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Insects and amphibians

Laugh Tracks in the Dust
Milo Yield
Damphewmore Acres, Kan.

By now the odds are in our favor that Nevah and I dodged the CV bullet with our trip to Minnesota for our grandson’s wedding. Ten days have passed and we’re still on our feet. So, we’ll simply be thankful that our little venture turned out okay — so far.

•••

I’ll return to my column theme of recounting the ways and activities that occupied my playtime during my callow youth six and seven decades ago.

I’ve recalled another kind of insect that I and my neighborhood friends played with. It was the polyphemus moth. It is a huge moth about 3-inches-inches long and wide and it has a long curled-up mouthpiece at least 2-inches long.

The moths would begin flying at dusk to feed on the white funnel-shaped flowers of the jimpson weed that populated everyone’s cow yard. Our neighbor still milked his cows outdoors in the evenings. When I wuz playing at that farm, his son and I would arm ourselves with sticks or laths and try to whack the big moths as they flitted from flower to flower and plant to plant.

Anyone familiar with jimpson weed will know its growth pattern is much like a deer or elk antler — one fork leading to another fork and then to another. It wuz about as much fun to whack down on the main stem fork of a jimpson weed plant and split it in two as it was to make contact with a polyphemus moth. Our fathers never complained about this play because jimpson weeds were a barnyard nuisance that produced huge prickly burrs with scads of seeds.

•••

Now I’ll switch from insect playthings to amphibian playthings — frogs and toads. When I wuz a kid, frogs and toads of many kinds were abundant and common. That’s not true today.

Bullfrogs were the “King of Frogs” to me and my friends because they were big, bad, best tasting and abundant. Every pond, lake or stream had a healthy population of bull frogs.

In the summer, we kids would take to the waterways with flashlights and gunny sacks during the early night seeking enuf bullfrogs to make a couple of family meals of fried froglegs.

Our means of harvesting bullfrogs were several. One friend had a regular frog gig. Another had a fishing net. Another had a 22-rifle loaded with birdshot. We all had BB guns. We all had cane fishing poles. And we all had our two hands.

On the little limestone streams in southeast Kansas, we would wade the middle of the stream and look for bullfrog eyes shining back at us from the banks. We’d sneak up as close as possible, blinding the frog with the light, and try to kill or catch it. If successful, we’d toss it into the wet gunny sack.

On ponds, we mostly had to stay on the banks and out of the water. But, whether it wuz night or day, we carried our cane poles with a little scrap of rag fabric fastened on a hook tied to the end of the string. If we could get close enuf to dangle the rag scrap in front of a bullfrog, it would instinctively hop onto it to eat it and get hooked. If we couldn’t get close enuf for the pole, the 22-rifle with birdshot or the BB gun did the trick, but we often had to wade into the pond to retrieve the dead frog.

I recall the fried frog legs as a delicious treat from our normal fare, and it wuz fun for a kid like me to watch the froglegs twitch while they were frying in the pan.

•••

I don’t know which kid first heard about the Calaveras County jumping frog contest in California, but we learned about it somehow and to us kids, it wuz a contest well worth duplicating.

So, a friend and I would catch any frog — bullfrog, leopard frog, green frog, or a pond peeper. Then we would in some way demark the boundary of the frog jumping contest. Then we would each simultaneously drop our frog at the middle starting spot and see whose frog leaped the fastest across the boundary.

A subset of the contest wuz to try and measure the longest first leap of our frogs. It wuz a very inexact science, so, naturally, it lead to hard feelings for the loser — especially if we were betting pennies, nickels, or pieces of penny candy.

•••

Looking back on our playing, I and my friends likely contributed locally to the decline of frog and reptile populations. But, of course, wildlife conservation wuz the farthest thing from our little minds. Our only criteria was one — wuz it fun.

Every snake we found became a dead snake — just because it wuz a snake. We weren’t much more benevolent to horned frog lizards, collard lizards, skinks and newts.

Crawdads were fun to seine for fish bait or catch by hand by overturning stones in the clear streams. Or, in muddy terrace ponds or ditches, we “fished” for crawdads with strips of bacon or chicken entrails. If we caught enuf big ones, we boiled them alive like lobsters and ate the shelled tails.

•••

I’ll close this week with an observation about the horrific wildfires in the western states. The incompetent politicians would like you to believe the fires are caused by climate change. I think they are covering their rears because the real reason for the fires is paying attention to the avid environmentalists for decades and disregarding scientific timber and land management. In order to “save” a few endangered species and sequester carbon, they mandated to quit thinning forests, abolished controlled burns to rid the forest floor of fuel, banished cattle and sheep from eating the grasses that fuel fires, abandoned fire lanes and roads.

Well, it turns out, we’re all paying the high price for their high-minded forest mismanagement. All the timber is gone, most of the wildlife is incinerated, the endangered species have most likely been wiped out. The forest floor is scorched. And all the carbon the environmentalists were going to save from getting into the air is kaput. We’re breathing the smoky air in Kansas and eastward. Way to go, know-it-alls.

Have a better ‘un. ❖


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