This year will be remembered for hurricane and tropical storm-generated destruction on a scale that is hard for landlocked Minnesotans to imagine. We are hit by tornadoes with some regularity, and those who live or have businesses located in floodplains — like the Red River Valley in Northwest Minnesota, and the bluff country of the Southeast — are occasionally victims of flooding. But to our good fortune the loss and suffering we experience here are orders of magnitude less than U.S. coastal areas hit by hurricanes and tropical storms.
The New York Times may not be the first publication you think of as a source for Nature news. But some of Nature's wonders are so attention-grabbing that even a cosmopolitan news outlet can't ignore them. Take the sandhill crane, for instance. Each spring nearly a half million of them follow the Platte River north through Nebraska on their return from southern wintering grounds. Such an amazing concentration of a very unique creature can make news half a continent away, as it did in last Friday's edition of the New York Times.
"Timing is everything," or so we're often told. That pearl of wisdom is sometimes no less true for wild creatures than it is for humans. With the first week of March came temperatures soaring into the 50's in northern Minnesota, tempting one to leave the jacket on its hook when going out for the mail or bringing out the trash. Short pants were in evidence at school bus stops, though there are always a few young people who wear them — perhaps for shock value — even in mid-winter.
One of the most persistent themes of the last presidential election was criticism of government regulations. Regulations are issued by such federal agencies as the Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of the Interior and so on. Regulations can deal with things like who should receive overtime pay, how a business partnership should be taxed, or even rules for hunting or fishing in national parks or on national wildlife refuges.
When I was very young, feeding birds in winter was the essence of simplicity. It consisted of tearing into small pieces the crusty heels of bread loaves and tossing them out on the snow. If we were "wusses" and cut off the crusts of our peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwiches, these too were served to the house sparrows, jays and other backyard visitors.
It came as a very much-unwanted present just after Christmas when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that chronic wasting disease (CWD) had been found in two deer in a captive herd on a game farm in North Central Minnesota's Crow Wing County. CWD is a fatal disease of the brain and nervous system that attacks members of the deer family, including whitetail and mule deer, elk and moose. In its effects CWD is similar — actually related — to "mad cow disease" in cattle.
You might have a difficult time convincing a true perfectionist that "Perfect is the enemy of good." The fact that I readily accept this wisdom suggests that I'm not much of a perfectionist, an accusation for which there is ample evidence. My willingness to embrace the imperfect must have an effect on those around me, if one of the events of our Christmas holiday weekend is any indication.
The post-mortem or "mop-up" after the end of an angling or hunting season can be accompanied by a certain amount of melancholia; at least for a while. There are so many different things that outdoors lovers can do year-round in Minnesota that it's hard to feel sorry for anyone who lets post-season blues keep him down for long. Still, the end of a favorite season is not so unlike what we feel at the bon voyage of a good friend with whom we may not share company for many months to come.
Minnesotans have become all too familiar with what are known as "invasive species." Some are plants, like Eurasian watermilfoil, which can take over shallow water environments, choke out native vegetation and make navigation and recreational use next to impossible. Others are animals, like the nonnative zebra mussel, which consumes so many minute organisms that it can drastically alter a lake's food chain; to say nothing of their razor-sharp shells attaching by the many thousands to underwater surfaces, including docks, boat lifts, outboard motors, water intakes and more.
I'm a sucker for inspiring words. In a life where we can find plenty of cause to be disappointed and cynical, I'm always on the lookout for reasons to be hopeful and content. Words, spoken or written, sometimes point us in the direction of hope and contentment. I encountered a few such words while taking one of my frequent "strolls" around some favorite web sites. One of these destinations is the web site of the Duluth News-Tribune. I go there in part because the News gives lots of space to outdoors topics.