Here and There
Pines, the price of birdseed, goatheads and amazing ants.
In early October, I drove up and took the road to Sheep Corral Canyon, which is north of Tadpole Ridge, north of Pinos Altos.
What I found in the canyon and the surrounding territory was shocking, to say the least: About 95% of all of the Ponderosa Pines are dying or in a stage of death. Their needles are brown and falling, and many of the still-live trees appear bare in many places.
I didn't see any pine cones hanging from those trees, either, nor did I spy even one tassle-eared squirrel, a critter that depends on the pine for both food and shelter.
Could a variation of the bark beetle be the culprit? I haven't a clue.
On another note, have you seen the high price of gasoline lately? It has caused me to cut the number of trips for outdoor pleasures down about 50%. A direct side issue of the gas prices is the high cost of just about everything, and in this case, I want to talk about the cost of birdseed.
Up until recently we bought all of our birdseed at Wally World. We always bought three varieties: a good quality 40-pound sack of name-brand seed, a 20-pound sack of black sunflower seed, and a 20-pound sack of generic seed. I would then mix the conglomeration together for Jeri to dish out.
But the cost of seeds had risen so high (we were spending $40-$65 a month) that we grudgingly decided to end feeding and take away the seed tray. For example, the generic seed used to cost a little over six bucks, but it now costs close to nine; that's almost a 50% increase!
I recently saw a statistic that gas cost $1.84 a gallon four years ago; now it is touching the $4 a gallon mark in Silver City!
We felt bad for the birds, squirrels and us, since they gave us many enjoyable hours. We regularly fed about 40 collared doves, a coupla mourning doves and whitewings, a couple dozen piñon jays, about two dozen Gambel's quail, some thrashers and phoebes and a myriad of smaller birds plus four ground squirrels.
Now, these critters had a preference of seeds; they loved the sunflowers first, then the quality seeds, then the generic when nothing else was left. But they always, always left a goodly portion of the generic on the tray come nightfall.
Then one day in early September we all got a reprieve: Tractor Supply came to town. I bought a 40-pound bag of generic seed and a 20-pound bag of sunflower seed and at home I mixed them up in the 50-gallon plastic trash can kept for just such.
Jeri distributed the seed on the feeder and in a second the first jays descended and began to chatter raucously and exuberantly! Soon others joined them with equally loud gusto and then came all others. Within a short time, virtually every kernel of food was gone! They love the stuff!
And we saved big bucks, to boot! The birds are saved!
On still another subject, we thought we had finally won the big three-year war against the goathead vines. This past winter I don't recall even one goathead hitchhiking on the pads of the dog's feet. What luxury to my own feet!
July's end and not a plant was visible in the back forty — we exalted in winning!
Then came the mid-August monsoons and within days there appeared a bazillion tiny plants, emerging from the duff that lay upon the surface of the soil. I wanted to burn the suckers like I did last year, but the Missus vetoed the idea; she wanted to pull them! Ugh!
To her credit, every evening after work she was out there on her hands and knees doing a section of the quarter-acre at a time. I even got down on all fours on several occasions to help fight.
By the end of September, there was nary a plant to be found. She was victorious. I did my part by single-handedly warring against the plants in the driveway — no small feat, either, because we have a biiiiig driveway!
Hopefully the war is over, but we won't really know until the monsoons come once again next summer.
By the way, did you know that the seed-head can lay dormant for up to seven years before germinating, and they don't all come to life with the first rain?
Lastly, on this diatribe, I have an inordinate interest in ants; I love to watch and study the tiny critters. I suppose that is because as a youth of 12 or 13 I once read a fictional piece about a colony of ants that were as big as humans, and could communicate with us and think like us. I believe my dim memory remembers that they existed either in Africa or Australia, but don't hold me to that. I just wish I could remember the title to that long-lost novel and find a copy today.
That book sparked me to buy an ant farm that existed in a glass aquarium that sat on the dining room table; I would watch it daily. Back then you could buy such truck along with a bunch of tiny turtles. I have no idea what happened to it. Did I just grow out of it as I became a teenager or did my mom finally throw it away?
I wonder if ant farms are still available; I know turtles aren't!
This brings me to the present. Every once in a while over the years I would come across a red/brown ant on the front porch. They are a large but inoffensive ant about three-eighths inch long, and I pretty much leave them to their own destiny. They never travel in groups, just as individuals.
Anyway, I have often searched for their nest but could never find it.
Then, in mid-September, I bought two of those recycled rubber dishes to become my water troughs down below the house, and because they are so pliable, I needed to find a solid, flat surface to set them on.
Near the troughs is the foundation of an old structure, put in long ago by a previous owner. All that is left are a row of two-inch-thick by 12-inch-square concrete steps, sunk into the ground and held by mortar.
I decided that they were perfect for the task and so I began to pry one loose from its resting place. Well, out streamed the big ants; their nest was under the slab! Because I liked these ant critters, I abandoned the dig and left the critters to themselves.
I moved down several feet and dislodged two other slabs that would work perfectly at the intended chore.
The incredible thing is, this nest is a good 30 yards from the front porch. That may seem inconsequential to you and me, but to an ant, that is half a day's journey. And mind you they must climb up and over everything or go around — no small feat, but after all, they are in such good shape, they can lift 52 times their weight!
Keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may The Forever God bless you too!