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COMMENTARY

Bob Henke column: The weight of Christmas ... and Q+A

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This has been a Christmas of great weights. After a certain point, you do not need much more in terms of material items and gifting is difficult. When the kids asked what I wanted this year, I said antique axes and high brass No. 6, 12 gauge shells. Interestingly, when Granddaughter One went to meet a lady who had an ax head to sell, they were comparing notes and it turned out the lady’s husband and I shared exactly the same gift list.

Neither would work for Dr. Wifey, so when we compared notes, my ask was for a new fireproof gun safe and hers was for one of those expensive mattresses. Acquiring the safe was easy for her. Simply, here is where I bought it, go pick it up. Loading 378 pounds into the truck was a bit more challenging. I was looking forward to resting my back as we drove home but before I got there, my neighbor was on the phone saying there was an enormous package with my name on it on her front porch pinning the door shut.

Turns out the mattress had been delivered to the wrong house. We last bought a mattress 20 years ago so I was not prepared for “enormous.” It meant shipping weight of 202 pounds in a slippery plastic wrap that you cannot get to tip onto your shoulder without sliding. I got it to the truck in a series of bearhug lifts and awkward waddles on the slippery driveway.

My friend Dudley called while my back was still recovering. His observation this time was, coincidentally, how our definition of “heavy” had changed. Feed bags mostly weigh 50 pounds now. In our youth, everything came in 100-pound bags. There are also now instructions on how to pull the string to open the bags. We had to know just which string to cut, which one to pull out through which side, and then coordinate pulling them both at exactly the same rate in order to accomplish the same feat.

Speaking of feats, I routinely tucked a sack under each arm to walk from the truck to the barn and had mastered the money-making trick of lifting five bags at once. My grandfather was unimpressed because, in his youth, everything came in barrels, which people lifted and carried, making our feed bags look like child’s play.

The first question this month has to do with weight.

You have said that ants and earthworms a more biologically significant than humans. What could this possibly be based upon?

I process deer so I waste no freezer space on bones. All the bones, I put out in the field for the birds to pick, allowing us to see eagles and ravens at fairly close range. The other day, I was driving out with the tractor when I saw a golden retriever come out of the wood road. He rushed over, greeted me and then rushed to the bone pile to pick a delicious morsel. As I watched, this was repeated three more times. I waited a bit and Debbie, a neighbor, came out to talk.

She had been walking the four huge dogs along the wood roads. As we stood talking, although my weight is extreme, she is a fairly scrawny thing so the biomass of golden retriever in the field environment was greater than the human biomass. I presume after the meat scrap and fat they were gorging on, their methane production would far exceed our best efforts on a chili and beer day. This is the same calculation biologists make regarding biological significance. The overall weight/biomass of either ants or earthworms, greatly exceeds that of homo sapiens on the earth and their effect on the environment is much greater.

We went to Fort Miller and did see the snow goose but several times I have gone to locations you listed in your “Sightings” and never saw any of the things in your pictures. Perhaps you need a little quality control.

You should only go when I have a plant sighting. This is why I have always considered field botany to be much easier than field biology, plants hold still. Animals are prone to run off. Wildlife observation/photography is an exercise of patience. The good news is that every sort of wildlife is territorial and has a home range. Some of these, like for meadow voles, may be as small as 100 feet, others, like coyotes, may be 20 miles on a side. I can report where something appears, which defines at least one spot in the home range, and gives you a head start on where to look for them in the future. I can make no guarantee on when they will hit that spot in the range again.

What is the difference between a sundog and a mock sun? Are these the same as a fogbow?

There is none. It is the same phenomenon, a prism effect of sunlight passing through dense ice crystals in the clouds at a slight angle from the observer. A fogbow is something completely different. These are quite rare, occurring when the sun is at a low angle and there is sufficient density of water droplets in the fog to yield a curved rainbow effect. I have it on good authority there is no pot of gold at the end of a fogbow, just some more dismal swamp.

There was one deer around the Argyle area when you were a child. It would come out in the cemetery in the evening to graze and my family used to drive by every day to see it. Then it suddenly disappeared and I bet you know why, don’t you?

I know only the mythology. If Uncle Tony shot it, my part of the family never saw any of the venison to my knowledge.

Inquiring minds have to know. Who else told you to run a race if you wanted a trophy. And on national TV?

I am sorry that Linda Ellerbee (whose real name was Linda Jane Smith) had to fight cancer and I admire the work she has done to help others in that situation but ... I once had to coordinate efforts to handle a big bull moose that seemed determined to kill himself. This idiot stopped traffic on the interstate, rammed a vehicle before leaving, came into the city of Glens Falls, tore down a bunch of fences, got hung up in some wire, went to Hudson Falls, repeatedly charged people, including some Conservation officers, went back to Glens Falls and got hit by a car. This did not appear to hurt him, although the car was toast.

Finally, it went into a cemetery in Queensbury, where it began to knock over gravestones and chase people before it finally presented a good location to dart it. I was basically awake for most of three days, following this beast on foot, and was delighted to see him finally crumple. We got him into a horse trailer to transport but, because moose are so stupid and this one so particularly vicious, we sawed off his antlers. Bulls, waking up from a tranquilizer, will often kill themselves by breaking their own stupid necks thrashing about if they have the leverage of big antlers.

We released him in the Adirondacks. I was elected to open the trailer and his final act before trotting off, was to chase me around the vehicle several times. I got home, sat down to eat my first actual food in four days, and on the television up pops Linda Ellerbee doing her always slightly pompous, “And So It Goes ...” segment. Her topic was this exact cursed moose, the video clip was me on top of the thing in the trailer sawing off its antlers. Her comment was, “If you boys need a trophy so bad, why don’t you go run a race? And so it goes ...” I did run a marathon, the antlers went to the lab, and I will never stop being mad at her for that nasty crack.

Really liked the witches’ butter column but every time you mention someone trying something for the first time, you used the male pronoun. Do you think women are not more likely to have been the food explorers?

Since typical hunter gatherer societies focus male activities on the hunter part and female on the gatherer (although a significant amount of small game hunting goes on here as well), it might make sense that women are the food explorers. However, I have repeatedly seen men try something, expostulate about how horrible it is, immediately exhort their companions to try it, and they always do. Women are not this stupid and, since males are generally considered expendable, my guess is women would “get Mikey to try it” before risking themselves.

And so it goes. ...

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

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