Shawnee News-Star Sunday July 22nd 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg 'Everyone should have themselves regularly overwhelmed by Nature.'   George Harrison Cleo, my tailless black and white spotted cat, sat on the floor in the bedroom looking at me with the most innocent of eyes.   The room appeared to have been vandalized at ground level.   Two rugs, […]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday July 22nd 2018

Cleo the Innocent. What Skink

Becky Emerson Carlberg

'Everyone should have themselves regularly overwhelmed by Nature.'   George Harrison

Cleo, my tailless black and white spotted cat, sat on the floor in the bedroom looking at me with the most innocent of eyes.   The room appeared to have been vandalized at ground level.   Two rugs, piled into heaps, had been moved to opposite sides of the room.   Shoes were scattered around.   Small streaks of reddish brown stained the light tile.   She immediately forgot I was there and resumed her hunting expedition by crouching, crawling in slow motion and peering behind each piece of furniture.   I grabbed the flashlight and followed her around to see if I could locate what she was after. Nothing.

Ticking off possibilities in my head, I hoped it was not a snake.   A few years ago I found both cats as still as statues in front of the bathroom doorway.   What had they cornered?   Bending down, I looked under the bottom shelf.   Curled up into a tight ball, vigorously shaking its tail, was a mad pygmy rattlesnake. The cats were shooed away.   I found a thick towel and the broom.   Slowly sweeping the snake out, the towel was thrown over it before the snake could react.   Hoping the little fangs could not penetrate the material, I made a hobo sack, tightly gripped the ends together and carried the reptile outdoors where it was released far away from the house.

Here are the seeds

Scorpions do not bleed and the cats tend to leave them be. Grasshoppers and crickets sometimes make it into the safety of the bathtub. Frogs often provide entertainment and may be found weeks later in a dust-covered semi-mummified state.   Skinks, closely related to lizards, spend lazy afternoons on the front porch and, in a fit of bad judgment, run into the house from time to time.   The lucky ones shed their tails and hide until a kind soul finds them before the cats do.   There are also the legions of the unlucky.   I suspect this was a skink but don't have a clue if Cleo ate more than the tail or fatally punctured the poor guy and played with it until it escaped to die in some unreachable place.   Time will tell.   After an additional fifteen minutes of stalking and hunting, Cleo became disinterested, walked down the hall and went to sleep on her cushion in the sunporch.

An article in the July/August Reader's Digest caught my attention.   'My Neighborhood Gone Wild' by Ryan Bradley was the story about a man catching wildlife on camera in the city.   The emphasis was on the development of our wildlands and the interaction between people and wildlife.   There is even a technical term, wildland-urban interface (WUI), where homes and undeveloped nature collide. One in three US citizens live within the WUI.  To think nearly everyone used to live quite close to nature and now, the majority of the population can't even identify most native plants and animals.   Sad. The wildlands are being turned into human developments.   What happens to the animals and plants? Some wildlife adapts to the human presence.   These homeless ones are considered nuisances.   The problem? Many people ignore or are afraid of nature.   It's beyond their control zone. Not familiar with native plants, they landscape with foreign plants, start fires that destroy native habitats and injure or kill wildlife in their way.   Wildness is still out there.

What makes a person think they are so special? Ironically, they will return to nature when their time is up anyway.  Nature is in trouble and needs everyone's help.

Bastille Day and my birthday fall on the same day.   It was one of the best in years.   Great food, Merritt's Bakery cake, swimming late at night, World Cup final (congrats France, sorry Croatia) and Tour de France.   Not only was I given a Brown Betty teapot but the Big Head Horse Head Squirrel Feeder.   Pretty sure most people do not have a horse head squirrel feeder.   The rubber head is rather realistic, but more like a pony's.   I named it Big Head Ed.   My interaction with squirrels was about to begin.

The first question was which peanut butter to use.   Peanut butter?   Do my squirrels have refined taste buds and prefer organic peanut butter, or should I be a choosy mom that chooses Jif?   Jif is cheaper, so Jif it was.   One large dollop inside the pony nose was followed by a handful of seeds that stuck to the peanut butter.   The head was hung on a shoestring below the birdfeeder and dangled about one foot above the ground.   The squirrels could then reach the bounty with ease while I took endless pictures.

Mooching under Big Head Ed

What happened?   The first day was so hot, only one squirrel showed up.   It sat on top of the birdfeeder and scooped sunflower seeds while I watched, holding the camera at the ready.   Second day the squirrel was joined by two more squirrels, some cowbirds, cardinals, and a brown thrasher.   The head squirrel resumed its place on the top of the feeder while another scampered along the branches waiting for its chance to commandeer said feeder.     The third was on the ground but warily circled the horse head.   The animal never ventured within a five foot radius.   Darn it. This was the best place to forage for seeds regardless of the head.   Should I have included slices of bread and a knife for the peanut butter?   Had the rodents seen 'The Godfather'?

Day three.   Squirrel on feeder and squirrel on ground far from head.   I gave up and put the camera on the washing machine.   Ten minutes later I returned to see the horse head crazily twirling around with the squirrel hanging on.   By the time the camera was ready, the squirrel had let go and was gobbling up seeds dumped at its feet.   The horse head kept rotating because the squirrel on the birdfeeder continually moved, jarring the shoestring.   The next half hour I stood there waiting for 'the picture' and wished I had a wildlife cam like the guy in the Reader's Digest article.

Interaction with nature can happen anyplace and anytime.   The Pottawatomie County OK Free Fair 2018 is September 5th-8th.   Just remember there are Pottawatomie Counties in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma!   Not yet on Google, the 2018 Free Fair Plant Science Book does have a link on the website of the Pottawatomie County OSU Extension. Now is the time to interact with your plants.   Baby those award-winning fruits, veggies, flowers, plants, grasses and seeds.  Water, fertilize and monitor for damage. Whip those scarecrows into shape or plan how to paint your melons.   County 4-H and FFA participants need to start studying for the plant identification competition so there are less students that look like deer in headlights.

See? An avoidable negative interaction with fauna.