Love, Laughter, and Life

Adventures With a Book Lover


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Pasture Pets

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The pets we have. Let’s call them pasture pets.

Foo-Foo. Not technically our rabbit. Though I have recently informed my honey that this is my rabbit. Not rabbit soup. (No guarantees for others in the bunny market, as it were…coyotes, hawks, eagles, and other larger predators who roam freely. Like the playground cougar sighting at the school where 3 of my grands attend.)

Poor bunny Foo-Foo. Someone released him. Or he escaped. He is quite the digger, as evidenced by the ditch beneath our Mabel Gate. Or she. I feel like it is a he though.

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Charcoal. Again, not our pet. I can’t even claim him, because he really belongs to the neighbors on the east side of the pasture. They would know if we adopted this funny guy. Also thought he was a she and hoped for a random egg now and then. But she began crowing all hours of the day. This daily visitor will either help our garden grow (by eating pests and fertilizing) or keep it from growing (by nibbling greens and digging up tender shoots). Either way, not our chicken.

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Speaking of…just as I was finishing this post, who trots in from the pasture with a fresh snack?

Monet. This one is really our pet. She adores pasture life and voraciously hunts other pasture pets of the rodent and avian varieties. By our pet, I mean she sleeps in at night (to avoid cat/dog/coyote fights in the wee hours), we feed her on a regular basis, and pay her worming and vet bills. We used to have her twin sister, Mabel, until a pack of dogs decided she was snack worthy. Those dogs were definitely NOT our pets. And they are the reason we now have a Mabel Gate.

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Ginger. Not our pet. Though we are doggy grandparents. She loves visiting us in the pasture. More for chasing the ball and occasional cat (Monet) or jumping in the ditch filled with mud and water. But still. If we would let her, she would visit inside the RV. What fun that would be! So. Though she is not our pet, technically, we have adopted her as a family member. Neighbor. Just over the fence.

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Other “not our pets” include (but not restricted to) hawks, eagles, coyotes, skunks, goats, ducks, quail, geese, voles, mice, rats, woodpeckers, blue jays, magpies, doves, cats, dogs, frogs, snakes, water rats (I really don’t know what they are…but they are big and swim in the irrigation ditch), crows, worms, slugs, song birds, and lots and lots of insects.

Need a trip to the pasture zoo? Come spring, we will be open for business. I mean, the hibernators will be out and about, the frozen will thaw, eggs and litters will hatch, and who knows what else will spring to life. Bring a lawn chair and a camera. We’ll treat you to the habitats and adventures of Pasture Pets.

Our human pasture guests. (not pets)

 

 

 


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The Ecosystem of a Sunflower Forest

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We have a Sunflower Forest.

Not intentionally, but as happenstance. Last year, I planted sunflowers. This year, the birds planted sunflowers (leftovers from their grazing and dropping last year). I love my Sunflower Forest. It really does resemble a forest with all its many layers, shadows, heights, and wildlife.

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Just this morning, I was again (and again) gazing out the window to enjoy the peeping antics of goldfinch families. They flit, flirt, fight, and feed throughout the Sunflower Forest. Swarms of bees, many varieties, wasps, and other flying hungry insects buzz and float around the Forest, a veritable cloud of life shifting back and forth. I don’t need a fish tank for gazing and relaxing. I can sit on the deck and watch visitors enjoy the Forest. Relaxation and entertainment all wrapped into one ball of delight.

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It’s interesting how our brains work, those miracles of human technology. Thoughts and ideas zip and zing along brain pathways so fast I often find myself wondering How did I get to that thought from this?

Take ecosystems. As I watched the Sunflower Forest with rapt enjoyment, I realized it was an ecosystem in its own right. Our Forest is approximately 25-foot-square, give or take a straggler standing tall along the edges. The top height is at least 15-feet, well as tall as the RV, which rests high atop tires and tire stops. That’s plenty of ecosystem space for the myriad of wildlife I see every day.

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The Undergrowth (Forest Floor):

I’m so excited about this level of the Sunflower Forest. Baby oak trees have sprouted from last year’s planting of numerous (I mean NUMEROUS) acorns I brought back from my cousin’s house. I love science activities and free exploration and invited my grands to play at will. They did. Played and planted. Baby oaks have been discovered in very surprising places!

Other nature on display in the undergrowth layer: weeds (of course), ants, spiders, worms, earwigs, beetles, frogs, millipedes, roly polys, mystery bugs, snails, grasshoppers, and cats. Our cats LOVE hiding in the Sunflower Forest.

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The Understory:

In the Sunflower Forest, the understory is crammed full of bamboo-like stalks, mottled leaves, dappled light, and fluttering life. I imagine myself small, wandering amidst the trunks of sunflower trees, climbing too high for my own good. Tall weeds populate this layer, plentiful, but not enough to trouble sunflower trees. Anything that creeps, climbs, and flies traverses the Sunflower Forest understory.

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The Canopy:

The majority of my sunflower trees litter this layer with bright blossoms, wilted petals, and plump seeds. This is where the action is! Goldfinches love the canopy of bright yellow, fragrant and fruitful. Before the seeds were ready, nearly as soon as the first few yellow faces opened to the sun, goldfinches made forays into the canopy, checking to see if food was available. They didn’t stay long, since seeds were not even pollinated yet. But now? Layers of unopened buds, fully exposed golden orbs, droopy petals, green seeds, and ready-to-go seed buffets lure our state bird (Washington, goldfinch) by the droves. I love the families, fledglings peeping loudly and shuffling their feathers, waiting for mama or daddy to bring the seeds to them. Parents, proud and busy, race to pop seeds into open mouths. Several males pop in, notice each other, and fight for feeding rights. Never fear, my little finches, plenty for all.

Also seen in the canopy layer: red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, finches, butterflies, spiders, yellow jackets, and multiple varieties of bees and flies.

 

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The Emergent Layer:

I hadn’t thought much about this layer, the very tip top of the forest and everything above. Until this morning, still observing the finches, I noticed the shadow of a fledgling hawk pass across the top of the Sunflower Forest. Aha! Besides the very tallest of sunflower trees and nearby ornamental corn, our emergent forest layer is filled with other wildlife. The hawks (two parents and the tween), crows, starlings, magpies, and geese regularly putz back and forth above our heads. The only ones we all keep sharp eyes on are the hawks, of course. Hunters they are, and Junior is especially attached to our pasture, nearby power lines, and a few strategic trees. I can only guess how many friends have met their end as he learns to fly, land, and hunt.

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So there you have it. The Sunflower Forest and its ecosystem. I’m sure your garden, yard, or field has yet more exciting nature (flora and fauna) inhabiting the different layers. Take a look. Grab that cup of tea or coffee and sit for a bit. Who do you see in the different sections of your ecosystem?

 

 

 


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Happy Hump Day Haiku Challenge: dine

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tasting toes, flutters

and alights; dinner prepared

dine, consume, be full

 

dine by Angie Quantrell

 

Meet our dinner guests, flora and fauna beauties.

Welcome! Join us for a Happy Hump Day Haiku Challenge. Leave your link or Haiku in the comments. One, two, three, go!


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Poser, A Short Story

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“What are you praying for, dear?”

“Peace.”

“Your pose is truly beautiful.”

She glanced his way, insect eyes missing no detail.

“What are you thinking of, my love?”

“Appearances.”

“You look ferociously fit.”

She flexed her legs, wiggled her wings. Let him move close.

“How are you feeling, gorgeous?”

“Hungry.”

 

Poser by Angie Quantrell

 

I wrote this story in response to Vivian Kirkfield’s #50PreciousWords Writing Contest (50 words total) and a Twitter conversation with @Realistic Poetry about favorite insects. Hop on over to  Vivian’s site to read more short stories.


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Throwback Thursday: Jimmy Hoffa

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Circa 1983-1984

Meet Jimmy Hoffa.

Not THE Jimmy Hoffa, but my own skin-less, flesh-less version.

One quarter during my junior year of college at Western Washington University, I had the BEST science course! I loved that class. We determined our own grades by the project choices and number of selections we made on a preset list of assignments. Since I was always aiming for top grades, I made high marks my goal.

The final choice (between getting an A or a B) was removing the flesh from a small rodent to expose the skeleton. Actually, there was a second choice, but I don’t remember what it was. I spent many intense moments in consideration as I walked to and fro across campus. Choice A or B? I just had to do that final project to push myself to an A.

As I was wavering on how to get a rodent (rat or mouse) and how I was ever going to ‘kill’ it in order to dissect the flesh/skin/fur from its’ skeleton, I practically stepped on a rat. I was racing to class, when BAM, there was a barely moving rat lying on the pavement right outside my dorm! It was up against Old Edens, a gorgeous brick, ivy-covered behemoth of a building. I think the poor thing fell off and brained itself. Barely breathing or moving. Four feet in the grave.

Should I or shouldn’t I??? Choice A? I had to choose A when the opportunity presented itself. Nearly late, I raced to my room, grabbed a plastic bag, ‘rescued’ the rodent from the cement, put it in the dorm freezer, and headed to class. I really don’t think it was going to come around, so slowly freezing to death seemed pretty humane to me.

Now I was in possession of a full-sized dead frozen rat-sicle. In. The. Dorm. Freezer. (Don’t tell anyone, I’m sure there were regulations against it.) Time to earn that A.

How to Make a Rat Skeleton Display

1. Borrow science tools and remove as much of the ‘not bones’ parts as possible. This was a bit tricky with the tail and tiny toes, not to mention the dull scapel.

2. Attach rat skeleton (in my case, Jimmy Hoffa) to a piece of balsam wood to hold it in one position. I used straight pins.

3. Take rat skeleton to a flesh-eating insect colony. I also had the choice of boiling off the flesh, but ew. If frozen rat in the freezer in my dorm was bad, the smell of cooking rat would have been much worse! Besides, the tiny bones would have fallen apart or dissolved.

4. Let rat skeleton spend a minimum of one month in the insect colony.

Research Tip: I have no idea which type of insects Jimmy really visited, but best guess is a colony of dermestid beetles. Which, according to this post, can pick a skeleton clean in one day. No idea why Jimmy had to stay away from home for a month.

5. So, Jimmy went on a little trip to the flesh-eating insect container. There Jimmy spent a month of so while hundreds, or thousands, of little bugs combed his bones, picking off and eating leftover bits my scapel refused to move. He was almost perfectly clean when I picked him up from the vacation in Bug-Land. After writing an eye-witness account of his travels, I presented Jimmy and his journal to my professor.

Ta-da! I was awarded an A for my work in the science course. And I got to keep Jimmy. Where he lived in a ziplock bag for years until I couldn’t think of anything else to do with him and tossed him out. Poor Jimmy.

There you have it! Should you want to de-flesh a rodent skeleton, just find a colony of those flesh-eating bugs.

What crazy projects did you complete during your educational years?


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Haiku Challenge: Monster

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claws, antennae, eyes

monster stalk, capture, devour

praying mantis win

 

monster by Angie Quantrell

 

What monster is lurking in your yard? Post a Haiku so we can all be scared!