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The Swallows’ Feast – Photo/Haiku of the day

The Swallows’ Feast

Summer’s mayfly feast

Shimmery swallows dip and chase

As the mower growls

Cliff Swallow in Flight - Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

I got home rather late tonight, perhaps an hour before sunset. I had to mow the yard, and as I started, I noticed the mayflies that were clustered on bushes in my landscaping, and in the grass itself. Clearly some kind of mayfly hatch had occurred, and as I mowed, they would flutter up into the air, some settling down, others continuing to fly. It didn’t take long before they were joined in mid-air combat…the swallows had arrived!!  Both Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows started showing up, with 5 or 6 dipping and darting through the yard, following the mower and taking advantage of the mayflies that were being kicked up. A thankless, repetitive summer task, made much more enjoyable tonight thanks to my swallow visitors! Nature never ceases to amaze, as the swallows clearly had learned to associate the sound of a mower with insects in the air.  As for the photo…yeah…I know. Not a Tree Swallow. Not a Barn Swallow. But have you tried taking photos of swallows in flight? NOT…EASY!! I have very few decent photos of ANY swallow species in flight, so I’ll use a bit of artistic license tonight and use this photo to accompany my photo story and haiku. 🙂

“She had a dream” – A Christmas story

There once was a beautiful princess, born in a tiny village in a place far, far away, called “Nebraska”.  The princess was loved by all, and had a wonderful childhood. As she grew, the villagers asked what she wanted when she grew up. “I have a dream…I want to marry a prince, and live every day as if it were a celebration!!“.  The princess was particularly fond of Christmas, and grew up surrounded by lights, glitter, and merriment. “As long as you live in our castle, sweet Princess, you’ll always have the brightest and best Christmases!”, declared King Roger.

The princess at her wedding

The princess at her wedding to Prince Humbug

But the Princess knew she couldn’t stay in the castle forever. She left for a life far, far away, 3 LONG miles from the castle where she grew up.  It was there that she met a Prince, and fell in love. Prince “Humbug” was young, dashing, and captured the heart of the princess. They were married on a fine spring May Day, and left for a new adventure in Big City, half a continent away.

Prince Humbug wasn’t rich.  Prince Humbug couldn’t afford to give his princess a castle.  For two years they lived in squalor.  At Christmas, there were no vast expanses of shiny lights.  There was no glitter. Missing their friends and family and merriment, Prince Humbug and the Princess left for the Great Frozen North, and moved into their first castle.

The castle was small and humble, but they were happy.  At Christmas, the Princess dreamed of her Christmases growing up, and asked Prince Humbug if she could have lights, glitter, and merriment as when she was a child. But as the years passed, Prince Humbug was inflicted with a terrible case of the Grumbly Grumpies.  Prince Humbug scoffed when the Princess asked for a castle lit up with lights and glitter.  “There are more important things to worry about,” groused the Prince.

Years passed, with the Prince and Princess having a perfect young son, and eventually they moved into a larger castle. “This is the castle of my dreams!”, said the Princess.  “If only we could decorate it like the castle from my childhood!”.  Prince Humbug couldn’t resist a bat of an eye from the Princess, and for a few years, despite the Grumbly Grumpies, he grudgingly obliged the Princess. At Christmas, the exterior of the castle was often lit with colorful lights and glitter, and the Prince tried to provide the merriment the Princess had as a young girl. But as he got older, Prince Humbug fell deeper under the spell of the Grumbly Grumpies.  When Christmas time came and the Princess asked if the castle could be decorated with lights and glitter, the Prince said “BAH!!!  Humbug!  Why spend hours putting up silly lights that will just have to be taken down again when the Holidays are over?!”  Even a bat of the beautiful Princess” eyes couldn’t sway the Grumbly Grumpy  heart of the Prince.

Dark times fell on the land. Evil Orange Overlord took control of the land, and the people were afraid. Up was down, down was up, news was fake, science wasn’t real, and deception and hatred became commonplace. As the darkness spread, Prince Humbug’s heart became ever blacker. The Princess did everything she could for their son the recreate the glorious Christmases of old, and despite the Grumbly Grumpy Prince, they were happy. But the Princess was afraid she would never again have the lights, glitter, and merriment from her youth.

As Christmas approached, Prince Humbug still was under the spell of the Grumbly Grumpies. “Christmas lights??!? BAH!! HUMBUG!!” he shrieked.    “It’s silly!!”, he thought. “It’s a lot of work!”, he thought.  But deep within Prince Humbug’s black heart were two shining stars, the stars of his love for the Princess and their beautiful young son. He knew what he had to do.  He now knew that the lights, glitter, and merriment may not have mattered to him, but they WOULD make the Princess and their son just a little bit happier. And in a dark world, Prince Humbug decided to do anything he could to make things a little brighter.

The Prince traded some of his gold for some colorful Magic Glitter Twinkles.  While the Princess and their son were away, the Prince placed the Magic Glitter Twinkles about the face of the castle.  After all the wonderful years married to the Princess, he knew exactly what she would like. Straight!! Orderly!! Without a hint of sloppiness!  The Prince carefully arranged the Magic Glitter Twinkles, placing each Glitter Twinkle in a cradle of its own to make sure they were straight.  He then awaited the arrival of the Princess.

The Princess’ face lit up when she arrived back at the castle. “My Grumbly, Grumpy Prince, what have you done?! I had never dreamed of again seeing the lights, glitter, and merriment of my childhood!”.  The Princess and their son was happy.  “They are so straight!  They are so perfect!”, exclaimed the Princess. The Prince knew he couldn’t recreate the exquisite displays from the Princess’ youth, but upon seeing the Princesses’ happy face…he now realized he didn’t HAVE to.  The Princess didn’t need the World’s Best Glittery Display.  She just wanted a hint of the dreamy Christmases she had as a girl.

And by obliging his beautiful, beloved Princess, Prince Humbug realized that perhaps the world wasn’t QUITE as dark as he had believed.

Castle Lights

It wasn’t the biggest castle in the world. It wasn’t the brightest and most glittery Christmas display. But it was all the Princess needed, and she was happy.

The anti-science movement

The Mesentery Organ

Did you ever learn about the “mesentery” organ in anatomy? I must say that until the story a month or two ago about scientists discovering the mesentery is, in fact, an organ by definition, I’d never even HEARD of it. It’s 2017…I find it absolutely fascinating that there’s so much we still don’t know. However, in a world of tiny smartphones that are more powerful than any computer that existed on the planet when I grew up, people generally take the world around them for granted. They’ve lost their sense of wonder. They’ve lost their appreciation for discovery, and for science. As a result…we get the anti-intellectual movement that seems so pervasive right now. As a result, we get a blithering idiot for a President, a man who spats the name “scientist” as if it’s a four-letter world.

I’m addicted to the internet. I read news obsessively.  I check the same websites multiple times each day, looking for the latest news and information.  That includes basic news sites, but it also includes various science websites, such as ScienceDaily, Phys.org, or some of the big journal sites such as Science or Nature.  I’m always fascinated to read about the latest discovery, the latest experiment, the latest medical trial, or other science-related information.

Evidently not everybody gets so jazzed about science and discovery. One site I check quite a bit is TheVerge, a site focused primarily on technology. They also have interesting science stories from time to time, and I recently read this article entitled “No Thanks to the New Science Thing“.  The author clearly isn’t a scientist…that’s fine…but I do find the article, and the lack of interest in science, to be a bit distressing.  It’s a microcosm of what seems to be happening to a broad swath of Americans, where science, where discovery and awe, are no longer an important part of what makes us Americans.

I “get” some of the sentiment in the story.  The author, Elizabeth Lopatto, focuses on a few science-related stories, beginning with a story of the discovery of “Zealandia”. Zealandia is a 5-million square kilometer area in the south Pacific that includes New Zealand and New Caledonia, but the rest of the region sits under the Pacific Ocean. Because of the geological characteristics of the area, it rightfully could be called a continent.  As the scientists state, “If you could pull the plug on the world’s oceans, then Zealandia would probably long ago have been recognized as a continent.”

The author of TheVerge story is having none of it. To her, the discovery of Zealandia would only potentially be of interest to geologists.  To her, because the new potential continent only is about 1/10th land, it’s NOT a continent, and the story of its discovery isn’t very exciting.  She goes on to mention other discoveries that don’t meet her standards for “scientific discovery”, specifically, the “downgrading” of Pluto from planet status, or the discovery that mesentery is truly a “new” human organ.  To the author, each of these stories are minor discoveries, not worthy of awe, not worthy of the general public’s attention.  To her, they are stories manufactured by the scientists themselves, and aren’t major standalone news stories.

What happened to the America that was caught up in discovery, in scientific achievement, in the simple AWE that comes with new knowledge?  The space race that captured the imagination of the world, the awe and wonder of watching Jacques Cousteau’s adventures (something I LOVED as a kid!), the excitement over the first Space Shuttle launches? What’s happened in the years since?  In a world where the combined knowledge of the entire world is just a keystroke away, have we become so completely numb to scientific achievement that we can’t appreciate discovery for the sake of discovery?

The existence of the mesentery, tissue in the intestinal area, has been known for centuries.  However, it wasn’t considered an organ by definition, until recent research on the tissue. I personally find it fascinating that there are still things we don’t know about the human body.  I find it fascinating we can find a whole new continent under the seas, in the year 2017. This author evidently doesn’t feel the same way, nor evidently do many Americans, given the anti-science mood from many of those on the right.

So here I sit on an uncharacteristically warm South Dakota winter’s evening, sitting at a desktop computer that’s a technological marvel, periodically checking my even more incredible tiny-computer-in-a-box in my iPhone, the warm glow of a LED lightbulb in the lamp by my computer, blogging about people who evidently have no appreciation for the marvels around them.  For me…PLEASE, scientists…tell me about the mesentery!  PLEASE…tell me about a new underwater continent that’s been found! PLEASE…tell me the reasons why you don’t think Pluto qualifies as a planet. I find it all quite fascinating.

And am also a little sad to see so little appreciation for science by so many of my fellow Americans.

Hummingbirds “trapped” in garages and other structures

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at honeysuckle

Hummingbirds are easily attracted to brightly colored objects. To them, a dangling red object in your garage may represent flower and food! Hummingbirds can easily get “trapped” inside a structure like a garage, and its imperative to help them find their way back outside before they become exhausted.

A beautiful South Dakota summer evening, and thus I was out doing yard work last night.  As I typically do when I’m outside, I had the garage doors open, even as I worked in the backyard.  After cleaning up some branches from a tree I’d trimmed, I came in the back door of the garage and immediately saw a hummingbird hovering in the garage, near the door.  As I approached he (a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird) was a little confused as to the way out, but fortunately he did manage to find the door and head out.

The timing of this was interesting, in that just yesterday I came across this story of a hummingbird “trapped” in a fire station, with the firemen rescuing it and feeding it sugar before sending it on its way.  Unfortunately it’s not that rare to have a hummingbird trapped in a garage or other structure.

A couple of years ago, I again was working outside, returned to the garage, and saw a hummingbird flying around.  Our garage roof is rather high, perhaps 15 feet to the ceiling.  However, the doors themselves are the standard 7-8 feet high.  Hummingbirds seem to have difficulty with structures such as this.  They become attracted to something in the garage and come in the open door, but their first instinct to get out seems to be to head upwards.  Once they do so and get above the height of the garage opening themselves, they seem to get “stuck”, and aren’t able to understand the way back out through the garage door.

In the incident two years ago, it was very disheartening to watch the hummingbird (again, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird) quickly wear itself out as it flew madly around the garage, trying to find a way out.  All my efforts to “shoo” it out through an opening failed, as did efforts to lure it to a lower height with a hummingbird feeder and flowers.  “Out” for it seemingly meant “up”, and it soon became so tired that it perched on a wire going to my garage door opener, refusing to move. It was my wife who saved the day.  She got a very long feather duster with a long extendable handle, and moved the feathery end up towards the hummingbird.  The exhausted hummingbird was so tired it didn’t want to fly, but it did eventually cling to the feather duster.  Very slowly and carefully, my wife lowered the feather duster and moved outside through the garage door.  The hummingbird was still so tired it didn’t want to move, but after resting for perhaps 10 minutes on the feather duster, it finally did fly off…hopefully to find a nectar source to feed on.

Having a hummingbird trapped in your garage or other building definitely isn’t a rarity!  It can be disheartening and frustrating to try to make the hummingbird understand where “outside” is.  One thing you can do to prevent a “trapped” hummingbird is to remove any attractant within a open structure.  Do you have a cord that dangles down from your garage door opener, a manual release?  Chances are the end of that cord has a red ball or other such component.  My garage door openers both had red plastic balls on the end, and to a hungry hummingbird, such a dangling device potentially means “flower” and “nectar”.  I removed the red balls from my garage door openers and replaced them with large plain weights in the hopes of lowering the chances of hummingbirds flying into the garage.

You’re not alone if you have a hummingbird “trapped”in your garage!  If it happens to you, don’t wait for the bird to find its own way out, do everything you can to “assist” the bird in finding the way outside.  It doesn’t take long for a trapped hummingbird to burn through its energy supply and become exhausted, and without help, a trapped hummingbird can easily (and quickly) perish.

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