We’ve blogged before about a white-footed mouse in the house. We read the story to our kids when they were little. Time after time we snuggled down with the book and they never got tired of hearing why the mouse might be cute but doesn’t belong in the house. A recent internet search for the specific book revealed lots of stories but not the one we wanted. Alas. So, here we are decades later writing again about a mouse in the house. Mice are cute but they do not belong in a house.
A person holding a mouse.
Whenever we’d find mouse evidence in our house, we’d set traps and usually catch a few, tossing their lifeless bodies outside for scavenger animals to eat. We do feel badly, but as the mother in the story said, “…a mouse does not belong in a house.”
Path to the outdoor pantry
In January we changed our mind…..sort of. It was 20 below zero outside. Rich trudged through snow drifts to fill our bird feeders and noticed tracks, tiny mouse tracks, in the snow. A crafty white-footed mouse had scampered on top of the snow the night before to scrounge a few leftover seeds for dinner. Its tracks led to a snug nook out of the wind and under the deck.
An average White-footed mouse weighs a whopping .7 ounce. That’s seven-tenths of an ounce! That such a tiny creature can survive the howling wind and intense cold is a marvel of nature. Every nocturnal predator from coyotes to owls tries to capture and eat this diminutive mammal. But, it is wily, wary, and quick. Although not usually out during the day, it has to be mindful of cats and hawks looking for a meal.
After seeing those tracks, we felt a bit sorry for the animal that made them. We still won’t welcome a mouse into our house, but we’re happy it lives just outside in a safe place under the deck. He’s welcome to any seeds the birds overlooked.
To learn more about White Footed Mice and many other wild animals check out Animal Diversity Web out of the University of Michigan.
We were starting to pack for a winter trip to visit our Alaskan daughter when she called. “Bring gaiters along with your snowshoes,” she said. That sparked a lively conversation between us and piqued our curiosity.
Marion calls the item of clothing that keeps snow and dirt from getting into boots gaiters. Rich calls them spats. Who’s right? Well, we both are. Gaiters, spats, puttees, chaps, and leg warmers all are designed to protect legs, ankles, or feet from snow, dirt, or the cold. Some add a flair of fashion to their role of protection and they can be mostly decorative.
Gaiters are modern and popular with winter outdoor enthusiasts. Usually made of nylon or another synthetic fabric, they fasten over pant legs and shoes to keep grime and snow out. Unless a skier or snowshoer likes cold wet feet, gaiters are essential. Some gaiters have a chemical coating that helps protect from ticks, too.
Ways to protect feet and legs.
Long or short it is up to you.
Spats go way back. Rich remembers his Army days when soldiers wore bright white spats during formal ceremonies and parades. Spats is a shortened word for spatterdashes. Military ones were made of white canvas and may still be. Spats are usually short and worn over the lower trouser legs and shoes. Back a century ago stylish men and women often wore fancy spats on dress-up occasions. Today heavy-duty spats are made for protection, rather than fashion, and are worn by welders and construction workers to protect their feet and ankles from sparks and heavy falling objects.
Pity the poor World War I soldiers who had to live in filthy, muddy trenches. Often, they wore puttees in an attempt to keep cold, grimy slime out of their shoes and off their lower legs. The Canadian War Museum explains that a puttee is a length of, usually, cotton material, somewhat like a bandage roll, that was wound around the ankle, lower pants legs, and upper parts of shoes. They were likely no match for a trench’s muck. Puttees are hardly ever used today and the name is nearly lost.
Leg Warmers emerged from a dancewear shop in the East Village. Designed to keep dancers’ legs and feet warm, they because fashion accessories. The 1983 movie Flashdance and Jane Fonda with her workout videos helped popularize these practical, stylish accessories throughout the ‘80s. They’re long tubes of colorful warm fabric that fit tightly over much of the legs. They haven’t gone away. Usually, they’re worn by women.
Chaps are still another clothing item that are worn over the legs for protection. Cowboys wore them to fend off thorns. Loggers use them to protect their legs from wayward sharp chainsaw teeth. Rich spent a season logging in Idaho, where they were spelled chaps but pronounced shaps. Idaho’s unusual. In most other places people use the “c” sound. Chainsaw chaps have the amazing ability to stop a speeding chain’s teeth before tearing into the operator’s legs. They’re strictly for protection and anyone running a chainsaw is wise to wear them.
So, are they gaiters or spats? Do you pronounce them chaps or shaps? Take your pick, but however they are pronounced or called leg and ankle coverings offer protection, and some can be downright stylish. Just another way to be prepared in Iowa.
We live in a world of dizzying change in how we live, drive, and communicate. Like many people, we struggle to keep up with change and stay modern, so it’s comforting to know that some things simply don’t change. Fortunately, winter owls don’t change.
In March 1982 the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE printed Marion’s column on Iowa owls. It’s as relevant today as it was 42 years ago.
Audible In Winter
Now is the season of Winter Owls. The time of year when they are especially audible and often visible. Owls have a large vocabulary from courting to warning. YouTube is a great source to learn about and hear the sounds.
Barred and Great Horned Owls
We love hearing the clear and somewhat chilling calls of Barred and Great Horned Owls that reach our house over the snow and through the woods on clear, frosty winter nights. These two species live near our home year-round, with Barred Owls the most common. You can tell the Great Horned call that is low and throaty. The Barred calls out the familiar, “Who cooks for you?” refrain.
Waiting for supper.
Injured owls find a safe home at the International Owl Center.
A few times a year we drive to New Jersey to visit relatives and often are delighted to hear the two calls of a local Screech Owl serenade the evening. Its soft, haunting trill, called a tremolo, wafts over the lake. The “whinny”, think of a horse whinny, is territorial.
Several of our friends trekked north this winter to see Great Grey and Northern Hawk-Owls. The Great Grey’s sound varies from a low-pitched “whoof” to an abrupt “meeh” to short screeches similar to a blue jay. The Northern Hawk Owl’s vocabulary ranges from high-pitched warbling sounds that carry across frozen landscapes to “chit-chit-chits” to a wimpy, scratchy screech. Think of a person with laryngitis trying to sing. All owls’ calls are amazing delights for those who wander outside and listen carefully on winter evenings.
Northern Hawk Owl on wire. Photo Mark Ogden
Great Gray Owl visits Northern Minnesota. Photo Mark Ogden
Many owl species don’t migrate much but these two sometimes dip southward from their usual winter range. So do magnificent Snowy Owls. In some especially frigid winters, they drift way south in what’s called an “irruption”. Birders flock to see them in open fields and even on the edge of airports! One of our favorite owls is the tiny Northern Saw-Whet Owl. They regularly come south in winter. Years ago, the Indian Creek Nature Center had a thick grove of young pines, a winter habitat the bird loves. Often, we could approach them closely on cold days. We even heard them once in the tiny ‘pine grove’ at our former residence.
How Do I Love Thee?
A fascinating aspect of owls is that they court and nest when it’s still winter! Although people rarely see courtship or mating, it is fascinating. Texas Backyard Wildlife captured video and the offering to the bigger female as a token of Love.
What prompts these impressive raptors to court, breed, and endure the hardships of incubating eggs in nature’s most desolate time of year? Necessity! Baby owls are a lot like human babies. They take a lot of care. For months owlets cry, eat, sleep, and poop. All the while growing. Just like humans. Young hatch late March into April when small rodents, the mainstay of owls, become more plentiful. Then, the adults really get busy foraging to feed the young tucked into nests of sticks.
Unlike some birds, Great Horned owl nests are not works of art. Adults return to the same wood tracts year after year and add only a few extra twigs. Young, like many teenagers, can make a shambles of the nest. The more practical Screech Owls prefer tree cavities and can be convinced to nest in wooden boxes adapted for them.
During winter owls can be noisy and obvious as they wing across snowy fields at dusk. But after courtship and nesting, they quiet down. Like human adults, they are busy raising the young. By mid-summer people sometimes find “teenaged” owls flopping around on the ground or perched precariously on low branches. Like all fledglings, they are learning to fly. It’s best to leave them alone. The parent is nearby and the “kids” will make it without our help.
Waiting for supper.
Tuck In and Read!
Winter is more than a time to hear and see owls. It’s a season to read about them. Our two favorite bird magazines featured owls in their winter 2024 editions. BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST, features a species profile on Barn Owls. LIVING BIRD includes a fascinating article called HUNTING BY HEARING. The magazines are available online to subscribers. We enjoy both while curled up with the paper copy by the wood stove, and occasionally reading online articles. We also browse reliable internet sources and YouTube videos on owls.
For intrepid winter visitors a trip to the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, is a delight. Their signature event, the International Festival of Owls is scheduled for March 1-3 this year.
All things owl.
The International Owl Center promotes owl awareness.
It’s winter. A season to enjoy the cold, snow, and OWLS.
Phone Call Sets In Motion Action
In early 2005 Rich received an attention-grabbing phone call that set in motion a prostate Cancer Adventure.
“Are you sitting down?” Dr. Rippentrop asked. “Yup,” Rich replied. “You have prostate cancer. Come to my office tomorrow and bring Marion. I’m going to give you options,” he said.
A cancer physician with a robust sense of humor is worth his or her weight in gold, and Dr. Jon Rippentrop shared his wondrous humor that’s stacked on solid medical credentials. As we sat nervously in his office he winked and said, “You have no symptoms and feel good. You don’t need to do anything about your prostate cancer……and the good news is you won’t have to do any retirement planning!!!!” We chuckled at his humor because we knew he was about to give us hopeful options.
Then he presented several possible treatments for this prostate cancer adventure. We chose to proceed quickly with surgery and, later, radiation. On December 27, nearly 18 full years after his prostate was removed Rich had a semiannual meeting with Dr. Rippentrop. Rich’s PSA test showed undetectable. “Looks great!” said the doctor.
Science works. Wise researchers developed the PSA test and our astute family doctor noted Rich’s rising psa during annual blood tests before physicals. She referred him to urologist surgeon Dr. Rippentrop, who conducted robotic surgery. It worked.
Rich has enjoyed good health all these years and is appreciative of the outstanding science and wise physicians who helped him along his cancer journey. Fortunately, prostate cancer, like some other cancers, responds well to early detection and treatment.
Back Sliding in Receptivity to Scientific Knowledge
Modern medicine is amazing but there is sad news. Charles Kenny’s relatively new book, THE PLAGUE CYCLE, is a history of how medical researchers learned to prevent or cure many contagious diseases that felled millions of people in years not far back. Both Rich and Marion remember receiving the then newly developed polio vaccine they took as children. Certainly, their parents were appreciative of the new vaccine. The polio scourge that struck so many children is now virtually unknown. Thanks to science. While cancer is different from microbes that spawn contagious diseases, scientific advancements over decades help ALL live healthy lives. Sometimes we take this for granted.
Kenny’s last chapter reveals disturbing medical backsliding. Far too many people believe Internet hucksters who plant unfounded fear of modern medical treatments and vaccines.
Ruining Everyone’s Day
A diagnosis of a disease or contagion alters people’s lives. Avoiding vaccinations puts lives at unnecessary risk.
Prostate cancer isn’t caused by a microbe and has no symptoms in its early stage. The PSA test helps a physician identify and treat it using a variety of techniques while there’s still time. It’s a lifesaver.
Winding Pathways owners Marion and Rich Patterson urge everyone to get annual physicals, appropriate medical tests, and vaccinations.
Lots to Experience in January
(reworked from the Patterson’s “Iowa’s Wild Side” column
originally in the Cedar Rapids Gazette)
Winter in Iowa is erratic. Mild. January thaws. Grey, damp, and achy mornings. Frigid. Blustery. Sunny, sparkling days when all is right. We have it all. Here are ways we a find joy in January.
Some people escape to warmer regions. Most of us hang tough and grumble. At Winding Pathways, we’ve found that simple observations can enliven and deepen our appreciation for the change of seasons.
Bundled up in his Carharts and sitting quietly downwind at dusk, Rich notices deer begin to move. Stars and planets glow. Five geese honk and wing across the waxing moon. A photographer’s dream. An owl’s call fills the stillness left behind.
Wildlife freeze as the great horned owl’s ghostly shape floats silently to a branch near our home. Puffed to twice its size, a buffer against the cold, it waits. Several long minutes pass. Then, a rabbit cautiously emerges from the prairie stubble. An opossum noses hungrily at the compost heap. A startled mouse scurries across an open space. With talons extended and yellow eyes gleaming, the owl drops. After a brief scuffle, only bits of fur remain.
Possums’ feet help it climb.
Observe When You Drive
Another way we find Joy in January is by taking drives. Across a frosty Iowa road, we slow as four deer race across a field, leap a barbed wire fence, and dash to safety beyond busy Highway 30. We speculate what startled them. A short time later we observe a face-off between a grazing cow and a foraging hawk. Neck stretched out, nose to the wind, the cow eyes the hovering hawk.
From the comfort of our home, we watch birds. Siskins, when the weather is cold, Carolina wrens when winters are mild, hang around the feeder and shrubs loaded with berries. A red-headed woodpecker pecks at suet. It rattles noisily and jabs its lance-like bill at the less aggressive birds. Its strong bill is great for hammering insects out of frozen trees and pounding holes in ice-encased water baths.
Black ice is another winter phenomenon. While not fun to drive on it is intriguing on rivers, ponds, and lakes. One Kansas winter an Arctic airmass plunged into the heartland and gave us a chance to peer into the dark depths below. A snapping turtle slowly swam through the thick water. Ice skaters reveled in the unusual event.
Nowadays we enjoy Arctic air from the inside. A small pool is just outside our window near the feeders. Sometimes, when temperatures drop quickly, and black ice forms we can see “through the looking glass” so to speak. A small aerator keeps a circle of water open. Small birds hop to the edge and drink. The overwintering goldfish appreciate the extra O2.
And we enjoy hot chocolate during January’s dormant month.