Welcome back to Magnetic North where winged critters, both wondrous and wicked now trump the weather for the number one topic of conversation in the grocery aisles and at the early morning “roundtable” at the Bluewater Cafe.
First, let us dispense with dissing the biting buggies: the no-see-ums, the mosquitoes, the ticks-both wood and deer varieties-and last but not least despised, the bane of all hikers, gardeners and bare legs and arms, Cook County's most reviled summer bug, the black fly.
Now, some will spoil a good black fly rant by protesting that the bloodsucking, welt-raising no-goodnicks redeem themselves by “pollinating the wild blueberry bushes.” Frankly, this does not impress me. Even if it is true. Which I doubt.
I am of the opinion shared by my friend Robin Johnson, who owns Johnson Foods grocery along with her husband Mark, that black flies are true spawns of the devil. In fact, I am told that when a visiting victim of numerous black fly bites asked Robin where our black flies go in the winter, my friend hesitated not a nanosecond before declaring, "back to hell.”
I like that.
These and all other winged and crawling outlaws are thwarted with massive doses of bug dope, full-head nets or simply staying indoors. Our pets, dogs mostly, can also have a chemical repellant rubbed into their hides monthly. Mainly to deter ticks. This year, however, the tick population is huge. The harsh winter was apparently good for them.
And so, my two retrievers carried ticks inside on their ears and backs within days of being slathered with bug dope.
Naturally, my answer to that problem was not to buy more dope - but to acquire nature’s natural tick consumer, four guinea hens. Ticks are to guineas what potato chips are to us. One is not an option.
Ergo, four guinea chicks are now ensconced in my bathroom. A heat lamp warms their big cardboard brooder and even though only two weeks old, they are already sounding their earsplitting trill the second they sense something is amiss. Which is about every ten seconds.
Imagine, a security system and tick disposer all for the price of a burger, fries and a malt. What a deal.
The one threat that the guineas won’t be able to ward off, however is four-legged. Of late, a fox - probably a vixen with kits to feed - has been crossing the meadow twice daily, then gambling up my driveway, the better to see if my chickens and ducks are out. They are not, since after I first saw the fox approach I have kept my ducks and chickens in their run. Sad for them and me.
Lamenting this sorry state to my friend, Tim White, he came up with a most ingenious and charming solution. Tim told me to feed the fox, rather than trap her or set my dogs on her. He claims this was a trick established by none other than St. Francis of Assisi. Legend has it that the good saint once visited a town, Gubbrio, where a ravenous wolf regularly devoured both livestock and townspeople. Even armed vigilantes were torn apart and vanquished by the beast. Hearing this, St. Francis offered to tame the wolf. “Sei pazzo?” (Italian for “are you crazy?”) the townspeople asked the saint.
But no, the good saint was not crazy. He just got along better with animals than most folks. So, he strode off into the woods, met the wolf, who charged him, jaws agape and teeth bared. Within seconds, however, the creature lay at the good saints feet like the tamest pet dog.
What the saint said or did to achieve this miracle is the stuff of legend, but this legend has a bigger point to make.
St. Francis then insisted that the wolf’s crimes against the people of Gubbrio be forgiven, and challenged the wolf, in turn, to never again harm the people, as they would never try to harm him. NICE, but the real capper is that St. Francis convinced the people to feed the wolf, as a sign of their peace pact.
And so they did. The wolf made his daily rounds, getting a bit of food at every door, until years later he died, fat and happy. His presence had so inspired the village that his death was actually mourned so they erected a statue to his memory: The memory of what forgiveness and the power of peaceful coexistence can bring to all creatures,
Fast forward to today and my daily fox visits. Much as I like the Wolf of Gubbrio story, heaven knows I am no saint and I love my ducks and chickens too much to tempt the Creator with a modern day miracle. So.....I set my big black dog Jethro on the little redhead one day. Heard him harooing through the woods on her trail for a good five minutes.
And even though I would bet that she eluded him, I have not seen her since. Not exactly an inspiring conclusion, but satisfying nonetheless.
The only miracle I can remember taking place on my farm is perhaps the presence of a solitary sandhill crane in my meadow late in May. The lanky bird with the distinctive russet-colored topknot set down near the cattail swamp, sunning him or herself a bit, then gave forth with a raucous hooting call. Probably to a lost traveling companion. When none answered or flew in, the great bird left, gifting me with a great in-flight photo. It’s up on the WTIP web site this week.
And how could I forget the miracle of ten darling little black frizzle bantam chicks darting about the rabbit room. Or the nearly hatched ducklings and chickens out in the coop? True blessings, no matter the mess or expense. But then, blessings nearly always come with those, don’t they?
And so we come full circle to the blueberry-black fly bargain. I guess as the saying goes, there’s just no such thing as a free lunch, or baby bird or, darn it all, a wild and luscious blueberry.