distance of 50 feet. Walk the distance and count your steps. Divide 50 by the number of steps and that is your stride length. Divide 5,280 by your stride length to find your average steps per mile.
"What is our windiest month?" April is the windiest month of the year. January is the windiest of the winter months, November of the fall months and June of the summer months.
"I love to hear the morning chorus of bird song. What causes it?" The singing at dawn is a way for male birds to show off their status, fitness and availability. Sound typically broadcasts more effectively at dawn than at other times of the day. This makes it a good time to establish and defend territories, as well as to attract mates.
"How much manure does a Canada goose produce each day?" They are pooping machines. Various studies have shown 1-3 pounds each day.
Trumpeter swans
The DNR, along with the Winnebago County Conservation Board, released a pair of trumpeter swans in Winnebago County on May 19th. This was the fourth trumpeter swan release in Winnebago County.
Please join me on an Aug. 8, eight-day tour of our biggest state. Travel now, work later. Celebrate your life in Alaska. Everything in Alaska is at see level.
For more information on this trip of a lifetime, please call 800-328-4298.
"I stay away from the miserable people, because misery loves company. Just look at a fly strip. You never see a fly stuck there saying. "Go around! Go around!" - Margaret Smith
"The kinder and more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness they can find in other people."- Leo Tolstoy
(Allen Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at