The Suitcase Lady

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August 2, 2021, 8:40 am

An extreme example of dimorphism occurred in one of our bird feeders yesterday. Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak both landed simultaneously to have lunch. Anyone not versed in bird species would never guess that these two were mates. Dad is a striking black and white with a flaming scarlet dickie. Mom looks like a brown sparrow with a weight problem.

The dictionary defines dimorphism as “the differences in appearance between males and females of the same species, such as color, shape, size and structure. The word is from the Greek “di” (two) and “morpho” (form or shape).

Many species of birds are dimorphic, and it’s the gentlemen who are the eye-catching ones. This is not to give bird-watchers a thrill: it’s all about luring a mate. Cardinals and orioles are obvious examples. The goldfinches are as well until the mating season ends. Then the boys molt their brilliant yellow feathers for drab winter apparel.

Although we humans are not an example of extreme dimorphism, other mammals do fall into that category. Lions may be the first to come to mind, but elephant seals probably should get the trophy. The guys are a whopping five times bigger than the girls, and they have bulbous noses to help them make loud roars when courting.

Dimorphism in insects is common as well, with the females often being substantially larger than the males. It’s theorized that the ladies need the body mass to hold all the eggs they produce.

However, a fish probably displays the most bizarre of all the dimorphic variants. The midnight zone anglerfish is 60 times the length and half a million times the weight of her male. She has small eyes and a long lure ending in a light that projects out of her head. The teensy male has big eyes and a well-developed sense of smell. These features help him find his true love in the basement of the ocean. He then attaches his body to hers, tapes into her circulatory system and stays there for the rest of his life. This process is known as sexual dimorphic parasitism. For all my female friends out there, it is best not to think about this too much.

photo- New York Times

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July 27, 2021, 10:15 am

I never imagined I would be writing a post about Tricky Dick. However, I just learned a fascinating piece of information about our 37th President, Richard M. Nixon, that begs to be shared.

But first, some background information. Nixon, a California native, began his long political career when he won seats in the House of Representatives and then the Senate. He went on to appear on a National Presidential ticket five times. Nixon and Franklin D. Roosevelt are the only ones who ever accomplished this and, coincidentally, they both won four of their five races. Nixon was Eisenhower’s VP for two terms, lost the Presidency to John Kennedy in 1960 and won the Presidency in 1968 and 1972.

His most famous speech was the “Checkers” speech. This was a brilliant appeal that “I am not a crook” for accepting large political donations and gifts. These were not illegal at the time, but he was campaigning as a corruption fighter. He emphatically stated that if he were kept on Eisenhower’s ticket as V.P., he would keep one gift, Checkers, his black and white Cocker Spaniel.

Here is what I recently learned about Richard Nixon, and it is extremely telling about his character. Oenophiles, wine connoisseurs, use the phrase, “pulling a Nixon”. This term comes as the result of a habit of our 37th President, a lover of extremely expensive wines. He was infamous for drinking first-growth Bordeaux, (Chateau Margaux being his favorite) while simultaneously serving his guests cheap wines. He instructed the White House waiters to hold the napkin over the label of the cheap wines as they filled the glasses.

Least you think that this story is an urban myth that I, a card-carrying Democrat, have dredged up, it is not. I have done due diligence with fact checking and Nixon’s stingy habit is well documented.

“Tricky Dick” earned his nickname in many ways. Thanks go to my nephew, who knows a good wine when he meets it, for telling me about “pulling a Nixon”.

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July 20, 2021, 10:27 am

All the seasons have their beauty, but summer is in a class by itself. Long-awaited, greatly missed and dreamed about, summer never disappoints when it finally comes. Although its arrival marks the beginning of the sun’s slow withdrawal from our hemisphere, most of us are too busy enjoying summer’s pleasures to notice the retreat.

Last week in two separate instances, people said to me, “I can’t believe that summer is half over.” I can’t either; it seems as if the party has just begun.

But now that we have arrived at the midpoint of these glorious days, it’s a good time to take stock of our summer pleasures and vow to indulge fully in the time that remains. Summer is as ephemeral as the butterflies that are fluttering all over our meadow at this moment.

Here are some of our favorite summer things:

Listening to the sounds of purple martins.

It’s high time to smell the flowers!





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July 13, 2021, 9:30 pm

Thieves steal the weirdest things. Take, for example, a recent big heist I read about. The loot was an entire semitrailer stuffed to the brim with pistachio nuts.

This robbery might seem nutty, but the value of a semi of pistachios is $200,000. That’s not peanuts.

The semi of nuts went AWOL from a company in Tulare County, California. Initially, the executives thought the shipment was simply delayed or misplaced. But when an audit was done and $170,760 was missing, it was time to call in the Tulare County Agricultural Crimes Unit. Apparently, so much produce goes missing that the sheriff had to create this unique department to round up missing fruits, veggies and nuts. Because of their long shelf life, nuts are an especially delectable target.

In this case, the deputies got the hijacker, a trucker working for a contract hauling business. He parked the stolen rig in a lot not far from the nut company and was repacking the huge sacks which contained 2,000 nuts per bag  into smaller packages for resale. If you are a pistachio lover, you know the profit from that would be huge. 40,000 pounds of nuts were recovered. 2,000 pounds are unaccounted for and presumably eaten.

After reading about nut rustling out West, I found this happy tidbit on the Internet…pistachios are called the “smiling nut” in Iran. The answer is obvious, but I had never noticed it before: each half-split nut resembles a tiny smile. I think we all could use a dish full of smiles in America these days.

Photo: Farmers Almanac

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July 6, 2021, 8:43 pm

Lawns are the diabolical invention of the English around the 16th and 17th centuries. The aristocracy needed to show off their superior status. What better way than to create a monoculture crop and then forbid it to do what nature dictates…grow? Keeping your estate shorn, emerald perfection would flaunt the fact that you had a carload of servants.

A good analogy to the folly of the lawn is these same people’s devotion to gleaming silver. Tarnishing is what silver naturally does. Therefore, status is achieved by having someone from the downstairs’ staff spend their lifetime polishing your hoard of silver tableware.

Switch to our current times. Nothing much has changed. We live in the country, and status is still obtained by mowing acres of lawn to golf course standards.

The servants have been replaced by $3000 plus riding mowers. But here’s the hitch. The lords and ladies of these modern day manors usually drive the mowers themselves. That is hours and hours of going round and round in circles every week.

We gave away our lawnmower when we moved from our city house to our country home. About 95% of our land is natural habitat, a small little bluestem prairie and a meadow. All the plants in the prairie are native species that attract butterflies and birds.

Unfortunately, we did have to buy a small non-riding mower for the area of our yard next to the road. Trying to be reasonable people, we do understand that a small swath of vegetation should be cut alongside the road so drivers can spot deer, turkeys and other wildlife before they dart into the roadway. But our highway department has gone way overboard, scalping and ripping out much more than is needed for safety. The only way we can be spared a massacre is to carefully mow the buffer zone ourselves, and this is what we do.

An example of the silliness of whacked-off grass was on display in our yard this Spring. We had an extremely dry spring. Our natural yard stayed green, growing, flowering and buzzing with animal activity. The mown part turned brown and barren after a few weeks without rain. Status can be most ugly.

A member of our younger generation helps us with the diabolical roadway.

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