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Bob Henke column: Q+A on foxes, ling, pigeons and co-workers

Bob Henke column: Q+A on foxes, ling, pigeons and co-workers

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We were having breakfast in the Auction Barn Restaurant yesterday and some may have noticed me sniffling and dabbing at my eyes. As we waited for our food, I was watching my daughter walking across the stage to get her Masters Degree at SUNY Plattsburgh.

She has had quite a time of it, taking the graduate courses while working full time with three kids living at home. She prevailed and did so with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I should have been there, violating the rules on cheering, but instead she walked the stage before an empty auditorium due to COVID and I sat in the restaurant staring at my phone.

I have had a number of graduations myself but far and away the most memorable was when we sold the couch.

In 1969, I got my B.S. and Janice got her M.S. We cheated and sat together. Our mothers rode out together to watch from the audience. Afterwards, we changed our clothes, talked a bit, and they headed back home. As soon as they left, I dragged our couch out to the van and delivered it to another young couple a few miles away. Our 2 year old was inconsolable and the terriers seem confused about why they could not climb up on the back to look out the window.

Working through college with a family was a challenge. Most of our furnishings came from the street. We would cruise some of the more affluent areas on garbage night. I got everything from a dining room set to a washer and dryer. Most needed only some basic repair to continue functioning. The nice suede couch needed only a couple of wood screws and some glue to reattach the broken arm and there it was, a piece of furniture we could never afford buy.

1969 was different, financially. Instead of a half dozen summer jobs, I was going to take a position on a state archaeology team that would pay more than all my jobs together the previous summer. However, being the state, the paychecks did not start for three weeks. The rent came due during this time so something had to happen. We sold the couch and I got an extra $10 for delivering it, which covered the rent nicely.

It took only a couple of weeks before our garbage night cruise scored another couch. After repairing a leg and giving it a good cleaning, it went into the living room. The terriers immediately hopped to the back to look out the window, like nothing had happened. Jennifer, however, would not sit on it. When we encouraged her to try it, she would declare, “Ki Green couch. Brown couch now!” Ki meant No at that point in time. She never touched it for the four years it lived with us.

All of this is an interesting coincidence because the first question this month relates to something I first learned in 1969.

I know you have written about pigeons before but I don’t think you ever said how far they could travel. I assume this is different if the weather is bad. What happens then, do they just find a new place to live along the way?

In the fall of 1969, after a long hot summer in the field, I got a much better assignment — a week at the Smithsonian measuring a collection of projectile points from upstate New York. This was stultifying work and if I felt my technical rigor slipping, I would take a few minutes to look around the museum to shake out the cobwebs.

They were redoing an exhibit on WWI and a part of it was a taxidermied pigeon. Messages were sent between the front and field headquarters using homing pigeons and one, a dark-colored cock named Cher Ami, was in the Smithsonian collection. Cher Ami was with the American 77th Infantry battalion, which had been surrounded by enemy forces and driven to a position unknown to the American command. Torn by enemy fire and bombarded by American artillery because their position was unknown, the 77th was in dire straits. They put a message on their last pigeon, Cher Ami, and sent him off to his home loft at American command, 75 miles away.

It was dark and stormy, there was all sorts of fire going in all directions, and the Germans had a cadre of marksmen whose sole job it was to shoot down messenger pigeons. Cher Ami was wounded multiple times but saved the day by bringing the message through. So the answer is, they are not very apt to be deterred by adverse conditions and just give up.

I once picked up a race pigeon whose wing had been broken by a hawk strike. The owner, in Boston, did not want to ship him home. I set his wing, got him on some antibiotic, and he healed up. He stayed in my non-flying coop for over a year, even raising a couple of broods of babies. Finally, when he had been with me for almost 2 years, I let him fly outside for the first time. That was the last time I saw him. The fellow in Boston called the next day to say the bird was back in its home loft. As far as distance, I have had some that easily flew from Buffalo back to Argyle.

Once again, there have been several like this one: There is a litter of foxes under the shed in our backyard. I do not know why they are so close to humans but can you tell me who to call to have them removed and put out in the wild somewhere?

Actually, they are where they are to stay as close to good hunting areas as possible while fending for a litter of kits. Human habitation creates terrific habitat for a number of secondary growth species, especially small rodents and those that prey on them. Putting them “out in the wild” would be likely to starve them.

The good news is that fox parents typically prepare a series of dens. When the odor begins to build around one that might call in a coyote or other predator to endanger the babies, the parents lug them to the next den where they begin the befouling process anew. Foxes are like the weather in the Northeast. If you do not like it, just a wait a while and it will change.

What is a ling?

That depends on where you are. If you are in salt water, it is a smaller but very good-eating relative of the cod. If you are, as I suspect, on Lake Champlain, there are multiple answers — none exactly correct. I learned there were two types of “ling” in Lake Champlain — skin ling, which were good to eat, and scale ling which were fun to catch. The fish known local as skin ling is a burbot, freshwater cousin of the cod and known for sharing its delicately-flavored white meat. A skin ling is a bowfin, a muddy-tasting ambush predator that will whack a lure and make you think you have hooked a submarine.

Perhaps I missed something but why exactly did your coworkers wind up being called what you called them.

A couple are simple. The Goose Island Goddess rules that geographic area with an iron fist. The Dairy Princess presides over a successful bovine operation. Wonder Woman is a bit more involved.

One of them sent me a meme on Facebook. It showed an intense-looking woman pulling open her shirt revealing her undergarments. The caption was, “This is a job for Wonder Wom … Oh crap! I forgot my costume!” The lady in the picture bore a remarkable resemblance to the middle sister. I laughed and forgot about it.

Later that year, on a muggy summer day, she was on a shopping trip, getting back to the car with a grandchild in one arm while towing a heaping cart with the other. She wrestled the protesting child into the car seat and, being quite overheated, whipped off her jacket before starting to put the grocery sacks into the car. Noticing the stares of other shoppers, she suddenly realized she had not been wearing a jacket — hence Wonder Woman.

I know the questions are not finished but the space for this column is. I will get to the rest shortly. The rest except, of course, any that relate to the antics of my co-workers. Things are a bit iffy right now and further explanation, however accurate, might put them over the edge. Therefore, right now I am going to go watch the YouTube of graduation and sniffle some more. ...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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