Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Duclair Ducks

Near my residence is a pond covering possibly five acres of a former swamp.  It has been created by a family of beavers over the past few years.  At first they formed a dam along and across a farm road that crossed a small creek outlet from the swampy area.  As the farmer needed to use his road he removed the section of the dam crossing his path.  This photo is the pond as it originally was.
The beavers promptly built a new dam a few feet downstream from the former one.  This, of course, flooded the farmer’s road completely.  The farmer destroyed that.  The beaver built it back higher and stronger.  The farmer then built the farm road up some four feet higher, installing a 30” and a 12” diameter sluice pipe under the road.  In addition, the farmer, not to be outwitted by a stupid beaver family, brought in a bulldozer and destroyed all of the trees surrounding the swamp, effectively taking away the beaver’s food supply.
The beavers plugged the pond end of the pipes causing the water level to rise creating a larger pond extending further back into the swampy area where there were more trees.  However, this also caused the pond to widen into the farmer’s fields on both sides of the swamp.
The farmer, not wanting to cede his newly bulldozed pond surroundings to the beavers, brought in a backhoe and removed the pipe plugs.  The water level began rapidly dropping.  The beaver family replaced the plugs the first night.  That brings us to the present.  As the spring rainy season has already passed, the pond is very slow to completely refill to its former level so the extra size of the pond has not fully returned as of yet.
On a recent observatory trip that I made I spotted these ducks swimming in the small portion of the farmer’s field yet covered with water.  Having never seen any ducks like these before this I knew not what they were.  I rapidly took photos of them.  My son asked several of his duck hunter friends what they were, but none knew.  Someone thought they might be someone else’s escaped tame ducks.  Under the circumstances I placed a photo of them on facebook.  My college student grandniece, Janna, informed me they were Duclair Ducks.
I yet didn’t know what they really were so I, of course, Googled the term.  There are many sites referring to them.  It seems they are a cross between Mallards and tame ducks that have been developed in the Normandy area of France.  I added this photo for the benefit of anyone else that may never have heard of them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pond Life

About a half mile from my home there is a pond created by a beaver family.  Whether this is good or bad depends on who or what is making the decision.  Obviously the beaver must think it is good, or they wouldn't maintain the pond.  Nearly as obvious is the aversion the farm owner, upon who's land the pond occupies, has to the beaver and the pond.  I tend to make no decisions as to worth or value of this pond, I merely observe.

As well as the beaver that this pond provides their choice of home for, there are a number of other forms of wildlife that use it, rent-free.  The beaver do all of the work and the other dwellers equally enjoy the result.  So much for fairness in the animal world.

The above photo depicts one of several muskrat family members that also live in the pond.  This is an adult taking food to his family.  You can note the green shoots of grass or reeds in his mouth as it propels itself homeward mainly with the use of its tail to a den in the pond bank where a litter of young awaits its return.

As well as these mammals there is also a family of ducks of some sort.  I've only spotted them from a distance so am unaware yet as to their species.  In addition to those is a pair of canadian geese that are contemplating a hatching any day now.  Common frogs, bullfrogs, turtles, several songbird families abound, as well as the occasional visit from a raccoon, skunk, porcupine, or other small animal all occur.  Often in the evening whitetail deer come to drink.

Where other humans seldom intrude I find solitude and take comfort in watching our animal friends in their natural habitat.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A CJ 2A Jeep

During WW II the military was searching for a small vehicle that had no specific purpose, but could and would be used for anything and everything short of flying.  After design work and testing a ¼ ton four-wheel-drive vehicle was selected for manufacture by the Willys Company.  As it was an improved model from the original concept it was labeled MB for Military B model.  Well over half a million of these were produced and used during the war.
After WW II came to a close Willys decided to build a model for the general public.  They thought of it as a general use farm vehicle, and it thus was outfitted with various extras, such as a power take off shaft, for that purpose.  As opposed to the MB military version this one was labeled CJ for Civilian Jeep, starting with model CJ 1, and progressing from there.
In 1968 searching for a vehicle, in my price range, suitable for rabbit hunting, I located a 1949 model CJ 2A that was more or less all together.  It started and ran fine but the front differential had stripped gears and an axle was broken.  In two wheel drive it was fine.  Not being a real perfectionist, yet wanting to get full usage from my Jeep, I located a 1950 Jeep with an intact differential, but with no axles in it.  Not to worry, the gentleman I purchased it from threw in a 1951 front end with a no-good differential, but the axles were just like new.
So, like Johnny Cash and his “one piece at a time Cadillac,” I built me a 1949, 1950, 1951 Jeep.  Well, as I recall forty plus years later, the differential gears fit right in fine, but when it came to the axles that was a different matter.  Now I’m sort of mechanically inclined, but in a crude way.  No matter how I tried I couldn’t seem to fit that right front axle in where it belonged.  Ultimately I got it about 99 % in place, and then drove it in the final bit with a 12 pound sledge hammer.  Then it fit, sort of.  When I threw the proper levers it went into four-wheel-drive okay, and with another lever movement it would shift from low to high range, but was it ever a bear to steer that thing.  Obviously it didn’t have power steering, but it could have used it.  It must have been something to do with that axle installation method because it was fine prior to that, but never again did it steer normally thereafter.
I drove that thing for two more years that way though, and then sold it to a fellow rabbit hunter who was aware of its peculiar characteristics as we had hunted together on many occasions.  I moved several states away from Mississippi so never heard of it again, but maybe it’s still in use.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Alone In The World

While enlisted in the U S Navy during the late 1950s I knew a man that was unusually quiet and reserved in demeanor.  After having served four years in the Navy, my acquaintance (For ease of interpretation I’m going to call this man Joe.) had made the trying decision to reenlist for another four years.  However there was a slight problem.  He insisted that he wanted to take 90 days leave (vacation) at the time of his re-signing for the following four years.  At the time Navy regulations stated no one could ever take more than thirty days leave at one time.
A senior officer, with the authority to do so, offered to give him three consecutive 30 day leave periods, but this would have required that he report in twice during the 90 day period.  Joe insisted he wanted to take a 90 day unobstructed leave period.  If he could not do it then he was not going to reenlist.  Messages flew back and forth between our aviation squadron and the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D C, and after due process the 90 day leave was authorized by someone who had good sense.
There came a time when Joe was scheduled to sign his name, swear his allegiance, take his leave period, and return to the remainder of his four year reenlistment period.  I happened to be in the position of holding on to the special set of leave authorization papers.  Soon all of the reenlistment papers were signed, the proper swearing in ceremony was over, the smiling handshakes had been given and received, the photographers packed up their gear and left, and all that remained was for Joe to pick up his leave papers and go on his wonderful 90 day leave to whatever exotic location he had in mind.
I remained with his papers for a couple of hours, but Joe never came to get them.  I wondered what happened, so with heavy heart I phoned the barracks where Joe lived.  When he came on the line I asked if he didn’t know I held his papers that he could pick up any time he wanted to.  He told me he would be along shortly if I would only hold on to them.
Within a few minutes Joe appeared at my work space.  I handed over his special leave papers, and he tore them up in small pieces.  My lower jaw must have dropped a foot.  I said to Joe, “What are you doing?  That was your leave papers.”
Joe said, “Oh, I never wanted to take leave.  I only wanted to see if the Navy would honor my request for something special.  If they wouldn’t then I didn’t think I belonged here, but now I feel I do belong.  This is My Navy now.”
I said, “But Joe, won’t someone wonder why you’re not coming to visit?”
He said, “There is no one to wonder.  I have no family of any kind.  I never knew who my father was.  My mother is dead, and I have no siblings.  I have no cousins or other known kin of any sort.  I have no place to go.  I’ve never taken any leave since I joined the Navy four years ago, and I don’t want any now.”
I shook his hand and said, “Joe, I consider you my friend if you’re ever alone and need someone to talk to.”
Joe said, “The entire Navy is my family so I’m never alone, but thank you for caring.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Capturing A Woodchuck

It was a bright and sunshiny afternoon.  World War II was ongoing, but that had little effect on four young lads on a dairy farm in northern New York.  Bob was about 11 years of age, while Ron was around 9, Dell was 8, and I was about 6.
The hay had been removed from our ten-acre-meadow leaving just freshly mown stubble.  As the four of us roamed the farm looking for some trouble to find us, we spotted a woodchuck nibbling from the newer green shoots poking up among the yellowed shafts of the removed crop.  Engrossed in the new-found panorama surrounding it, the woodchuck without doubt had spotted us long before we laid eyes on it.  That had little deterrence on the four of us though.  Almost in unison we shouted with glee as we headed for the woodchuck sure that we could capture it for a nice pet.  In our minds it was as good as in some sort of a pen we would build for it.
Before we were half way to it, Mr. Woodchuck dropped down a convenient nearby hole and disappeared.  We had interrupted his afternoon meal, but accomplished little more than that.  As we stood around the hole in the small dirt pile surrounding it we contemplated our next move.  It was Ron that came up with the brilliant plan of filling the hole with water, which obviously would flood the woodchuck’s home forcing him to the surface where we would grab him.  It was as good as in a pen already.
Bob and Ron each found a pail, filled them with water at the hand pump, carried them about a tenth of a mile to the hole and dumped them in.  Little changed beyond a general dampness near the surface.  Back they raced to the pump for two more buckets full.  Down the hole went the water from the filled pails with approximately the same results as the first trip.  Dell and I were the designated watchers to make sure the woodchuck didn’t escape somehow while Bob and Ron were at the well.  With no visible effect from the action so far off they went after more water.  Sooner or later that hole had to fill.  After several more trips, each slower than the previous, Bob and Ron were getting tired so Dell and I were delegated to go after the next two pails full.  Being somewhat younger and smaller we of course took longer.  Bob and Ron seeing a good thing decided they were still tired so Dell and I returned for a second trip.  This took even longer than our first one, so things were pretty much slowing down.
I don’t remember now if it was Bob or Ron, but one or the other decided we should get our hand-made wagon, load two ten-gallon milk cans, fill them with water and dump them in.  Surely, that much water would get the desired effect.  After a couple of trips with that rig it was a general consensus we were gaining nothing so we gave it up, at least until the next day.
As we trudged slowly back to the house I turned, and I swear that woodchuck was holding his stomach and laughing back on the hill.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Cardiff Giant

If one was to go south from Syracuse, NY for a Sunday afternoon drive, in about a half hour they might come to the small village of Cardiff.  It was here on a brisk October 16, 1869 afternoon on the farm of William Newell, while digging a well, that Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols uncovered a petrified 10’ tall man.  At first they believed they had dug up an ancient Indian corpse, but it was soon decided that this petrified specimen was some sort of giant rather than a common man.
William Newell, knowing a good thing, set up a tent over the giant and charged admission for the wagonloads of curious people that arrived to view this wonder of the world.  Learned scholars pronounced the oddity a fake, but the droves of sightseers arrived steadily anyway.
The giant, whatever it was, was sold to a group that moved it into the much larger city of Syracuse where it again went on display, and continued to make money for the owners.  P. T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire, attempted to buy the petrified giant, but it was deemed not for sale even for the princely offer of $50,000.  Not to be outdone, Mr. Barnum surreptitiously made a copy of the giant, declared the original a fake, and displayed his own version in New York City, an obviously much larger market.  The Syracuse giant owners sued Barnum for calling their giant a fake, but ultimately the Judge decided it was not wrong to call a fake a fake, so Barnum won the case.
In the meantime a cousin of William Newell, named George Hull, admitted he had caused the giant to be manufactured by a Cleveland, Ohio German stone cutter Edward Burghardt, placed in the ground at Newell’s farm for a year, and then ‘discovered’ by the well diggers.  It was he that had sold the giant to the Syracuse group.
The Cardiff Giant, after residing in several other places, finally settled in Cooperstown, New York at the Farmer’s Museum, where it yet lies in state.  Barnum’s fake copy of the original fake resides in a museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan.