September, Month of Interesting Transitions

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

For many of us octogenarians, September meant loss of freedom. During summer months we were ‘free to be me’ other than chores, work in the fields, but mores, fun, fun, fun. Off went the shoes, on went the worn jeans, and, much as we loved it, formal schooling was months away. It was hard to transition back to wearing tight new shoes and buckling down to a regimen of schedules again. Going swimming to ‘the town pool’ was a rarity for farm kids, swimming in left over ponds in ‘the bottoms’ was relegated to depth of pond and keeping the pleasure away from the ears of ever watchful parents. Yes, bare feet all summer often resulted in the occasional pierced feet, painful gravel scraped knees and shins was the rule rather than a rarity; soon the soles of one’s ‘kickers’ became tough as leather. (Putting up hay while barefoot got those little toesies calloused in a hurry.) The constraints of returning to wearing tight shoes was as painful as having to keep to a schedule. As soon as the rural school bus was out-of-sight, off came the shoes until frost or father and chores necessitated footwear once more. “Townies” didn’t experience the joy of walking barefoot as much as “country kids.” (Hot sidewalks and cement.)

One of the summer and autumn evening chores was to bring the cattle from pasture to barn for milking. Oblivious to the danger lurking about in the shape of white flowering plants in September/October, we went our merry way, unaware that those pretty flowers were dangerous when eaten by grazing cattle, both to the cattle and to humans. It was only later in our lifetime that we discovered that when Abe Lincoln was just nine years of age, his mom, Nancy Todd Lincoln, died of milk fever, the result of consuming a toxin known as tremetol found in cow milk wherein the cows ate White Snakeroot. Princeton University Press (Dauncey and Larsson) published an article recently stating that 25 – 50 percent of the deaths in Indiana at a certain period of time in the 1800’s, were caused by ‘milk fever,’ a result of cattle eating white snakeroot, and passing the toxin off to humans in cow milk. (Now kids, don’t use this information as an excuse for not obeying the order, “Drink your milk.”) Yes, white snakeroot continues to grow abundantly in the Henderson/LeSueur area, but little of the milk consumed today comes from cattle grazing near woodland borders, and besides, flowering occurs in September until frost, a transitional vegetation. In addition, few people drink ‘raw’ milk straight from the cow’s manufacturing plant. Farmers who do pasture milk cattle today make certain the snakeroot isn’t eaten by their wards.

Evidently, snakeroot isn’t a problem for deer, or perhaps they find it unpalatable? Currently, color transition in the white-tailed deer is somewhat dramatic. The merge from the gray of winter into the red summer coat is due to hormone change. The reddish color is due to thermoregulation, that is, ability to cope with heat stress. A stiff outer layer of hair, the fall winter gray or brown coat, assists with camouflage, while a soft dense layer keeps out the cold.

In other words, deer merge from April/May’s scrawniness to June through September’s plumpness, changing color with the seasons. The pair of twin fawns caught by Peter Straub on September 5th perhaps indicates the duo having been born later in the spring season, as the spots appear as fresh as a newly born mammal. In spite of fencing and any number of mammal odor defenses, the two fawns have been busy demolishing sunflowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and whatever pleases their palates on a particular day or night. They’d best swallow those spots before the opening of youth deer hunting season, October 17th.

Frances, the fabulous blue Ford Focus, fabled for her formidable questions, focused this week on “Why do you keep track of dates and times each day?” Well, Frances, it has to do with the transitioning of the wonderful wooly world of nature, especially as to how the current flora, fauna and weather about us is in a transition state. For instance, birds have been migrating now for a number of weeks. Summer’s robins have disappeared, oriole and ruby-throated hummingbird reports are lessening, traveling chimney swift numbers reached a peak of 729 on September 6th. A major surprise was that of the discovery by Doris Winter of a young nighthawk in the parking lot of the LeSueur Library on September 4th. That species should be well on its way. The bird’s presence was short-lived however, as it met its demise on September 5th as it was struck by a speeding auto on Second Street in front of the police station. Naught remains but a puff of speckled feathers, sad, sudden and all a part of the ‘Great Mystery.’ Frances too transitions, as you listen to her transmission!