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Category Archive: Animals

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about baseball in general: Part 9 — Legends are born in October, so are surprises. This one is about the St. Louis Cardinals and October baseball. First published October 27, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Legends are born in October, so are surprises 

“October is a fine and dangerous season in America” – Thomas Merton

October is indeed a lively month, always full of surprises and interesting fact and folklore.

Come to think of it, October could be my favorite month of the year with Halloween and quirky other holidays to celebrate such as the International Moment of Frustration Scream Day, National Cake Decorating Day and Leif Erickson Day (who was he again?).

But this particular holiday, “Squirrel Awareness Month”, is one we absolutely must talk about later in this story, and we will.

Mostly, I love the surprises that October brings whether from politics, weather changes, folklore or baseball. For example:

Politics: We know that politics can turn on a dime in the month of October, especially in presidential election years. Yet, candidates continue to surprise us with well-timed ‘October surprise’ news releases. They can rise to the top and influence the outcome of an election in a blip.

Weather: I don’t know why weather changes in October are such a surprise to me each year, but they are. Yes, I realize that the change in the seasons is coming, but on that October day when I first feel the cool, crisp fall air that feels so good, it is indeed a pleasant surprise. Watching the color change in autumn foliage likewise catches me by surprise every fall. I ask myself: “How many times have I seen this?” Still, it is breathtaking year after year.

Folklore: Did you know that October is really the eighth month of the year in the old Roman calendar that began in March instead of January (not the tenth as we know it today)? That is why October retained its name ‘octo’ meaning ‘eight’.

October’s birthstone is the opal, and legend has it that the opal will crack if it is worn by anyone who was not born in October. Actually, I once had an opal setting that cracked. I wonder?

Baseball: Remember, ‘Mr. October’ Reggie Jackson who could always be counted on to hit home runs in October during the World Series? And now, Albert Pujols is a Mr. October in his own right, tying Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson’s World Series record of hitting three home runs in a single series game.

However, the biggest surprise of all this October has to be the birth of another October legend –the Busch Rally Squirrel. I wonder if that crazy squirrel that ran all over the field at Busch Stadium during the Division series playoffs knew that October was Squirrel Awareness Month? Squirrels everywhere are no doubt cheering him on.

Here’s the back-story on ‘Rally Squirrel’ if you haven’t been keeping up on October baseball and squirrel surprises:

On October 5, 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (stltoday.com) reported that a squirrel, now known as the ‘Busch Rally Squirrel’, ran across home plate while Skip Schumaker was at bat in the fifth inning during Game 4 of the National League Division Series. This series game was between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

The night before in Game 3 the squirrel made a brief appearance darting across the field into foul territory along the third-base line. Cards lost. In Game 4, he came back, only much bolder this time. Cards won.

With that, legend was born, and Rally Squirrel entered baseball lore as another Mr. October surprise.

As a result, grown adults dress in Rally Squirrel costumes at baseball and football games, kids are dressing up as Rally Squirrels for Halloween, and squirrels everywhere are certainly celebrating Squirrel Awareness Month. After all, who has done more for them than Rally Squirrel?

Additionally, Rally Squirrel has his own Twitter account @BuschSquirrel, and, yes, even though I am a loyal Kansas City Royals fan, I am a proud follower.

After Game 3, the squirrel tweeted, “We need to win. I’m not ready to hibernate yet.”

In a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Rally Squirrel insisted that Matt Holiday, Cardinals left fielder, urged him to charge the plate. “There were sunflower seeds in it for me,” Rally Squirrel said.

What can you say? Rally Squirrel is baseball’s newest celebrity and perhaps it’s biggest October surprise ever.

Gotta love October.

Aug 12

We know a rare bird when we meet one — from archived columns first published March 7, 2008, in the Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper

Editor’s Note: From archived columns first published March 7, 2008, in the Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

whooping crane flying


“A rare bird on this earth,”
—Juvenal, a Roman poet and author of Satires.

Each day I receive a dictionary word of the day in my email inbox. Today, it is a Latin word “rara avis” (pronounced RAIR-uh-AY-vis), a rare or unique person or thing.

Immediately, I thought of my friend Nancy, a rare bird herself.

Not incidentally, Nancy was an avid bird watcher and that pursuit is part of what brought us together. I will explain in a bit.

I did not know her last name, not for the longest time anyway.

Still, I count her as a one-of-a kind, a rare find of a friend. We met in an exercise class in which we only use our first names. Over time we came to know one another, and eventually we got around to mentioning our last names.

You may have noticed I speak of Nancy in the past tense, but not with sadness although that would be a perfectly fine thing to do. Nancy lost a short yet valiant battle with lung cancer just weeks ago. Since she never showed a spec of melancholy, I will try not to either.

The “ladies of the three o’clock class”, as we affectionately call ourselves, loved Nancy. She was in her early 70’s I think, but one could not really tell for sure. She was sprite, witty, and doggedly determined to make her weight-loss goal. If you do, then you get to be a queen for a day and are awarded a paper crown, flowers, and heaps of praise.

In the last months of her life, Nancy came to exercise class with an oxygen tank in tow and worked hard to meet her goal. Nancy did not quite make “queen” before she died, but she was close.

So, last week the ladies of the three o’clock class gathered outside on an exceptionally windy day, said our good-byes to Nancy, gave her a symbolic crown, and released balloons in her honor as our “queen for a day.”

I promised I would get back to how I met Nancy because it had a lot to do with rare birds.

The first time I noticed Nancy she was wearing a sweatshirt lauding Squaw Creek National Game Refuge and its famed Eagle Days. Since I grew up just across the road from the refuge and knew about the rare eagles there, it was a natural way to strike up a conversation. So, talk about rare birds we did, on many a day.

Last week at the balloon release in Nancy’s honor, wind currents quickly caught the balloons taking them high above us where they soon mingled with birds, all manner of birds.

Nancy would have loved seeing those birds sail with her balloons.

A fitting good-bye to a “rara avis”, rare bird herself.

Apr 07

The Day of the Frogs is here, and it is all about love. Ribbit! (First published March 19, 2009, in The Examiner)

The Day of Spring Frogs

The Day of Spring Frogs

“What is all the racket down by the backyard pond? Are those crickets,” I asked one morning this week.

My husband replied, “No, those are your frogs. Remember the tadpoles you bought late last summer from some catalogue pond supply house? They turned into frogs and hibernated all winter. They’re back.”

“Frogs! The frogs are here,” I rejoiced. “How could I possibly forget my frogs?”

Then, I wondered, did those cute little green amphibians hide over winter in the pond muck, or did they spend the winter under brush and leaves?

Wherever they took cover for the winter, I was delighted they came back. After all the Day of the Frogs means that Spring is conclusively, absolutely, and we-are-not-kidding this time, finally here.

Besides, the spring crooning of frogs is delightful, at first.

My delight lasted for three sleepless nights.

Make no mistake about it, these frogs are singing about much more than the return of spring. It is all about love, and the guy frogs are singing their hearts out trying to find the gals.

When the winter air warms, usually in March in the Midwest, the male frog starts to sing and call for a prospective mate or two or three.

I guess that is the point. Perpetuate the species.

Since I was awake anyway due to these love-starved frogs, I did some midnight research about their springtime mating calls. I learned that the sound of the male can carry for long distances and can attract female frogs from miles away.

I sighed with resignation, “Just what we need—more frogs.”

As I continued my frog research I learned that the male Spring Peeper is noisier than the Cricket Frog and is said to have the same decibel level as found on airport runways.

Wonderful. I think we have both these critters in our pond plus some of their cousins.

Some frogs in our small backyard pond make a whistling sound; the Cricket Frog chirps like a cricket; and the Peeper says “Peep Peep” like a baby chick.

To make matters worse, the male frogs in our pond have formed a singing group (I call them Froggies ‘N Sync), and their combined voices sound like a loud chorus of crickets. The serenade goes on all evening; sometimes well into the morning hours.

The only way I have found to stop their racket is to walk toward the pond. They either jump into the water or become blessedly silent.

Yes, there can be too much of a good thing, even the singing of spring frogs.

On the fourth sleepless night, my husband commented that he sure hoped our new neighbors are not trying to sleep with a window open.

“If they ask about the noisy frogs, better tell them the frogs crawled up from the creek,” he said. “Don’t tell them you bought them on purpose.”

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