Meadowlark is alive. That was obvious from the moment we walked in the door.
April 10, 2019
Lots of people like the smorgasbord fashion of dining, at least occasionally. But another smorgasbord exists, and it’s all around us 24/7/365 & 1/4th. The menu varies with the season, but it occurs throughout our campus as well as our rural hills and valleys. Wild animals dine, without reservations, both night and day, and on an endless variety of goodies, depending upon the species—and time of year.
We soon will lose our summer umbrella of living shingles: the marvelous evolutionary development we call the green plant leaf. In addition to the leafs' essential process of photosynthesis, they offer shade to plants, animals, and soils in thousands of different ways.
But leaves, even on conifer trees, are temporary structures. For deciduous trees, we celebrate this ephemerality by looking forward to the change in leaf colors—our palette of fall--knowing full well that color change is related to leaf drop and death.
Most bird species migrate some with the seasons, but this migration pattern comes in different flavors. Consulting various authorities, I have identified eight flavors (variations), with the first being that many of the bird species that nest in our area just go south in the fall. I deal here with the seven other variations within which at least a few members of certain species overwinter in eastern KS. I gathered a list of ninety-plus bird species for which at least a few of each spend the winter with us. Not all of these species are mentioned here.
All through the fall, winter, and spring we on campus have been privileged to hear calls of both the barred and great horned owls. Both rank among the largest of owls in North America. Field guides usually describe their calls as follows: great horned owl, often referred to as the “ hoot” owl—four to six resonant hoots, with rhythms varying with the owl; barred owl—“hoo—hoo—boohoo,” That comes out as a slightly shrill and insistent “Who cooks for you?” The barred owl also sometimes calls during the day.
Let’s hope that most wild organisms survived the human-based wonder and chaos of December. What must they have thought when all manner of lighted globes and twinkling lights were strung here and there, when conifers became technicolor. Surely the creatures noticed that large groups of humans gathered in certain buildings, and large colorful windows glowed from lights within. Surely they noticed that instead of calling back and forth to each other, those inside made various strung-out group sounds.
I’m going to speak of a magnificent animal—also one of God’s creatures—that is a source of disdain for many of you: the eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger). The genus name, Sciurus, is related to their habit of “sitting in the shade of their tail” while resting or sunning on a horizontal limb. This squirrel ranges widely across the eastern United States, including all of Kansas. Yes, Meadowlark Hills also is blessed. The fox squirrel range touches western New England and extends somewhat beyond the 100th meridian in our West. Thus, these squirrels grace many woods, l
To quote Eli Sprenkle, fisheries biologist at Tuttle Creek State Park, “algae and blue-green algae are everywhere.” Including our Bayer Pond. Some would say the same for ticks and mosquitoes. Blue-green algae are now considered to be a form of bacteria (cyano-bacteria) possessing chlorophyll and capable of photosynthesis. Thus, like green algae, they, as a by-product of their photosynthesis, release oxygen back into air or water.
Horace Mann once famously remarked, “Go west, young man.” Several plant species do the same thing: their flower buds and flowers track the sun as it “moves across the sky.” And these flowers do it every day until the seeds developing within them begin to mature. Then they tend to remain facing some degree of east.
I suspect few people know that the various species of sumac plants have to their credit an especially long list of medicinal uses by Europeans in ages past, by American Indians, by our pioneers, and by early American physicians. Even the name “sumac” is thought to be of Arabian origin. We usually notice our sumac species—the smooth, or dwarf, sumac—only in late summer or early fall after its leaves and fruit have turned to that beautiful red. Unfortunately, I have space to mention only a smattering of the many ways the sumacs have been used medicinally throughout human history.
For many years, beginning in the late 1700s, a young woman or man in the Northern Hemisphere, hoping to increase the magic of that special date, might have applied a drop of “smell-good” that most likely contained some amount of an extract from the white verbena plant. This verbena, with lemon-scented flowers, a native of western South America, early on became one of the scents frequently used in the formulation of perfumes, colognes, and toilet waters.
2121 Meadowlark Road
Manhattan, KS 66502
March 8, 2019
March 8, 2019