Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Ants and Me

Several years ago I happened upon a lady that had several funny looking bottles of red-colored water hanging from trees.  While speaking with her about a proposed building project I noted UFOs coming and going from the water jugs on a regular basis.  When I asked what those things were she answered, “They’re hummingbirds.”

Not being familiar with the little darting avian critters I was paying more attention to them than to my future client.  I became fascinated with their rapid returns to the feeders, and their continuous wing beats, which were just a blur, that held them in place while they drank.

When I finally arrived home I mentioned to my wife what I had seen during the day.  My wife likes it when I occasionally speak to her.  After my excited narration of the hummingbird escapades she was insistent that we purchase a feeder to possibly entice some of the little oversized bumble bees to our abode.  So it was that she ultimately spent my hard-earned money to buy a small glass jug that hung upside down to dispense sugar water for birds.

Almost immediately we discovered that ants like sugar water at least as much, and probably more, than do hummingbirds.  In less time than it takes to tell about it, we had an overload of ants crawling all over the feeder.  Apparently ants are more powerful than hummingbirds because when the ants were present the birds weren’t.  As my wife seemed to want to watch birds more than ants she asked me to do something about this situation.

As I had the feeder hanging on a porch rail where the little wifey could see it through her kitchen window a solution seemed practical and easy.  I sprayed the rail near the feeder with ant killer.  That should fix the little buggers.  It hardly slowed them down.  I believe they learned to hold their breath while they continued on their merry way.  Well, what now?

No ant is going to outsmart me.  I shopped around until I found some old-fashioned fly stickers.  I cut off pieces and placed them around the rail some 2” wide on both sides of the feeder hanger.  Let me see them get to that feeder now.  When I checked the next morning I got the surprise of my life.  The ants had pried the fly sticker material away from the rail, propped it up with twigs, and were waltzing through between the sticker and the rail like a small tunnel.  All I was doing was providing them a shady spot to rest occasionally.

After doing some on-line research I found others had this same problem.  Some enterprising person was manufacturing a little water tub with a vertical string right through it.  By attaching this to the rail, and suspending the feeder from it, no ants could get across the water barrier.  When I checked the following morning an ant was there apparently giving swimming lessons.  I smacked him.

The next morning I approached sure that I would find a nice clean antless feeder.  No such luck.  When I got there little ants with hard hats were crawling all over it.  Some were carrying toothpicks.  Some had glue.  They were building a bridge across the moat.

Anyone want to buy a practically new hummingbird feeder?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Argentia, Newfoundland

The United States Navy, in January of 1958, decided I should go to a most wonderful place (not) named Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada.  I understood them to say the weather would be tropical, but I guess what they really said was topical.

I found there is a world (or at least a major part of it) of difference in these two terms.  With tropical weather you sometimes get terrible winds with massive amounts of moisture called hurricanes.  With topical weather, especially so in January, you sometimes get terrible winds with massive amounts of moisture also, but they call them blizzards.  The moisture is in a different form known as snow.

So it was that three P2V5F aircraft from Patrol Squadron Eight (Patron 8 or VP 8) revved up their engines in Quonset Point, Rhode Island and ultimately landed in Argentia.  As part of a ground maintenance crew I climbed aboard a troop transport which had a fuel stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but it also safely arrived in Argentia the same day.  What a rude awakening.  My first impression of this place was desolation, utter and complete.  After taking a second, and then a third observation, I yet came to the same conclusion.  There was nothing here, but wind, cold, snow, and bleakness, and this from a farm boy raised in the very north of New York State that knew what winter was all about, or at least thought he did.

After settling into our barracks, such as the drafty clapboard covered buildings were, we—did nothing.  There was nothing to do.  Our three aircraft were all serviced and ready to go with no need for maintenance of any kind.  We were told to stay in the barracks, and we would be called upon when our individual specialties were required.  Like where were we going to go anyway?

Although it is now 56 years later, I don’t recall there being any television to watch to pass the time.  A poker game was started that hardly ever let up for the 6 months I ultimately spent in this wonderful utopia.  Once in a while a crap game might get started just to break the monotony.

There was practically nothing on earth any more boring than standing a watch in the duty office from 0200-0600 in an empty hangar.  The only two items to watch were the teletype machine and the telephone.  Neither was likely to activate during those hours unless someone as bored as yourself from Gander or Thule or some other place no one ever heard of rattled up the teletype asking for the latest ballgame scores or some other dire needed statistic.

I recall a few isolated events that can better be handled as individual entries on this medium.  Watch for stories about “Liberty in St Johns,” and another about “The Crap Game.”

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Maple In The Lane

When I was a child of 4 or 5 years of age, in the early 1940s, my brothers and myself often played in a maple tree.  It was located in the lane that the cattle used to get from the barn to the pasture, making the round trip twice a day, every day from early May to September.  The maple was on a slight rise of land, hardly able to be called a hill, some 500 feet from our home.
There were days when it served as a fort we managed to save from marauding enemies endlessly.  On other occasions it reverted to a pirate ship sailing in uncharted waters without ever leaving its rooted position.  Whenever it was used, as well as for its primary purpose of the day, it also served as a climbing experience, a sibling gathering area, a picnic table when we could argue ma into letting us eat there, and an island of safety from all of the evils of life.
That old tree was always there as a reminder of permanence in a changing world.  When someone bullied you in school during the day comfort could be found among its branches.  When it was hot the leaves provided a certain amount of cooling shade.  When it rained, for at least a short period, it sheltered one from the drops.
Today I am some 70 years older than I was in those mostly carefree days, but that tree is yet right where it was, having grown another generation after my own.  Like myself, the branches are a bit barer these days.  Those that remain are fewer, but they do remain.  I think if you look carefully you can locate a smile among the tattered growth as it stands awaiting still another generation to provide solace. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Alexander Macomb

After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, in 1791, Alexander Macomb (1748-1831) purchased nearly 4,000,000 acres of land in northern New York.  Modern day St. Lawrence County was entirely in that tract of land.  Alexander and his wife Mary Catherine Navarre built a house on Broadway in New York City in 1788 which was leased to the United States in 1790 and was the domicile of George Washington.  They had a large family which included namesake Alexander Macomb born in 1782.  The son became the Commanding General of the United States Army in 1828 until his death in 1841.  He built a home in Belleville, Essex County, New Jersey shown here.