Thursday, March 21, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Life without turkeys

I haven't seen my turkey troup for a full week. They disappeared into thin air and I miss them.

The odd thing is that they left the day after I finished reading "Illumination in the Flatwoods" by Joe Hutto. Hutto is a naturalist who spent a year living with a flock of imprinted turkeys. He hatched them and lovingly "mothered" them all day, every day until they grew up and moved on.

I first learned about Hutto's experience from a PBS Nature series documentary called "My Life as a Turkey". I totally identified with his affection for the big birds and their fascinating day-to-day experiences in the Florida Flatwoods.
I'm so thankful that I had the benefit of his knowledge when they left. He relates how abruptly the flock's behavior can suddenly change. I'm trying to hold onto the belief that they just had the urge to move on.

I don't mind not having to keep up with feeding them at dawn and dusk each day, but I worry that they might not be getting enough to eat wherever they are. I also worry that something awful happened to scare them away.

So, I keep waiting for them to come back. Whenever I go outside, I look for their tracks in the new-fallen snow. And I miss them.
(I debated whether my turkeys form a troup or a troop. I looked it up and troop refers to soldiers or Scouts and troup refers to a group of entertainers, so actually neither term applies.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My vendetta against the wild cucumber

( I wrote this several years ago. The wooded lot has changed since then. Several large trees have fallen opening it up to more sunlight so the wild cucumber isn't as bad as it had been.)

One balmy summer morning, I noticed that there were large-leafed weeds snaking up the trees and shrubs outside my bedroom window.  On days to follow, I could see the vegetation was rapidly spreading higher and wider.

I was becoming more and more alarmed as it threatened to spoil the view and invade my private little woods.  When I began to recognize trees and shrubs along the highways completely enshrouded by this same vine, I feared it was taking over the city!
I live in a modest townhouse that is blessed with a lovely wooded lot next door.  Because my bedroom window overlooks the glorious green property, I have always taken a proprietary interest in it.  As a result, I was overcome with indignation at this weedy interloper.  I resolved to do battle with it.

The wooded lot is lower than my lot and is separated by a four-foot high retaining wall.  As I walked around and entered from the street, I found it was cool and shady under the trees.  It was also swarming with hungry mosquitoes that were delighted to see me. Amidst the shafts of light streaming down through the leafy canopy of black walnut, box elder and cottonwood trees, I could see hundreds of small yellow-green plants with palmate shaped leaves growing profusely in all directions.  The larger plants had totally engulfed other weeds and shrubs, apparently hogging the available sunlight.  The mosquitoes lost their menace as I realized the extent of the invasion.

I advanced on the “enemy” and began pulling up as many small plants as I could.  I grabbed great handfuls of the fuzzy, sticky vines and flung them at the mosquitoes.  However, I soon realized the futility of this approach.  I switched my vengeance to the larger, more insolent weeds that were climbing the trees and advancing over the retaining wall.  I was surprised at how effortlessly the pernicious vines were uprooted.  I was able to draw up long strands of it into balls that were easily tossed aside.  I was making great swaths through the most heavily infested areas, but gradually I became exhausted and gave up for the day.  My socks were full of cockleburs; I was hot, sweaty and covered with mosquito bites, but I had definitely launched a worthy attack.

Around that time, I happened to read a magazine article about a noxious weed imported from Japan called kudzu.  It was originally thought to be an excellent ground cover, but it spread so wildly that it had become a serious problem in the South.  I was certain that I was the first Minnesotan clever enough to discover kudzu in our northern climate.  I phoned the University of Minnesota Extension Office about it and learned they would have a team of horticulture experts available to the public on Saturday morning at a location in my area.  I could hardly wait!

Saturday morning, I eagerly rushed outside to pull up some representative samples of the nasty vines and tucked them into a Cub Foods plastic bag.  I drove over to the Extension Office with my prize.  There were three experts seated at long tables to field questions from gardeners, weekend lawn warriors and frustrated weed haters like myself.  I stood in line clutching my bag until it was my turn.  I stepped forward, dramatically presenting my array of droopy sprigs and told the horticulturist my suspicions about a kudzu invasion.  To her credit, she took this news with a straight face.
After looking over the samples and consulting several books, she informed me that I had Wild Cucumber (Sicyos Angulatus).  The name originates from its resemblance to domesticated cucumber plants to which it is distantly related.  Although it’s not widespread, it is a native plant found in southeastern and southwestern Minnesota and along the Wisconsin border.

I was quite disappointed to learn it was a mundane weed.  It was not as prolific as I feared either.  It is found only in woods, along streams and roads and in damp, shady places where it can grow up to 25 feet.  The UM expert told me that the most effective way of eradicating it was simply pulling it up, mowing or hoeing.

Armed with this knowledge, I went back home to fight the good fight.  I made frequent forays into the woodsy lot over the summer pulling more of the weeds and concentrating on those producing seed pods.  If the plants are uprooted before the seeds are produced, the annuals can’t seed back the following year.  By the end of the summer, I was smug in the belief that I had won the war against the enemy. 

The following summer I was visiting my daughter, a suburban soccer mom, whose hobby is landscape-gardening a large back yard.  She took me out to see her newest plantings.  As she led me toward a “cute little plant” she found near some woods, I was first shocked and then amused to find my daughter was raising a young Wild Cucumber.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday funnies

Once in a while, you see a cartoon that makes you laugh out loud. Van Amerongen's Ballard Street always has a quirky assortment of older folks who never fail to amuse. Here is another funny one.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I'm feeling kinda silly

Know your Turkey Parts--A primer on snoods.

I recently posted about four unknown tom turkeys showing up in the wooded lot. I was basing my identification on the fact that the toms all had long red snoods hanging beside their beaks as they paraded around in full display.

It turns out they were just the young "jakes" of the resident tribe. I didn't recognize them because the young males normally have just a short protrusion on top of their beak.

I have learned that when the male turkeys (also called gobblers) start displaying their tail feathers and dancing around, the protrusion becomes engorged and grows longer. According to a university study, females prefer males with a longer snood so it's an advantage for mating and indicates good health.
However, there are other kinds of snoods. I can remember my mom wearing one back in the 40's. They looked like this:
Now there are other varieties of headgear with the same name.

Modern snood

                  That concludes our snood lesson for today.