Search Site   
News Stories at a Glance
U of I economists weighing long-term farmland values
Multi-state research seeks to increase survivability for pigs
Shutdown funds lapse stokes fears about biofuel mandates
Ohioan named World Livestock Auctioneer Champion qualifier
Search Archive  
Signs of spring’s arrival are found throughout nature
Poor Will’s Almanack
By Bill Felker

March 27-April 2, 2006
The astronomical calendar for the first week of middle spring: The Tadpole Moon enters its second quarter at 7:01 a.m. on April 5 and Daylight Savings Time begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday, April 2. Jupiter rises in Libra well before 12 a.m. these days, crossing from east to west throughout the night. As Jupiter rises, Saturn will be moving west in Cancer, and, not far from Cancer, Mars will have left Taurus to enter Gemini. Venus shifts into Aquarius, keeping its position in the southeast before sunrise.

The April 2 high-pressure system initiates an 11-day period of unsettled weather, which brings an increased chance of Midwest tornadoes. Rain typically precedes this front, and flurries or even major accumulation of snow follow it, making April 3-5 some of the wettest and most turbulent days of the month’s first half. Although highs above 60 degrees become common in most of the nation during this period, frost continues to strike tender vegetables about one night in four.

Natural year
When you see the high canopy budding and greening, listen for wild turkeys to be gobbling. Keep an eye on tulips in the garden; they tell you that you’d better mow the lawn before it gets too long. Or if you have no tulips but are mowing the lawn anyway, the long grass will tell you that opossums and raccoons are giving birth in the woodlot and young goslings are hatching along the ponds and rivers.

When the pussy willow bushes get their leaves, meadowlarks and scarlet tanagers return for summer.

When daffodils are blooming, then you know maples are also blooming and that the rhubarb is up a few inches in the garden. When raspberry and rose bushes develop fresh leaves and wild onions are getting lanky, then bald eagle chicks are hatching and peregrine falcons lay their eggs.

When white magnolias are blooming in the Ohio valley, then Sandhill cranes are migrating in the Rocky Mountains. When you hear the robin chorus an hour or so before dawn, then, when the sun comes out, look for green-bottle flies and garter snakes.

When nettles are six inches tall, then middle spring wildflowers are opening all over the woods.

When you hear the shrill call of the American toad that will be the time to plant your sweet corn.

Fishing should be most productive as the barometer falls in advance of the April 2 and April 6 cold fronts. Since the moon will be overhead in the afternoon during this time, afternoon ought to be the best time of day to be out on the water.

A bear in the attic
On December 17, 2004, a skunk found a way under our house and let loose at 2 a.m. The odor drove my wife and me right out of bed. It was so bad that we had to open the windows and turn on the attic fan – and the temperature outside in the 20s.

The skunk lay low in one corner of our crawl space and just stank vaguely for a few days. We called a skunk man and he set traps. He never caught anything. Then the skunk left and has not returned.

But all through last fall, we kept hearing things in our crawl space.

And then the sounds started coming from the attic: Thump and clunk right above our bed. Part of our attic is accessible. It’s full of junk, of course. The other part, the part above the bed, is virtually inaccessible, but there is a small passageway between the two spaces. So we put a radio up in the accessible part and ran it throughout the night, and that seemed to work from September until early January when the thumping began in earnest.

“Must be a squirrel,” we said. There was a small hole in one of the eaves, and it must have decided to get in there and spend the winter. I went to rent a trap.

“I’ve got a squirrel in the attic,” I told the trap lady at the hardware store. “I think I need your small trap.”

“Oh yeah, I’ve had them,” she said. “A granola bar’ll get’em every time.”

I set the trap with peanut butter because I forgot the granola bar. I turned off the radio. In the morning, the peanut butter was gone. No squirrel. For two more nights, the peanut butter disappeared, and the thief failed to set off the trap.

“Must be a mouse,” I said.

“Or something bigger,” said my wife, looking concerned.

“I’ll put the peanut butter in a covered container,” I said. “That way it’ll have to really work at getting it out and will set off the trap.”

The next night the peanut butter was gone again. The creature had reached in and just scooped out the bait through the small hole in the top of the container. The following night, the creature had taken the peanut butter and the container.

“Not a mouse,” my wife and I agreed.

“Could be a bear,” I thought.

The next night, I heard thumping near the trap. “We’ve got him,” I said. But as I entered the attic, I saw a raccoon scooting into the other part of the attic.

“We need the really big trap,” I told the trap lady at the store. “Ooooo,” she said, making a face. “Raccoon!”

With the really big trap, and tying a piece of bread covered with peanut butter on the trigger platform, we caught a well-fed raccoon that very night. It was one of the fattest raccoons we had ever seen. It weighed a ton.

As to how it had managed to get into our house without cutting a hole in the wall, we could not imagine. And so we took refuge in quantum theory.

“The world is not as solid as it appears,” we said. “The universe is porous. Everything is connected, but nothing is fixed in space or time. Parallel universes are not only possible but also likely. As the ancient philosopher Heraclitus noted, matter is always in flux. And since all of that really doesn’t make sense, platitudes suffice: Things are never quite what they seem. Anything can happen. You often see what you look at, but sometimes you really don’t see what you look at. You notice what you pay attention to, but you may not pay attention to the right thing at the right time.”

Andy, our friend who knows about houses and animals, told us that there must have been a hole. I vigorously denied it. I had looked and looked for holes through the years. Of course, when I looked again, I found another hole, this time a behemoth one I hadn’t noticed before. It wasn’t a hole behemoth enough for bears, but it was certainly adequate for coons.

From all of this, we have learned a critical lesson: There could always be other holes, even bigger holes. No matter what we do or how many precautions we take, it is quite probable that a great big hole will open soon. Worse yet, we know it might have always been there.

We are keeping watch for bears.

Poor Will’s Scrambler
In order to estimate your SCRAMBLER IQ, award yourself 15 points for each word unscrambled, adding a 50-point bonus for getting all of them correct. If you find a typo, add another 15 points to your IQ.


Here is this week’s rhyming Scrambler:


This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.