Natural Solutions

It seems almost every year, but possibly more recently, the robins somehow spotted the big strawberries in the garden. Initially, they pursued the garden for the worms and bugs, which in my recollection is their normal food. But for some reason, maybe lack of their favorite bugs, they drifted toward the patch of just-ripening berries where they would extract a large single slice out of our spring-time desserts. Never did they eat the entire berry but rather just went from one to another and taking one large beak full as if exploring for strawberry worms. It had gotten to the point where fifty percent of the berries were scarred and violated.

Truth is, we still ate them but not happy about sharing them with the wildlife that seemed really uninterested in actually consuming them. Initially, I tried putting net over the entire patch but discovered it was no fun trying to free the damn birds form the netting, much less having to move it every time we needed berries, which was every day. I even found myself tangle in the stinking netting looking like a giant carp trying to extract one more dough ball from the bottom of the river.

I was telling this story to Carmen just last week as the berries for this year began to ripen and I was seeing numerous robins eye-balling the red fruit. “Listen, all you do is find some round stones and paint them red, put them on the edge of the patch right where they can see them. Couple of whacks at the rocks and you’ll see those suckers head to the dentist with a chipped beaks,” She offered.

It’s been a week of eating unmolested strawberries. Interestingly, as a biologist and gardener, this got me thinking about other possible non-lethal ways of solving similar problems.

I recalled another individual who, like Carmen, had a great imagination by the name of Edward Abby. He lived in a rather broken down abode off in some distant Arizona desert (the same guy wrote Desert Solitaire) who on a non-stop basis, had a mouse and pack rat problem. He puzzled over the issue for some time and didn’t like the “nuclear option” of killing them with traps, or more particularly poisoning them only to kill every predator around who managed to get ahold of a sick rodent. Like many of us who have had to run a substantial trap line to control the rural pests, he began looking for a more natural solution. As a naturalist, rather like me, he found by placing a large bull snake in his house, the problem of rodents quickly disappeared and the snake, it was rumored, went from 4.5 ft. to 6 ft. in a single year, and was free to come and go, but was always welcomed.

In a fit entrepreneurial spirit, it occurred to me that I might be able to generate income by employing natural solutions to other ever-present problems. How about taking a serious dent out of the fly, or even mosquito population by selling and propagating insect eating Venus fly traps and pitcher plants. Each, if I recall, exude a subtle stench, not unlike rotting meat, or maybe a stinking human, that attract pests that target humans. Plant these fascinating botanical wonders all over the yard and problem solved.

Norwegian Deterrent

In a bit of historical contemplation, it also occurred to me that some groups of people have used similar rather natural methods to hinder human movement into their communities. It has been rumored that a group of people referred to as Norwegians developed a process of ‘preserving’ fish, I believe mostly codfish, to make it such that their neighbors would never intrude on their sovereign space. The legend has it, they were targeting Swedes, my people, by soaking the aforementioned fish in lye and then encouraging microbes to do their work. This created “a product” (lutefisk) of such objectionable nature the peoples of this Norwegian persuasion were seldom bothered. Through time those same folks actually learned to like “the product” as a consumable food. This is one of the reasons why when one finds one Norwegian, we find more. History has found this to be most clever and really a win-win for that ethnic group.

30 pounder read for work.

I no sooner was reviewing this historical tidbit, when Glenn of Colorado called and went to great length to describe how his daughter had parked her hybrid auto for a tiny two hours only to find on her return, the catalytic converter had been cut off and stolen. Now there is a tough one but maybe there was a natural solution. Initially, it occurred to me that it might be possible to make a cage, under a car, very close to the converter that contained either a 30 pound snapping turtle, or a poorly fed badger (a great Wisconsin solution). If the converter was violated, a trip wire would drop the beast on the thief. Well, a car owner would have to maintain the animals and that might require staff and special feeding, so while it is innovative, I opted for a small hornet swarm that would be easier to maintain. I realized that the vibration of the auto would keep the insects in a high alert state all the time and once the trip wire was dropped the outcome would be spectacular.

The most important aspect of the suggestion by Carmen, is that the robins have been held at bay and we can fully enjoy the shortcakes. The other ideas, be they historical, or just brilliantly innovative, are just mind exercises and may not represent total reality, still, it is hot outside and the mind has to be activated.

Side note: I have not been bitten by a wasp, bee or hornet in years, but leaving the post office I go nailed. Message?


Entropy, 2nd law of thermos dynamics.

Just today I was working on a column to be titled Entropy or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. I chose this topic because I have been finding that everything around me has a way of deteriorating the minute I don’t stay on top of it. The garden without constant attention just morphs into weeds and disorganized rubble. If I don’t feed the chickens or give them water they become obnoxious and ill-behaved. If I don’t exercise my muscles, the ones I have left, just go to sagging and looking foolish. Even my mind if not infused with activity and a flood of information, begins to wander off in space and nonsense. The asphalt driveway will crumble under the push of weeds and ants.

I am not alone it turns out with entropy. The financial markets are subject to it as is our energy supply, our water. Most alarming, entropy also affects this column and that was becoming the issue as I tried to write. I was about to quit and take a month off. But, wait, why should I let entropy get me down? I thought and looked for answers.

So I read this, “Entropy is simply a measure of disorder and affects all aspects of our daily lives. In fact, you can think of it as nature’s tax. Left unchecked, disorder increases over time. Energy disperses, and systems dissolve into chaos. The more disordered something is, the more entropic we consider it.”

Oh great! “Albert Einstein referred to entropy and the second law of thermodynamics as the only insights into the workings of the world that would never be overthrown.” 

Even Yeats had it figured out as he wrote, and this is before all those fancy physicists began pontificating.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

Here is a simple illustration to what entropy does and I don’t necessarily like it. 

Entropy Explained

Then it occurred to me that this entropy also might apply to human relations.  And, believe it or not, the damn covid thing has played a role in this. It has made it so, in our fear of getting the plague, we have been denied many of our usual human get-togethers. That is, we have not been allowed to gather as groups around our tables and in our homes to blather and raise a glass to the usual friendships. These relationships take energy and effort and if not constantly applied, like the diagram above, things dissipate. ‘The centre cannot hold.’

After all, in thermodynamics it is a LAW. It is like the speed of light at 186,000 miles per sec. That is a damn scientific LAW. It can’t be changed. No court can overturn these laws, so I tell myself to get over it.

Then there is this: “the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time.” That is just great. In truth, I ended up writing this column when I had just thought my ambition and creative energy might have dissipated. It may be true entropy is tugging at me, and I really was noticing it today. Tomorrow I believe it is time to pull those dissipating little imaginary balls of the illustration back to a closer, tighter organization and weed the garden, buy beer and invite some folks over to defy entropy—- and even defy Einstein if we have to.

Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing?

There has recently been community chatter, now referred to as ‘trending’ behavior, for the common delight of walking in the forest as a way of ‘cleansing’ one’s soul. In the very recent past humans could indulge in simple bathing in water by taking a shower or possibly a bath in a tub. I suppose one could take a sand bath like chickens do where we would flop on the ground, usually in the sun, then literally thrash our wings’ in such a  way as to throw sand all over our fully clothed bodies, but this has never proven successful to my knowledge and might lead to a loony-bin visitation.

Certainly, it is possible to bathe in one’s own self-importance much like some chest thumping, incessantly babbling politicians or a self-proclaimed big shot. That hasn’t always worked well for me but every once in a while it can be ego boosting, that is until a few years ago when the grandkid pronounced I had an inflated eagle.

Recently, but unannounced to me, sociologist, anthropologist, behaviorist, maybe a bespectacled psychologist or two and no doubt cosmic sky pilots have decided a walk in the woods can have huge therapeutic advantages. This now is “forest bathing”.

French Impressionist Forest Bathing–have to look closely

Some years ago, a walk in the woods with your girlfriend was called a woodsy and I don’t recall it ever involving bathing even if it did include a skinny dip in the local pond. In Wisconsin deer hunting might be an obvious form, but in my case there would be derogatory comments about my inattentive forest napping. With eighty percent of American citizens now living in urban and suburban settings it would seem, from my clinical point of view, that this suggested activity might be aimed at that demographic—rural types forest bathe like this all the time.

So as a botanist by training, it seems fitting I should be able to pontificate on this topic, possibly with great introspection. Forest bathing might consist of just a simple walk on a path for a starter session. Once accomplished, a person might move to having discussions with favorite trees—surely to be followed by tree hugging. While this may seem a left handed poke at liberals, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Anyone can talk with a tree for advice. “Hey, Mr. Tree (Locally, a Norwegian maple is preferred because they are not very intrusive, and a touch shy), I have been having trouble with my focus group—like I am out of focus.”

 The tree could respond (hypothetically but remember I am a botanist), “I don’t want to bark at you, but we can try to get to the root of the problem. If you listen carefully, possibly something can flower. Maybe from this tender encounter you might take your hominid brain and branch out. You can’t be a sap, and certainly, you will need a stout trunk. Buck up you blithering idiot and maybe we can plant a few seeds in your feeble mind so you don’t screw up the entire environment.”  (I couldn’t resist that.)

Advanced sessions of forest bathing could include climbing trees, even living in one for a weekend.  Then once a certain expertise is achieved a person could go to nude bathing in, say, a pine forest but this too probably should be confined to the young. While the inhabitants, other than human, might not mind folks in the youth category, the sight of an elder nudist forest bathing might cause alarm because the genetic package of most living things is not programed to deal with deteriorating human forms. As a reminder of this issue, this example might be given as a warning to the aging crowd—and it involves wild scavengers. In my later stages of riding my road bike, ( I was not nude cycling this time) I had the unpleasant experience of stopping to rest while on County T only to look up and realize some underfed vultures were following me—just longing for that one last face-plant of a fall and easy pickin’s for those stinking buzzards.

Advanced Forrest Bathing with cycle.

I can’t imagine the reaction of the wolves, coyotes, crows, and meat eating shrews once I was spotted forest bathing in the nude. The saliva drooling wolf on his smart-ass phone would be calling the pack, “Come on down. Lookin’ a lot like a party in a few hours. Kinda sinewy and maybe a bit into decomposition already, but still, a hot meal. ”

Alright, alright, so things can go off the rails. Forest bathing? I get it and sounds like a fantastic idea for a few of us but come November, might want to stay away from my deer stand, even if I am sleeping again. Still, all things wrapped in a package, with no real cost in dollars, and no chance of doing any damage to the forest, it is possible to see why this is trending both for individual and group therapy. For once, here is a beautifully simplified human activity that may benefit all species involved and make us into tree huggers and nature lovers. And, we would be cleaner for it.