January 27

Wednesday I was having my class make study skins from dead birds.  I’m sure Stacey was happy to get them out of the freezer at home.  Meanwhile, I was skinning heads for our skull collection.  First was a jackrabbit we picked up in Texas last summer.  It’s odor was impressive.  Sadly, I had most of the skin off when I found that both the upper and lower jaws were broken, making it unsuitable.  That’s the chance you take with roadkills.  I tossed it in the dumpster.  Next up was a skunk head from almost a year ago.  Skunk musk + slightly rotting meat = major stink!  The students were really bothered.  I got the skin off as fast as I could, cleaned up, and sprayed the room with Lysol.  Whew!

Savannah had a homecoming dance Friday night.  She turned down all boys who asked to take her.  Can you say, “fiercely independent?”

All dressed up.

Saturday we picked up the Lil Egg car from the tire shop, finally.  We ran some errands and did some shopping.  Naps were obligatory for the afternoon.  I went down to the river to photograph eagles.  I didn’t really get what I wanted, but here’s a decent one, anyway.

Looking back at the river.

Sunday was firewood and photography day.  I brought back two pick-up loads of wood from the brush dump.  It was already mostly cut and limbed out, but it still took a couple of hours to finish cutting and splitting it.  It was in the teens, which was better than the two degrees we had when I got up.  I still broke a sweat with the splitting.  I was using my ice-fishing sled to move the split wood to the rack.  When I was done I rode it down the hill in the back yard.  I bailed out before I hit the trees.  I played with the dogs awhile.  I was in coveralls, and wouldn’t smell any worse, I guess.  I spent a couple of hours down by the river photographing eagles.  I’ve been trying to get more action shots, but it’s hard.


Catch fish.

Shred fish.

Eat fish.  Yum.

Monday morning I had to take Savannah to the orthodontist.  And back.  And then go back to Quincy to work.  Then I had to go supervise a student teacher.   She was teaching the digestive system.  They had hamburger in a plastic bag and added enzymes.  She nearly said, “Before you play with your meat…” but caught herself just in time. 

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January 20

It was supposed to get below zero one night, but it didn’t even get close.  The previous night was colder, as you can see:

The bottom readout is the outdoor temperature, which I took first thing in the morning.

Wednesday I took my class out to Lowell’s.  It was still rather cold out, so we mostly stayed inside and looked at birds coming to the feeder.  We saw all the species I expected, and the students seemed to enjoy identifying them from the field guide.  The bonus bird was a fox sparrow, which normally never comes to feeders.  We hiked around awhile, slipping on the ice.  I couldn’t open the snake dens because they were frozen shut.  We saw some animal tracks in the snow anyway.  On the way back to campus, we spotted a flock of turkeys out in a field.  We stopped and looked at them awhile.  I was late for a meeting after that.  Darn.


Me and my class, peering out Lowell’s back door.


The elusive fox sparrow.

Thursday I gave a presentation to POLIS, the infotainment program for seniors.  Only about a dozen had signed up, and half didn’t show because of the weather.  It’s hard to have much fun with a small audience and little response.  Still, my Powerpoints were fairly polished, and I got to talk about some fresh results.  Actually, in preparing the talks, I got some new ideas I can incorporate as I write these up.

Friday was a crazy one.  Stacey and I went to do some exchanges, but the stores weren’t open.  I dropped her off at work and went to my office.  I worked for awhile, then went to evaluate my student teacher.  She did well, especially as she’s only into her first week.  They have a stuffed peregrine falcon in their classroom, which is fairly precious.   I picked up Stacey and we got fast food to go.  She dropped me off at QU, where I went to our Environmental Club’s screening of An Inconvenient Truth.  It was much better than I thought.  The multiple lines of evidence for global warming are laid out so clearly, they are undeniable.  I was stranded at main campus after that, and just read until Stacey picked me up.  We did our store returns then.

Saturday I ran some errands in the morning.  I talked to the guy at the bait shop, who had been at the accident in front of our yard.  He was impressed that Stacey was walking around barefoot in all the glass.  I said, “Yeah, she’s tougher than she looks.”  He said, “Her feet never got cut.  It was Jesus!”  He meant it.  I thought about launching into a minilecture on the material properties of safety glass, but then thought better of it.  Read on.  Stacey brought this up at her class for a laugh.  One of her fellow students then quoted from the Bible, something like “Blessed are the feet of the messenger of God.”  She was serious too.
It actually goes like this, chapter and verse (Isaiah 52:7): 

       How beautiful on the mountains
       are the feet of those who bring good news,
       who proclaim peace,
       who bring good tidings,
       who proclaim salvation,
       who say to Zion,
       “Your God reigns!”


Stacey had class all day.  I talked to the guy at our local tire shop. He said he could install my struts.  With tires and an alignment it would come to about $300.  I paid $200 for the shocks and struts.  So for $500 I will get the whole job done (on Monday), which beats the crap out of the deal the muffler shop in Quincy was going to give me ($760, no tires).   I did install the shocks myself, which was a real drag.  The nut on top is hidden in a tiny pocket in the trunk, where human hands can barely fit, and human eyes cannot see.  It’s a good think I kept the little ratchet wrench I broke the handle on a few years ago.  That’s about all that would fit in there, and I had to buy a deepwell socket to make it easier.  I warmed up the garage with the kerosene heater before and during the shock absorber job.  That made it endurable in there.  It warmed up enough to melt the ice somewhat on the driveway, so I broke it up and shoveled it off.   Savannah’s friend came over and they dyed the lower part of their hair dark again.  Some kind of inverse skunk configuration–I don’t really understand it.  I said I was next, and I wanted a mullet that was dark in the back and light on top, but they didn’t go for it.


Little house sparrow female at home.

Sunday morning we had about 5 inches of snow on the ground.  I shoveled the driveway.  I went out to Lowell’s.  I got stuck behind a snow plow.  They’re hard to pass.  I saw some crows on the side of the road, along with a much larger bird, which turned out to be an eagle.  They were all feeding on a deer roadkill.  I stopped and took some quick photos. 

Lowell and I walked around hunting bunnies.  We turned up a few, but none offered a shot.  We saw some deer and a covey of quail.  It was snowing pretty hard when we finished.  After lunch we fished again.  The first fish of 2007 still eluded us after we used 3 kinds of bait.  I shook a dirty board into the water.  The dirt included a spider, which eventually climbe donto my bobber.  I felt sorry for her and picked her up and put her on the wall.

I like the pattern on the abdomen.

When I got back to Canton there was a red-tailed hawk on a sign, so I stopped and shot it.  Then there was another.  While I was shooting in burst mode a car went by and spooked it, so I got the rare BIF (bird in flight), though not an exceptional one. 


I’ve added another photo gallery to my web site.  Spiders!  I know you’ve all been waiting for it. http://www.showmejoe.com/photo/spiders/album1.html.    I also put a section in for my T shirts and stuff.  http://www.showmejoe.com/photo/stores.htm

January 12

Classes started on Tuesday.  Back to work!  Well, it was a nice break, but I have a good slate of classes and release time to work on the writing program in biology.  I got some great news Wednesday, as on of my papers was accepted into Journal of Thermal Biology.  It’s on temperature regulation in the western cicada killer, and it comes out of the first trip to Big Bend. 

Thursday I took the Lil Egg car to have the front end aligned, since it had had a big vibration after I rotated the tires.  They said it needed new shocks, struts and tires in addition to the alignment, and they’d do it for $760.  Except for the tires, because they don’t sell tires.  After I placed my head back on my neck, I told them I’d think about it.  I went to the auto parts store and bought the shocks and struts for exactly half the cost of the estimate.  I’ve replaced shocks myself before.  Struts may be a challenge.

Friday the big storm came in.  Steadily falling temperatures changed rain to freezing rain.  I went out to Lowell’s, using the truck to deliver some goods, such as the choice hollow log I found in the brush dump.  I stopped in La Grange and bought a couple dozen minnows.  On the way to Lowell’s I passed a small hawk in a tree by the side of the road.  I turned around and went back.  Incredibly, it didn’t spook when I stopped.

Too bad the light was so poor.  You can see the ice on its tail and wing tips.

Lowell and I took the kerosene heater into the floating dock, which kept things comfortable.  We were trying to catch the first fish of 2007, hopefully a crappie.  Unfortunately, that fish was not cooperating.  We didn’t get a bite.  Mice had chewed through my old creel that I kept down there to hold some baitfishing tackle.  In fact, mice were living under the little propane heater Lowell had on a shelf.  We thought they were a little disappointed that we had switched to kerosene.  


We gave the fish a rest and looked at the 159 pictures of the sky that Lowell’s trail camera took after it was blown over by the wind, then went to lunch in Ewing.  We fished again when we returned, but the first fish of 2007 is going to make us wait.  The freezing rain came and went, sometimes alternating with sleet.  I had to scrape the windshield when we went to lunch, before we came back, when I left, and once on the way home.  The roads were good, though, which is the important thing. 


Birds are hitting the feeders hard now.  This is as good a shot of a mourning dove as I’ve ever gotten.

Saturday we stayed home, except for the ladies going to Quincy on a brief shopping expedition.  We timed it just right.  While they were at the mall, I was at the women’s basketball game.  We won in a very exciting game.   I couldn’t stay for the men’s game, where we faced a higher ranked team.  I recorded it on the local channel that night, and watched it Sunday morning–except for the last two minutes, which were cut off!  I went out and got the paper and found we had won by two points in overtime.  Miraculously, I was surfing the TV later in the day, and caught the end of the game, which they reran. 

I forgot to mention that while we were on our way to Quincy, a guy coming the other way had his trailer jackknife while crossing a bridge.  It was impressively scary, as the trailer bounced around, turned sideways, and performed antics that no trailer should do.  Stacey called 911. 

We got home before the nasty stuff hit, another round of freezing rain.  Everything outside was covered in a layer of ice.  There was a little crust over some lighter stuff, so you could kick your heel through it and get a little traction.  That didn’t work for the dogs, though.  They were slipping and sliding. 

I was sitting at the table when a sharp-shinned hawk landed on our bird feeder.  It was just a juvenile, but it took off while my hand was reaching for the camera. 

Sunday church was cancelled, so we all stayed at home in the morning.  Later we went grocery shopping.  I bought a sidewalk ice scraper, which I used to clear the sidewalks, driveway, and dog kennel.  

Monday I had off, Stacey had to go to work, while Savannah had a snow day.  The irony is that it was supposed to be a make-up day for an earlier snow day.   We made one run of errands around town, but mostly worked at home.  At least the birds were busy at the feeders.

Carolina wren on the grape arbor.  Finally sat still long enough.

Purple finch in the snow.

It snowed lightly all day, but the freezing rain of yesterday left its remains on this dogwood tree, leaving me the opportunity for some artsy shots.


Ring in the New Year with a crash.

I awoke at about 1:30 A.M. this morning to a loud crashing noise.  I got up and looked out the window.  In front of my next door neighbor’s house was a car parked askew, horn blaring, and guys yelling.  In my brain fog, I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  Stacey got dressed and walked outside to check it out.  Turns out a couple of drunks had crashed their car.  I think they were trying to drive away, but they were high centered with their rear wheels in the ditch.  Sounded like a circular saw when they spun.  Stacey turned rescue ranger, called 911 and helped with the first aid when the cops and first responders arrived.  One guy had to be life flighted out.  Stacey came in briefly to get shoes (she’d been barefoot) and a coat.  When she got back to bed at about 3, she was still freezing.   They towed the car, cleaned up the road, and the utility company came to work on the nearly broken pole.  In the morning I found a couple of mailboxes in our yard, along with posts and bits of car.  They sheared off 4×4 mailbox posts from my other neighbors.  Their path was clear.  After hitting my neighbor’s mailboxes, they came across our driveway (hitting two of our bushes) between our mailbox and trees, slammed into a sign and the power pole, then stopped.  Incredibly, they didn’t hit our cars or mailbox.  I checked closely and found no dents in our cars from the debris.   A guy I know who drives the local taxi said they passed him coming up the hill at 70 mph.  This is a 25 mph zone.  Flippin’ idiots!

 
Lower and upper portions of power pole.


Front yard, complete with labels!

We found out later the guys were MODOT workers staying at the Comfort in.  Another half mile and they would have been safe.  They were from Iowa–not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Here’s Stacey’s take on the event:


In Clement Moore’s famous poem, a visit from St. Nick, he writes, “And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap, When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.”  OK, so I’ve actually known Joe to sleep with a cap when it’s cold and last night on the lawn there arose such a clatter that he jumped from the bed and said, “What the hell was that.”


 


It was the sound of falling and crunching metal.  I thought, or maybe I said, “The cats must have gotten into something!”  As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and got dressed, Joe began searching about the house.  While I was in the sitting room, I heard a man speaking outside.  Dressed only in sweatpants and Joe’s long-sleeved t-shirt (read no shoes and socks), I went outdoors.  To my amazement, there was a single-car accident in front of our neightbor’s house. 


 


Sometimes, adrenalin is not your friend.  With the handset to our portable phone, I ran off the porch and over to the scene while dialing 911.  One man was out of the car yelling for help.  The other was in the driver’s seat,  face-planted in the air bag.  The horn was blaring so loud that sometimes I could not hear the 911 dispatcher.  While giving the dispatcher a scene size-up, I was trying to get the walking-wounded to sit down, and simultaneously assess the driver.  Oh, and did you remember that I was walking around an accident scene in bare feet?  Don’t worry; I’d forgotten it too, thanks to our good friend adrenalin.


 


For various reasons (some of them legal), I can not give you all the details; needless to say I had the challenge of putting my first aid lessons to practical use.  There are so many, many things that the classroom is just not equipped to teach.  For example, can you imagine how loud a continuously blowing car horn is while you are near the driver’s seat? 


 


I did finally get my slippers and it is a miracle that my feet are only bruised.  Safety glass must have its name for a reason.  I was never so very, very happy to see my fellow firefighters arrive because some of them are EMTs, and these guys needed some help.  It took two ambulances and a helo to get the situation moving in the proper direction.  I have vowed to remain a FD hose monkey and avoid any medical work.


 


When I finally got to bed, 90 minutes later, I was so cold and shaking.  Again, our friend adrenalin was at work.  I had not realized how cold I was, and then I came crashing down from an adrenalin high.  I did not get to sleep until 4 am because my body took some time to warm-up and my mind would not shut down.


 


Last night again proved that God protects idiots and fools.


 


 


Year end wrap-up

   I just compiled my data for the year’s outdoor efforts, so let’s recap 2006.  I spent 33 days afield, a significant decrease from last year’s 50.  But then, I had to move and stuff this year.  I took 7610 photographs, which seems insane.  Most are crappy, of course, but there are a few gems among them.  Since I started using burst mode, I get a lot more frames taken.  I only caught 5 species of fish, and incredibly, no bluegills among them.  That’s a first, but part of a long-term trend, partly due to a lack of ice fishing.  I caught 133 largemouth bass, slightly fewer than last year, but still the second highest total.  The take included a drum and a couple of flathead catfish, which I haven’t caught in years.  Hunting was good for big birds.  I shot snow and ross geese for the first time, and a 3-bearded turkey in the fall.  Otherwise, hunting was poor for small birds–no quail, ducks or pheasants.  I did kill a cottontail rabbit and a raccoon with archery equipment.
   Recently, I read an article about a guy who caught over 50 species of fish in 50 states in 50 weeks.  I have 50 species of fish (lifetime), but only in 8 states.  Oh, and he used fly fishing gear on all of them.  I haven’t been so restrictive.  It does help me set some new goals though.


Here’s a pretty female cardinal to lighten the mood.

January 2

Tuesday Stacey had to return to work.  Savannah and I stayed home, but kept the planet safe–relatively.  We assembled a new cabinet that Stacey had bought for the living room.  We’ve been having incursions of a foreign cat and dog in our back yard so we brought up Savannah’s BB gun.  We get lots of house sparrows in the bushes as well, which led Savannah to an idea.  After we learned to open the sliding glass door veeerrrryyyy slowly as to not spook them, Savannah got a shot.  She fired and the little bird dropped like the proverbial rock.  After she picked it up, she found she had hit it in the head.

This is the view of the targets from the house.

 
She was pretty excited, but I guess it was her first kill.  We could have saved it and had my class turn it into a study skin, but she chose instead to dispose of it in a natural fashion:

Boots ignored it, but Kelly dug in right away.  She polished off all but the wings in just a few minutes.

Thursday morning I went to see my chainsaw guru Mr. George Calvert.   After some discussion he made clear that there was a problem with my technique.  You shouldn’t have to use any pressure on a chainsaw.  The chain should be sharp, and to keep it that way, you should never touch it to the dirt.  I bought another chain with a high tooth count, and had my other good one sharpened.  I have a couple of crappy ones that only have a tooth on every third link that I’m not going to use anymore.  I stopped at the bait shop in La Grange, but it was closed.  I went on out to Lowell’s.  We cut up the remaining logs and split them.  The newly sharpened chain did a great job; the wood was cut up fast, and with little wear and tear on my arms.  We split and stacked it, but it still wasn’t enough to finish the holz hausen.  We finished just as it began to rain hard.  We went to Ewing for lunch and stopped at the convenience store for bait, but they were out.   We goofed off for awhile after that, but lacking bait we couldn’t fish or accomplish much else in the rain.
  
The holz hausen: large, and still growing.

   Friday I went down to the brush dump to drop off some stuff.  As usual, I came back with more than I took.  Someone had left a lot of cut logs that strongly resembled firewood.  I loaded it up, brought it home, split the big ones and cut the long ones.  One of the easiest pick-up loads I’ve ever gotten.  I also went around with the camera, getting my first eagle photos of the year, and tried to get some decent shots of Dead Dog Creek.  It was overcast, and I didn’t have enough light for most situations.


American kestrel–a really good shot escapes me.

The falls on Dead Dog Creek.



Some of you are probably thinking that I spend a lot of time cutting wood and so forth.  Yeah, I knew the furnace would be work, but you know me.  Sometimes I feel like a slave to it, but I only get really bothered when I can’t keep it running or don’t have sufficiently dry wood.  I have learned to take a break from it when the weather is warm.  When we have highs in the 50s, I let the fire die.  I had counted on cutting a lot of wood, which I don’t mind, but I hadn’t counted on tendonitis in my elbow from working the chainsaw.  Keep in mind that I’m cutting two years’ worth of wood right now, as I had not had time to build up a supply for this year.  All the stuff out at <U3Lowell</U3’s is for next year, when it will be good and dry.  To me, cutting wood is like making money, and with summers off and a long winter break, I have more than enough time to cut wood.  Right now, I have access to more wood than I could burn in 10 years, and it’s all free for the cutting.  My last gas bill was $27.  Now you see my strategy?

Saturday night Savannah and I went to the championship game of a girl’s High School basketball tournament.  Our team was seeded second, and the other team seeded 1st.  Our girls were on fire.  We got lots of turnovers and rebounds, and won the game handily.  It was great to watch.

Sunday I went on the second annual Polar Bear bike ride.  It was about 50 degrees, 10 degrees cooler than last year.  We had less than half the people though, just 6 guys.  My strategy was to keep a sustainable pace and to draft behind Merritt, the same huge guy I followed last year.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep up with Merritt all the time, especially on the 6-mile stretch into the teeth of a 30 mph wind.  My core temperature was good, but I lost most of the feeling in my hands.  My thumbs were too numb to shift, so I had to palm the levers.  They had made fun of my wool socks, but at least my feet were warm.  Merritt and I were pretty far behind the rest of the pack, and I could tell I didn’t have too much left in my legs, so I took a shortcut.  Once I had the wind at my back I was fairly flying, and I caught up to the lead group.  Merritt had not taken the shortcut and did not arrive until we had finished our first bowl of soup back at Jake’s house.  When I got home I took a hot bath and jacuzzi.  I don’t use it often, but it’s a nice luxury on those rare occasions when you need it.