April 25

I have been snaked by the weatherman twice this week.  Tuesday I canceled stream team because it was supposed to storm.  The first raindrop did not drop until 5 PM, by which we would have been done.  I delayed it until Thursday, but no one could come then.  Maybe next week.  Then Wednesday we were supposed to take a field trip to Fall Creek, which is a very nice area.  It was overcast but uneventful until I finished my lecture, when it started raining–hard.  Arrrggghhh!

Wednesday night I had book club.  We watched a video again.  I learned a few things.  My book club has become a lot more fun recently.  I don’t know if it’s because of the new people that have joined, or just a change in my attitude.

Thursday night I took two of my class on the frog survey.  I stayed in my office until 7:30 because you have to do the survey at night.  Makes for a long day!  After two stops and no frogs, it was looking pretty grim.  At the third stop, we finally heard some frogs, and at every stop thereafter.  We didn’t hear any new species, however.  Along the road we saw a possum, a skunk, and a few deer.   On the way back we saw an owl fly across the road–that’s the first time I’ve ever been out with a class and saw an owl (or a skunk for that matter). 

Metamorphosis
Thursday morning Savannah got her braces off.  Two and one-half years of pupation are over. She’s so excited.  I’m just as happy that the payments are over.   She does look fairly different.  We’ll send pictures soon.  
I think she looks less monkey-like. 
Friday morning I took her for a follow-up visit to be fitted for a retainer.  Then it was back to school for her, and a return to Quincy and a meeting for me. 

At a derelict factory in La Grange (Atchison Castings), vultures have taken to roosting on the rusting equipment, presumably because of its proximity to the landfill.

Saturday I made another attempt at turkey hunting.  I heard one gobbling a few times before sunrise, about a quarter mile away, then nothing.  I gave up around 8 and walked around taking photos.


These droplets are produced by guttation, water forced up by root pressure overnight.


Eastern tent caterpillars are everywhere this year.


This cute wildflower is a new one on me.  I’ll look it up later.

Lowell had gotten another shipment of trees and bushes–300 total.  We didn’t plant them all, but we got through quite a few. 


While we were planting, this chipping sparrow chose to pose nearby.


I think this fly died of Entomophthora, the insect-killing fungus.

We fished two rounds of the lake.  The bass were still liking my blue and black spinner, but they were mostly small.  We kept almost all of them as part of our plan to manage the lake for bigger fish.  We went to lunch in Lewistown.  There was another turkey hunter there (obvious, in camo).  He hadn’t done any better than me.  We waddled out after stuffing ourselves.  We went back for another turn of the lake.  I switched to the all-black spinner, which the bass liked even more.  I ended up with 22.  We went up to the catfish pond to try for a trophy.  I did hook a big one, but while I was trying to get the net out of the shed, it wrapped around the dock and got off.


Water striders were hanging around the dock.


Paper wasp queens are gathering their pulp from outside the shed and building their nests inside it.

We had the day’s catch plus several from last week to fillet.  I got started on it, and Lowell pointed out a nearby water snake in the lake.  I reached in the bucket, pulled out the smallest dead fish, and threw it in the general direction of the snake, which had disappeared out of sight.  The fish just sank.  I filleted a couple of fish, and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.  The snake pulled the fish out onto the shore.  I couldn’t have been more surprised. 


The initial grip below the gills wasn’t going to work.


It finally got the head in its mouth and began to make progress.  It seemed to gain leverage by pushing the fish into the bank.

Sunday I cut out a lot of our bushes.  I replaced them with the spicebushes and ninebarks I got from Lowell.  I let Kane out to wander around with me.  He wasn’t too much trouble, except when he’d wander off and not listen.  A few times he laid down next to me.   I took a couple of loads to the brush dump, and found some hostas and hen-and-chicks someone had thrown out.  I brought them back and planted them.  I would have taken Kane with me, but he had bathed in the fish pond.  I borrowed the neighbor’s chainsaw and chopped down a bunch of scrubby trees in the back.  While pulling the brush out, I got a little overheated and had to go inside for relief.  After lunch and a nap, I went back out and planted some trees in the cleared space. 

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April 18

Wednesday I took my class out to Wakonda State Park.  We saw a lot of birds that were new to the class, such as brown thrasher, yellow-rumped warbler, Eurasian tree sparrow, blue-wing teal, shoveler, American coot, ruby-crowned kinglet and hermit thrush.  Some of these are rare for me to see as well.  I pulled the first three ticks of the year off myself there, before they had a chance to bite. 

Our kitchen sink has been clogged up again.  I tried plunging it to no avail.  We bailed as much of the nasty water as we could, then put in liquid drain opener.  It sat overnight, but didn’t move an inch.  I plunged that too, but no go.  Stacey borrowed the rubber inflatable doohickey that connects to a hose from work.  Her maintenance guys got a laugh out of her description, but they recognized it.  Turns out it’s called a Drain King.  When we got home she took everything out from under the sink.  I disconnected the trap and let the water run into a bucket…until I pulled it out a little too far and liquid went gushing all over.  Great.  I’d just taken a bath in Drano.  So I took a quick shower to keep my skin from dissolving, hooked up the Drain King, and blasted away the clog. 

Thursday a film crew from a local TV station (WGEM 10) came to my office after my class.  Our PR guy told me they were going to ask me about wasps and other insects that come out in spring.  Instead, they asked me all about Colony Collapse Disorder, the new thing that’s killing all the honeybees.  Great, nobody knows what is causing it, and they ask me.  Fortunately, one of my students had done her senior paper on CCD, so I was at least somewhat up to date on the topic (thanks, Angie!).  I had brought out some of my insect collection and a couple of nice photos.  They didn’t use them directly, but the camera man took some footage of them for stills.  Tomorrow we may see. 

Thursday was the 16th anniversary of our holy union.  We were going to go out to dinner, but instead Stacey bought nice steaks and barbecued them.  It was a delicious alternative, and a we had a lovely evening at home.

I just found out that one of my old friends from graduate school, Tammy Stiller, died last fall.  What a shock.  I had no idea.

Friday I went to Macomb.  I was giving a talk on Monarch Watch at the Secondary Science Conference, which is a meeting for high school science teachers to learn and share things.  I talked about Monarch Watch, which is the butterfly tagging program I’ve been doing for a couple of years.  My session was well attended, and the talk went really well.  I had a very freaky realization, however, when I found out there were students in my session that I had taught at WIU, at Culver, and at Quincy University.  Nearly my entire career was represented!  There was also the mother of one of my best Culver students there.  I got some recruits for the graduate workshop I plan to offer next year.  I got to reconnect with my old friends at WIU, and catch up on news. 

After I got home I we watched the news.  They ran the honeybee story.  Sure enough, she says, “And scientists are baffled as to why.”  Enter the baffled scientist: me.  They had two brief clips of my statements.  Fortunately, I didn’t say anything too stupid.   The camera was kind to me, as you couldn’t see much of my gray hair, and the defects of my complexion were largely masked.  They also had some good interview footage with a local beekeeper, but none of my pics or collection. 

Here’s the text of the story, at the WGEM web site: http://www.wgem.com/News/index.php?ID=12186.

Saturday was “Canton in Bloom Day.”  I gave a talk on gardening with prairie plants.  I had 5 people show up, which was better than Canton Eagle Day.  Actually, there were an awful lot of people downtown in the park at the vendors.  Good thing I told Wanaree about it.  I guess she did well selling her jewelry.  There was a run first thing in the morning.  Stacey, Savannah and I all registered for the run, but none of us ran it.  We just wanted the T shirt.  It was supposed to be made with the logo I designed.  But 4-color printing was too expensive, so they redrew it. 

I picked up Savannah and came back to the park.  Some new plants had appeared, so I bought several.  We went home and I planted them: stonecrops and purple coneflowers.  In the afternoon I went out for a tour of the organic apple orchard.  I was the only one that showed up, so it was a private tour.  I know the guy anyway.  It was pretty neat.  He has a lot of prairie and wildlife. 


An unknown skipper.


The Eight-Spotted Forester – Alypia octomaculata, a day-flying moth.



There was a photo contest this day, flowers being the subject.  This is the best one I got.

That night I mowed the lawn for the first time of the year.  Such a thrill.

Sunday was for turkey hunting.  I arrived later than last time, but it didn’t matter.  Nothing was gobbling.  After I got the blind and everything set up, I heard one gobbling off to the south.  I’ve never gotten one to cross the road.  I settled in for periodic calling, reading and photography.  Reading Mark Twain is a hazard while hunting because you never know when you’ll burst out laughing.  One passage that got me was a purifying bath in India in “leper pus that a microbe could not survive.”  I did have a deer stop by early on.  He got suspicious and ran off.  He’s a young buck in velvet, but from the size of those bosses, he could have quite a rack by next fall.  My whitetail expert thinks he’s 3 years old.



Later I had a hen turkey come by, but she didn’t come out of the woods.  I got rare looks but poor photos of a hermit thrush and Eastern towhee. 


Here’s the hermit thrush anyway.

I gave it up at 9.  Lowell and I started by planting 50 bushes: silky dogwoods, nannyberries, chokecherries, Eastern red cedar and something else.  We fished one round of the lake, but the wind was so bad he had a hard time controlling the boat.  I caught a bunch of small bass.  Stacey called while I had one on.  I should have landed it first, but I answered the phone instead.  The fish got off, but it was a small one anyway.  Then we toured around the other ponds on the place.  In the first, we caught nothing.  In the second, I caught a small bass.  In the third, which is the catfish pond, I cast my spinner into the shallow end near the weedline.  I saw the fish erupt and take my bait.  I reeled in the bass, which measured 21 inches.  It could be the biggest one I catch all year, but I hope not.



After that I caught two 17-inchers from the same area, for a total of 11 on the day, plus a crappie.  Savannah called while I was getting one of the big ‘uns out of the net.  Darn cell phones!  Lowell caught a bluegill and a catfish, so we had good species diversity.  My total was about 15.


I saw this forlorn turkey vulture perched on an old silo and dealing with a driving wind on my way out.

I took my freshman class out Monday for a tree walk.  Because of
the frost we had a couple of weeks ago, many of the trees are not leafed out yet.  We still got 15 species.  At home I moved the rabbit fence so I can begin the Prairie Reconstruction Project Phase II.

April 13

Tuesday Savannah had a track meet.  It was cold and rainy.  It’s been raining a lot lately.  She must have been cold because she ran in the team warm-up suit that she hates.  Detecting the signs of hypothermia in a teammate, she went into lifeguard mode!  They got the girl warmed up, and her lips went from blue to normal again.  She got an application for a lifeguarding job this summer.  With luck, she’ll be gainfully employed and staying out of trouble.
Wednesday afternoon I went to the Jade Orchid after my lab to photograph Wanaree’s art.  She has to have some good shots of her work to get into the Midsummer Arts Fair in Quincy.   Good thing I brought my camera stand from work.  It was ideal for shooting the jewelry.  The bigger stuff was more challenging, at least in terms of getting a neutral background.  I later tweaked them in photoshop to get them optimized.   


She has a lot of these hand-made faeries.  ~3 inches tall.


She uses the natural grain of driftwood and burns images into it.


This is my favorite, with the koi coming out of the girl’s hair.  It’s about 6 feet tall.

Afterward we went to LoriLori’s, where she and Vince had made a Mexican dish that was, again, delicious.  Then we went to book club and watched a video. 
I got some prairie prickly pear from a friend at work.  I planted two in my prairie and gave the others to members of my prairie consortium. 
Friday I did an observation and midterm evaluation of my student teacher.  She’s awesome, so that makes it easy for me.  I stopped by to sign our tax forms.  For the first time in ages, we will get some money back.  I dropped off the disk with the tweaked photos at the Jade Orchid, then stopped at the pet store for crickets and pinkies.  Then I had a meeting on Main Campus that went a little long, but it wasn’t bad.  On the drive home a turkey flew across the road and barely cleared the roof of my car.  After I got home, I picked up one of my wood racks that had fallen down, cleaned the ashes out of the wood furnace, filled holes in the yard with dirt and seeded with grass.  I got the lawnmower started for the first time of the year, and did lots of odd jobs around the yard.
I have about 16 students unofficially signed up for my Galapagos class.  If everything goes according to plan, we take the trip next December.  Very exciting. 
Savannah had another track meet, again in the cold.  She’s been a little sick, and I guess at the end of her race she blacked out and fell down.   No damage, fortunately.  Apparently, she was running last in her event (800 m), but she has a good kick at the end, and passed two girls before the finish line.   She said, “If that race was run in reverse, I’d have a bronze medal.”  I think she was still suffering from hypoxia. 

Saturday did not begin well.  When I went to let the dogs out, Darby wouldn’t come out of her crate.  I took Kane out and returned for her.  After some coaxing, she got up and walked out.  While I was walking her to the kennel, she ran into the prairie fence and a pine tree.  I had no idea she was so blind.  Her tumor was twice the size as when I groomed her a couple of weeks ago, and she was walking very gingerly.  After a tearful family meeting, Savannah and I took her to the vet for an evaluation.  She had lost 15 pounds.  Her bones were sticking out all over.  The vet said he could give her something for the pain and to revive her appetite, but she was still going downhill.  She’s had other tumors for years that never grew so fast, but this one was now grapefruit sized.  She probably wouldn’t survive a surgery.  And so, with more tears, we decided to put her down.  I knew this day would come, but I didn’t want it to be today.  We figured it was better than waiting until she was in greater pain.  We hugged her, petted her, and scratched all her favorite places before saying goodbye. 
Darby was the last of my Mom’s poodles left in the family–sort of a Last of the Mohicans, if you will.  She was a good hunting dog, well trained, with a good nose, though strong-willed.  When she (and I) were younger, we did a lot of hunting.  I think we hunted her over doves, quail, chukar, pheasants, ducks and geese.  She was great for everything, though she didn’t like to swim in cold water.  She also had a rule for small birds such as doves and quail: Darby gets to eat the first one.  She would, too, if you didn’t get to her fast enough.  She loved to kill opossums.  I wanted to get her one more before she went, but never had the opportunity.  She tangled with a couple of raccoons, but never killed one.  She treed one that I shot, so I guess that counts.  She hunted as recently as last year, on a couple of quail hunts.  Here are some old photos from younger days.


I don’t recall anymore where we shot this duck.


This awesome day I remember clearly, as Rick Anderson and I killed both pheasants and ducks, including a pintail.  Darby, though very young, was critical in finding the ducks.


Here you can see her impressive nose.  She also had a stubby tail that was so thick you could nearly pick her up with it.

She was an affectionate dog that would climb in your lap if you let her, and give you dog kisses to wet your whole face with dog spit.  I got a kick out of having the only hunting poodle around, and also of disabusing people of the notion that all poodles were prissy or yappy little things.  Darby was a big, dominant dog who never backed down from anything.  People love their dogs for just being their pets, but when a dog actually does work for you, the relationship goes to another level.  At least she got to live a long, full life, unlike her predecessor Cassie.  Back when I was an outdoor writer, Darby provided material for many of my columns.  This was one of my favorites.

The Velcro Dog

I have heard that a person invented Velcro after observing how certain plant seed dispersal agents (burrs) adhered to his clothing. This observation led to the hook-and-loop design that is used in Velcro and generic brands. The invention led to many practical applications that have benefited humankind, such as dressing up in a Velcro suit (the loop stuff) and jumping against a Velcro wall (the hook stuff), as seen widely on the David Letterman show, and in allowing exotic dancers to quickly and dramatically whip off their clothing.
Unfortunately, the hook-and-loop effect has many drawbacks. Consider an animal bred to have ever-growing, dense, curly hair. It makes for a good water retriever, but it also looks great and makes the dog a very popular show breed, so that even on a continent where it is a relative newcomer, it sells like crazy. Now, the vegetation on this new continent is quite unlike that on the old one, having numerous cutting, scratching, and stabbing things in it, and a grotesque overabundance of burr-type seeds. I can think of four different types of burrs in this area alone, and they all raise havoc with the dog in question, which is, of course, the poodle.
This dog breed has many fine attributes to recommend it, as I have mentioned above and expounded previously in this space. One of them is not, however, compatibility with our native flora. On a recent outing for upland birds I spent about an hour in the field with my st
andard poodle, Darby, and my wife’s golden retriever, Kane. During a walk around the perimeter of a corn field I noticed that Darby was collecting a few cockleburs on her back. Occasionally, she’d stop and roll in the grass, I assumed in an effort to remove the burrs. As more and more burrs collected, she became more and more bothered by them. Instead of running ahead, she would stop periodically to chew out a burr or two, then run twenty yards and stop again.
When we arrived home (after seeing no birds) I set about pulling burrs from curly black hair. Shortly after I had begun, I realized that part of the reason she had been rolling in the grass was to collect the special scent of something that had died a long time ago. Nonetheless, I persevered, and one hundred-eighty burrs later, I was done. That does not include a few I pulled off in the field, and the many she pulled off herself. Kane had three.
Last year at Sand Ridge State Forest’s put-and-take pheasant hunt Darby suddenly stopped hunting and walked slowly behind me. It took a while to figure out that she had collected sand burrs in the hair between the pads of her feet. Sand burrs have very pointed spines that hurt badly, even for the person pulling them out. I have obtained a set of leather boots for her which should prevent that problem this year. But cockleburs have no obvious cure. I suppose I could shave her down really close to the skin, but then she’d probably get really cold and look like a black greyhound.
Maybe I could make her unique coat work for me if I could get her on Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks” and have her jump against a Velcro wall to see if she’d stick.

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I recently read that the top two most dangerous jobs are fishing and logging.  So Sunday I went out to Lowell’s for more…fishing and logging.  We started with the logging, first rearranging some racks, then felling some trees.  It’s hard to hear with earplugs in and the chainsaw running.  I accidentally cut down a tree that Lowell wanted to keep.  D’oh!  Guess we need to develop some hand signals. 
We made one round of the lake, and the bite was hot.  The bass are getting somewhat bigger out there.  Our culling efforts must be working.  We culled some more.  We took a hot lunch in town, then went back to look for mushrooms.  I found a rotten one, so we may be too late already.  We took two more rounds of the lake, but the fishing had slowed down.  We listened to the Cardinals beat the stuffing out of the Brewers on the radio.  I filleted the culls.
 
Tree swallows have returned.  They have nested in this box on the lake every year.


Count the turtles!  All out sunning.

They all looked like painted turtles to me.


Mother goose got off her nest for a drink of water and preening.  I counted at least seven eggs.

Monday morning I got up at the ungodly hour of 4:45 a.m. for one of the few things that will so motivate me: opening day of spring turkey season.  My plan this year was to shoot a gobbler with Lowell’s Thompson Contender (using a .410 barrel) and to have my camera set up to photograph the bird and possibly capture it on video.  This effort involved hauling a lot of stuff.  I walked all over Lowell’s, but there were no birds gobbling on the place.  I set up the blind in my favorite meadow and started calling.  There were turkeys gobbling on the neighboring properties.  I thought I might have had one working…until I heard a shot from that direction about 7:15.  It was pretty boring until 8:30 or so, when I heard a gobble closer by.  I called to this bird repeatedly, and sometimes its gobble was accompanied by a funny cackling and squawking.  I began matching the cackling of the second bird, and it eventually came across the fence.  Right away I could tell it was only a jake (immature male), as it wasn’t gobbling or strutting.  As it approached, I could see its tiny sprig of a beard.  Legally, I could have shot it, but thought it better to leave him until next year.  Instead, I shot him dozens of time with the camera.  He certainly got close enough.

  
15 yards away–doesn’t suspect a thing.      Don’t look over your shoulder, the danger is in front of you.

After he got tired of the unresponsive decoy, he walked off.  The gobbler stopped gobbling, so I gave up and went home.  I took a brief nap and made it to the office easily in time for my 12:20 class.  I gave a quiz, and everyone scored 100%.  That’s a first.  I had a blessedly brief afternoon lab, then a meeting, then home.  Very tired. 

April 4

Monday after work we took Kelly Cat to the vet, who lanced and drained her abscess of its large volume of smelly pus.  What fun. 

Wednesday I took my class to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center.  It’s about the only chance we have to see any owls.
 
An eastern screech owl fits in your palm, weighs 1/4 pound.   Great horned owl is MUCH bigger.


This red-tailed hawk was in an outdoor enclosure.

After that we went to a park where I had seen a red-tail land in its nest the day before.

The nest looks small, but it’s not.  The tree must be 60′ high.

While we were there I noticed some mutant white violets.

 
White color morph (left).  Violet color morph (right).

The segment of the Tonight Show I saw taped in Las Vegas aired Wednesday night.  The first bimbo you saw Jay Leno interview was the one.

Thursday afternoon I took one of my students out to put up raptor nest platforms at Lowell’s.  Here’s the first one we put up.

It’s only 15′ off the ground, but the artsy angle makes it look higher.  We’re recycling old satellite dishes, of which there are many in excess of these days.

Lowell wanted to put one down by the lake in case an osprey wanted to use it.  I said, “Ha!  What are the odds of that?”  As we were driving to the second site we saw an actual osprey flying over the lake.  Then, as we were putting up the one by the lake, it flew right over us and looked down.


Dutchman’s breeches were in bloom.



Little spring beauties were too.


The snake den had no snakes, but housed this cute cluster of camel crickets.

My British radio interview has been moved to May 21.  Adjust your calendar accordingly.

Friday morning right after Stacey got up her pager went off.  She went to fight a fire.  It turned out that a garbage truck, or its contents rather, had caught on fire.  So the driver dumped his load in an empty lot.  Stacey went to put out a big pile of burning trash.  Boy, did she smell great after that.  I drove out north of town to look for ducks in the flooded fields.  The river is very high with all the recent rain.  There were some ducks, but too far away for decent shots.  I ended up at Rose Pond, where I haven’t been for a couple of years.  You have to park by the road and hike in.  It was windy and cold; by the time I got to the pond, my ears were frozen.  I have never failed to see waterfowl on this pond before, but there were none this day.  I walked back. 

Saturday was one for cutting wood.  I cut two pick-up loads, cursing all the while at my chainsaw for failure to idle and frequent chain jumping.  After I was done I took it down to George for a tune-up.  With one pull of the rope he told me it was shot.  No compression.  I guess while the saw was wearing me out, I was wearing it out too.  His advice was to buy the best saw I could afford, and use premium gas.  I helped him work on an old John Deere mower awhile.  I stopped by the brush dump to clean the bark and stuff out of the back of the truck.  Naturally, I picked up some goodies: a nice 4×4′ piece of plywood, a 2×10, and a bunch of bricks. 

After a long stretch of unseasonably high temperatures, things suddenly turned cold, starting about on Wednesday.  I cranked up the wood furnace on Thursday night, though I though I was done for the season.  I still had some seasoned wood left.  The worst part of this cold snap (19 degrees F this morning) is that all the plants that were coming up and even blooming have been frost bitten.  Our tulips are curled over and looking very sad. 

Sunday was a recovery day.  I went to meditation, then to the office to feed fish and water plants.  I got cool stuff in my Easter basket, like fishing flies, a bird book, and a carry bag.

Monday (today) I went downtown and got the truck tire fixed.  Turns out it had a hole in it.  I went to Lowell’s for a fun morning of logging.  First, we relieved the only wild redbud tree in Lowell’s woods of two trees that had fallen on it.  One was good for firewood, and we chopped it up–using Lowell’s chainsaw, of course.  We went to one section of the woods where the forester had marked trees to cut, and we cut.  We felled a bunch, but by no means all of them.  For a few, we used the tractor to more carefully aid and aim their fall.  I limbed them out, and we pulled the logs out with the tractor and a chain.  We had about six logs in one load.  I watched Lowell pull away, and three logs fell out pretty quickly.  Then two more.  Then the last few before he got halfway back to the shed.  I was cracking up.  Finally, he noticed that he wasn’t pulling a load anymore.  I chained them back up and we took them out.  After lunch, we set up a new rack with some steel fence posts and some long skinny logs to keep the firewood off the ground.  We chopped up the logs and stacked the resulting wood.  Then it was fishing time!  We went around the lake twice.  Things started off slowly, but the bass started hitting my black spinner eventually.  The bite was hot for awhile, and I ended up with 13 fish, the largest of which was 14″.  We kept all the small ones to thin the herd, and I filleted them.  The mother goose was on her nest platform in the middle of the lake, peering at us periodically.  No photos this day.

The Monster

The following is the story Savannah wrote for the Young Writers Conference contest.  It was written at one 50- minute sitting.  It took first place.

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   My Mom broke the news to me that morning.  We were going to a dinner party.  Oh, boy.  Not my favorite thing to do in the world, but, oh well, I guess I would survive.
   The party was in the afternoon, and it was in Quincy.  When we arrived I discovered I had some friends there, so we played and had a wonderful time.  The grass was green, birds were chirping, and there was a delicious aroma of hot dogs in the air.  
   All was going very well until it lightly started to sprinkle.  My mother and I both wanted to go back home to beat the storm.  I’m pretty sure my Dad didn’t want to argue with two women, so we decided to leave.  
   While driving home, my dad noticed an odd looking cloud.  It was very interesting because it looked as if it was falling towards Earth.
   As we stared at the cloud, it began to swirl on one side.  It began to swirl faster and faster until it was a ravishing tornado, screaming down the highway after us.
   Just as I was shutting the door to my house, the tornado was right across the street from my yard.  It was making a horrible sound, as if it wanted to destroy everything in its path.
   My family ran to our basement and into a room.  We sat on a couch in total darkness as the tornado destroyed everything outside.  It was so loud and scary I thought it would never end, but in reality it was only a couple minutes long.
   Suddenly, there was absolute silence.  We wandered out into the basement to take a look outside.  Everything was gone.  Trees were fallen, signs were scattered, and there was no sign of life anywhere to be seen.
   My Mom gently whispered in my ear as she hugged me tight, “Everything will be OK.”  And in my heart I knew.  I knew one day things would go back.  I knew my fear would leave.  I knew birds would sing and flowers would bloom just as before.  It would take time.  And I was wiling to give it the time it needed.  Healing of the people, healing of houses and streets, and healing of our hearts, always takes time.


(c)2007 Savannah Coelho

Viva, Las Vegas!

Thursday I prepared to go to a National Conference.  I was late getting out the door, and had to go back and put the garbage out, and then fetch my coffee.  I hadn’t gone too far before I spilled the coffee on my white shirt.  As soon as I got to QU I took a shirt out of my suitcase and changed right there in the parking lot.  There were a bunch of teachers going on this trip that I didn’t know, so I’m sure I made a great first impression.  Never mind.  I entertained them with stories of tarantulas and cane toads all the way to the airport in St Louis.  I was so comfortable that on take-off I leaned back and went to sleep.  When I woke up it seemed that the plane was spinning.  Fortunately (sort of), that was all in my head.  I closed my eyes and tried to equilibrate my ears.  It cleared up after awhile, but I still felt queasy most of the way.  We got a shuttle at the airport and took 1.5 hours to get to our hotel, the Riviera, about 5 miles away.  I could have gone faster on a bicycle, even with the luggage.   Bumper-to-bumper traffic is the rule on The Strip.   After checking into the hotel and registering for the conference, I got my brother Mark on the phone.  He was down there working on his rental house.   With the traffic, it was faster for me to run down the Strip and find his car than to wait for him to pick me up.  We parked at a casino and walked around…about 5 miles.  A memorable thing at Caesars was the garden of giant birds and bugs made of flowers.  There was a little butterfly house there too.  This was all right next to the bar with the nude lady dancing behind a backlit screen.  Silhouettes only!

Friday I went to various talks, and later went out with Mark again.  I met his in-laws, who live down there.  Very nice people.  They fed me well, and we went on a walk in a neighborhood park.  In an incredibly wise move, the park was planted in native vegetation.  Many of the cacti were in bloom.  We saw jackrabbits and many cottontails, who benefit from the bread and vegetables people bring them.  There were also many antelope ground squirrels, which I hadn’t seen in a long time.  A black-chinned hummingbird was a similar treat.  We went to the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka” at the MGM.  It was amazing, and largely indescribable.  There was a lot of martial arts, which I always like.  The stage was about the size of a tennis court, and it was lifted and rotated in every possible way, and noiselessly.  As we were driving back to the Riviera, a guy in a bicycle crashed into the side of our car, or rather Larry’s car.  That’s Mark’s father-in-law.  Fortunately, there wasn’t a scratch in the side of the Volvo.  He kind of hooked his handlebars on the mirror.  Then he waved like he was OK and sped off.  What about the car?

Saturday: more meetings!  Again, I spent the latter part of the day with Mark, roaming the other end of the Strip.  We saw the aquarium at Mandalay Bay (cool, but overpriced), and had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.  I was going to take the bus back to the Riviera, but traffic was not moving.  The distance was daunting, but I knew I had the next day to rest my feet.  I hit some gift shops, and saw some modern-day mime equivalents perform on the street.  As I walked up to the Eiffel Tower, I saw some lights and a small crowd gathering on a street corner.  I got pretty close, and saw Jay Leno interviewing a young woman for the “Jaywalking” segment he always does.  It was the moment I most regretted not having a camera.  The assistants kept putting up little signs with “NO FLASH” on them.  If a flash went off, they shined a flashlight in the guy’s eyes and showed him the sign.  This was rather entertaining, as I couldn’t actually hear Jay talk.  I finally got tired of watching and walked on.  I ended up at Circus Circus, just in time to see The Flying Tunisianos.  They gave a standard, 10-minute trapeze act, and did a fine job of it.   I hit a few more gift shops before hitting the hay. 

Sunday morning we got up early and checked out.  Our shuttle was a bit late, which was somewhat unnerving.  Apparently, everyone was leaving Las Vegas at the same time.  The line to go through airport security was four people wide and a hundred yards long.  I said it reminded me of my youth on the cattle ranch.  I was just waiting for the squeeze chute to come down so I could be vaccinated, branded and castrated.  That might have been preferable to submitting to airport security.  We had a short hop to Salt Lake City, then the long haul to St. Louis.  I fell asleep on the second leg and again got that vertigo effect.  The ride was bumpy right before the landing, which didn’t help.  Another 20 minutes of that and I’d have needed the bag. 

It was good to be back home, though there obviously had been some weather in my absence.  One of our trash cans was full to the top with rainwater.  I learned some things on the trip.  I guess the best part was reconnecting with my brother, who I hadn’t seen in over two years, and then only for a couple of hours.  The next was that Vegas really IS Sin City.  Never go without a camera!  I did learn a lot about Professional Development Schools, which was what the conference was about.  I still did not find a talk that told me how to apply it in my course.  Guess that means I’ll have to go again next year, to Orlando.