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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli Circus in the Sun: A Gardener's Journey, by Tonya Pohlman

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
My nephew is coming from back east for a visit and wants to take his sons fishing in his grandfather's pond.
Since it is not easy to transport fishing gear on an airplane, Rita and I were asked if we could provide the fishing gear. Once upon a time that request would have been an easy one for fishing was an activity my father included on the schedule whenever my cousins or his brother's grandchildren came to visit. The youngsters didn't seem to care about the size of fish caught as long as they caught fish and Dad generally knew where there was a pond filled with hungry bluegill or bullheads.
The youngsters he took fishing are now all grown and have grandchildren of their own but whenever we are together they like to talk about the fishing trips. From the stories they tell, it is easy to conclude the fishing in Jewell County rivaled that of anyplace else in the whole world.
In recent weeks Rita has been rummaging through the garage and storage places looking for my father's fishing gear. I suspect it has been 45 years or longer since anyone had used the equipment and it was in sad shape. One pole was broken, reels gummed up and much of the gear scattered.
But looking for the gear gave reason to clean some of the garage storage places.
Reels were disassembled, cleaned, oiled and tested. Tackle boxes were sorted to find what the boys will probably need--things like small hooks and bobbers. I doubt they are experienced enough casters to need lures. If so, I should visit the lure store for the lures I previously had the best luck with are no longer usable. The hooks may be fine but the sinkers have corroded, the feathers rotted and the soft plastic parts turned to sticky globs of goo.
Saturday afternoon I tested the reels. Their action isn't as smooth as I remember but I think they will work fine for grade school boys who only need to put the hooks out a small way while searching for a bullhead or bluegill.
Hopefully, the poor casting wasn't the fault of the caster. While still a student and waiting for customers at the gasoline station, I passed many an hour practice casting on the station drive. I would pick out a place and then try to drop a plastic plug on that very spot.
Before taking the boys fishing, I will need to secure some worms. As a youngster I knew where to dig fish worms in the animal lots and damp places behind the filling station. Now that I live in town, I don't have a clue where to look for worms.
Should we have rain before the boys arrive, I will go in search of night crawlers in the street near my home.
The big worms are apparently not native to this area. But after Lovewell Lake was built, I know of people who bought and released the worms here in town. The worms multiplied to the point some people consider them to be pests. After a rain, it isn't unusual to see people out in the streets of Superior picking up night crawlers who have abandoned water logged lawns and gone in search of new territory. When the sun comes out and the air warms, most of the worms' exploration trips end prematurely.
My father bought the worms by the thousands and sold them to fishing customers by the dozen. Many of the worms arrived via airplane at the Grand Island airport. Dad had refrigerators in which he kept the worms cool. He regularly worked with the creatures to make sure they were content and happy. A few escaped but I don't remember a mass exodus like the following story told this spring by Nolan Doesken, one of the guys I work with as a member of the CoCoRhs weather observation team.
Where were they going?
Something odd happened here a few weeks ago. It was one of our first warmish spring evenings with a fresh smell of imminent rain. Our son, who lives next door across our little wooded area, had been over for a visit. On his way home he apparently had decided to peek into our "hoop house" with his flashlight. Based on what he saw, he promptly called us and urged us to come outside immediately. It had just started to rain a few large drops.
It was after 10 p.m. and I was ready to call it a day, but my wife and I both scrambled to get our farm clothes and shoes on. What we found was incredible. Worms were everywhere oozing out the sides and tops of each of the covered worm bins. They were on the carpets that normally cover each bin that keep the worms warm, moist, dark and secure. They were on the floor, and they were even climbing up the walls and ceiling of the plastic hoop house. Just imagine a horror movie showing such a scene, and you'll get the idea. They were all stretched out to their full length (mostly 2-3") and were all moving together in parallel.
What were they doing? Where were they going? What were they thinking?
They appeared to be preparing for a mass migration -- thousands of worms breaking out of their bins in search of freedom? or something else? For the full effect, cue the music from 'The Great Escape' with Steve McQueen while you read the rest of the story.
We scrambled. We plugged in bright lights (worms hate bright lights) and we rolled up the bin covers after shaking off as many warms as we could. I ran back to the house and gathered all our spatulas and cookie sheets. Kathy called our neighbor who sometimes helps us feed the worms when we're away. Within about an hour, working feverishly, we were able to scoop up the worms and return them to their "homes" With the bright lights shining, they gradually all crawled back down into their bedding. The exodus ended -- at least for that night.
Had we ever seen anything like this before? Yes. In fact, the first year we had started to raise red wrigglers (composting worms), we went out one morning after a heavy spring rain and discovered that nearly all our worms were gone. We only had a few bins then and they were all outside. We called the expert, John the "worm man" who drove the "wormbulance" around town and has been raising worms for decades, and he said matter-a-factly, "Oh, they'll do that if you're not careful." We said "What do you mean 'they'll do that'!?!?" He just smiled -- wanting us to contemplate this great mystery.
We never did find them that year. We never found where they went. They had left enough cocoons that within a few weeks the worm population began to reestablish. We were amazed then -- and we still are today.
The mysteries of nature are wonderful and odd. Our farm is old and small -- just a few acres -- and the city is encroaching. Yet each day it presents us opportunities to see and ponder. What will we learn next?


A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

Years ago, when we lived in Omaha, we were asked if we wanted to adopt a dog. We already had two Black Labs, fairly large dogs, one of which had been a rescue of sorts, so I guess we seemed like good candidates to also take in an adolescent male Dalmation who needed a forever home.
He was a beautiful dog, happy and as obedient as possible, for a completely deaf dog. After caring for him for the better part of the day to help us decide, we ultimately concluded that our busy street, busy lives and already crowded duplex was probably not the best place for him. But we all wanted him quite badly.
At that time, we decided a "special needs" dog like that would need a better home than ours ­­ a home that probably didn't include both parents with full-time jobs and two small children being driven to and from two different schools. Wow. By the time I got done with that sentence, I wondered how we ever took care of the girls, let alone the adult Black Labs, which are notorious for being like three year olds with poor hygiene and worse social skills. But we did okay, I guess.
By now, of course, the Labs are gone and have been replaced by smaller, quieter black dogs. Our two Cocker Spaniels are now more than 10 years old, and as luck would have it, I now have the special needs dog that I didn't think I could handle 20 years ago. Rudy, our male, has been completely deaf and blind for quite a while. Both senses went gradually, of course, but it was far easier to detect his failing vision than his deteriorating eyesight, for obvious reasons.
When he stopped responding to our voice prompts, we didn't really think that much about it. We thought he might be getting stubborn in his old age. After all, Duchess, our female, pays absolutely no attention to our voice commands, and we know she can hear perfectly well, based on how she reacts to a box of treats being opened in the next room or footsteps on the front porch.
The vision loss was obviously more obvious. He began to walk into things. And in the middle of the night, if we turned on a light near the kennel, Duchess would spring to her feet, but Rudy wouldn't stir. We're now convinced he has virtually no sight or hearing, but he seems as happy as he's ever been, which, if you know anything about know Cocker Spaniels, is really happy. His tail wags all the time, and he has learned to meander very slowly wherever he goes, to cut down on plowing into things head first.
When we come home and let them out of the kennel, it takes him twice as long as her to get to back door. And we have to let her out immediately and stay there and wait for him. She can no longer hold it very long, and if we make her wait for Rudy too, we often have an indoor puddle and a mad girl dog. But once we all settle in, he doesn't have any trouble finding us, or keeping track of us. Cocker Spaniels are highly social and prefer to always be within easy reach of their people. At any rate, he's a little trouble, but well worth it.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

The 2017 wheat harvest is here. Fields of the golden grain are ripe for harvest. Late frosts may have reduced the yields, but time will tell as the wheat is cut and hauled to the bin.
Methods of harvesting wheat have changed much in the past 100 years. Early harvests for my grandfather consisted of large steam or gas engine powered tractors operating threshing machines. Threshing crews moved from farm to farm getting the job done. Farm wives worked together preparing large meals to feed crew members. When he enlisted during WWI, he left the farm and had a farm sale. Included on the sale bill was a six-foot McCormick binder and a Buckeye mower that were pulled by real horsepower. During the 1940s, Granddad and his sons, including my father, harvested wheat using a Farmall tractor pulling an Allis Chalmers combine.
A 1950s photo shows my father seated on an 82 Massey Harris combine with his father standing beside it. They were all smiles and one wonders if they enjoyed having the latest in harvesting equipment. There were no cabs for comfort. The combine operator was open to the elements, wheat dust, chaff and, of course, the summer heat.
During the 1960s, my father became a custom wheat harvester, besides keeping up with his own farm work. He and a hired hand prepared for the two week harvest run into southern Kansas and Oklahoma. His cherished, newer Massey Harris combine was driven onto the lowered truck bed and away he and his hired hand would go. That combine had the comforts of an air conditioned cab. He was so happy when a tandem truck was purchased. The custom harvest road continued north after our wheat was harvested. Father enjoyed the custom harvesting and always came home telling a lot of harvest stories.
Today, cousins carry on the custom wheat harvesting business using the most modern equipment. Their large John Deere combines have long 30-foot headers. Computers keep the combine operator updated on how the combine is running and reports the yield and moisture of the wheat, which is then loaded onto a large grain cart pulled by a tractor. The cart travels beside the combine as it operates. The wheat is augered from the cart into semi trucks. After my father retired from farming, he often took combine or semi rides with my cousins and marveled at the latest in wheat harvesting machinery.

Circus in the Sun: A Gardener's Journey, by Tonya Pohlman

The plant I recently found in my garden which I at first thought might be the result of Fireweed seeds I planted in the spring (a wildflower I remembered from my childhood in Alaska), was not Fireweed. Again, silly me.
I took to Google in order to identify the plant in my garden with fern-like foliage and purple flowers and did feel silly when I realized what my purple panicled plant was ­ Larkspur.
I'd forgotten about planting the Larkspur seeds. I'd also forgotten it as the flower of my birth month ­ July.
I am somewhat of a flower child, but I don't have one of those cool hippie names. I just don't see many hippies running around with the name, "Tonya." But I suppose I've been breaking barriers and changing stuff all my life. Ask my husband how often I move plants around in the garden.
So now I suppose that makes me an 80s flower child hippie named, "Tonya."
I will tell you that my actual family given nickname is Pocahontas, but not because I am Native American, rather, I was given the name by my oldest brother because as a young child I would sing and dance around the house wearing a knitted shawl which had a fringe he thought was like the fringed dress of a Native American girl. And so I became known as Pocahontas. I am told that because I did not know all of the words to my favorite song, "Country Roads," by John Denver, that I just repeated the chorus over and over and over, "Country Roads, Take Me Home...Country Roads Take Me Home."
I guess I finally did make it home ­ a long journey indeed, from Colorado to Montana to Alaska to Washington back to Colorado and them home ­ Nebraska. To quote John Denver again, "A place I'd never been before." But still home.
From Alaska to Nebraska, I'm still gardening ­ first cold weather pansies, and now a garden of various beautiful flowering and green-leafed perennials with a bit of evergreen here and there. This collection includes the Alaska state flower ­ Forget Me Nots; The Washington state flower ­ Rhodendron; the Colorado state flower ­ Columbine; and the Nebraska state flower ­ Goldenrod.
I have roses, daisies, salvia, sedum, penstemon and more.
And now I have my birth flower as well ­ Larkspur.
Larkspur is the annual version of Delphinium, and though upon many occasions I have attempted to grow both, I've never succeeded. I think the reason for my lack of success is that I have always mistaken the plant for a weed before it flowered and maybe even sometimes after it flowered, so I pulled it and tossed it onto the weed pile.
My birthday is almost here. It is an occasion I frequently complain is too overshadowed by that fireworks, 1776, Independence Day thing, even though my birthday is two days before that. I am thrilled to finally be growing Larkspur in my garden and I plan to ignore the web page I recently viewed in which I learned the young Larkspur plant is toxic to humans and animals. I've been picking it as a weed for years and look at me, I'm just fine and dandy. Okay, well maybe be aware of any concerns surrounding the toxicity of the Larkspur plant if you so choose.
I much prefer a website I viewed which discusses the meaning of the Larkspur plant and its relation to the month of July which has absolutely nothing to do with that other holiday I am forced to compete with every year.
From proflowers.com I've included this of interest regarding Larkspur.
"Larkspur were very popular gift flowers in Victorian times. In general, the flowers symbolize an open heart and can be associated with strong romantic feelings. Here are some more specific petal color meanings:
· Pink larkspur flowers represent fickleness.
· White blossoms signify a happy-go-lucky nature.
· Purple represent first love and a sweet disposition.
Fun facts about Larkspur:
· In Transylvania, dried larkspur was placed in stables to keep witches from casting spells on the animals.
· In England, larkspur flowers were used to cure ailments and in summer solstice celebrations.
· Native Americans and European settlers made blue dye from larkspur flowers.
· The most ancient use of larkspur flowers was to drive away scorpions.
The last part of this information could be a problem for me. My birth month is July. My birth month flower is Larkspur, my birthstone is Ruby and my astrological sign is Cancer, aka The Crab. However, my husband, mother, son and daughter are all of the astrological sign of Scorpio or The Scorpion. I certainly do not want to drive them away with my birth month flower. I rather like my protective, passionate and talented Scorpios. I imagine they do not mind my alternating gentle and crunchy nature either.
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