Bob Henke commentary: Q and A, and oh my aching back
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Bob Henke commentary: Q and A, and oh my aching back

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My back was doing pretty well. I tweaked it pretty substantially, to the point that even putting on my socks was apt to cause a spasm and there was absolutely no comfortable position to sleep in bed. As usual, this went on for a couple of days, and then began to go away. This was good timing because there was big rain coming and I was in a race to get the sunflower field seeded and the corn patch in.

The former involved several switches of implements on the tractor (I keep telling Dr. Wifey I need a second tractor, without much success). Wrestling things onto the three-point hitch, dumping seed sacks and even the interminable, crouched over, maintenance of my grease-gobbling discs were all things that would not only have been slow and tentative but excruciating as well if the twinge was still there.

The tractor work went smoothly, the sunflower seeds all covered and rolled, waiting for their watering from the skies. I hit the corn patch with the discs but it really needed a finer touch so I dug out the 40 year-old tiller. The sky was darkening and the wind was starting to march around the compass but there was still plenty of time to give the corn patch a final tilling and get it seeded. The reluctant Briggs and Stratton fired up after only a few pulls and I headed for the garden.

Before I could make even a single pass, in spite of careful oil and gas changes, new spark plug, air cleaner and carb adjustment, it inexplicably quit. The weather radar said I had about 45 minutes to finish the planting so delays were unacceptable. Standing on an embankment, I gave the starter cord a yank — and it broke, sending me off balance, staggering down the bank and causing my back to return instantly to square one with an audible pop. The corn got planted but the job was completed on my hands and knees and I got a good soaking on the way back to the house. Listening to the wind and rain, remembering I had not put the cover over the tiller, I decided to side down and start on this month’s questions. Here is the first one!

Do you think animals have souls? How about plants?

I am not completely sure what my definition of a soul might be. However, I do think everything from rocks to rabbits to rutabagas has an essence or spirit. In the case of Briggs and Stratton engines, this is a very malevolent essence.

Someone told me that spiders are insects and not bugs. Is there really any difference or should we use bug only about computers?

Yes, there is a difference but it does not work quite like you were told. An insect, whether it runs, crawls or flies, has three body parts: the head, the thorax (where the wings and legs are located), and the abdomen. An insect has six legs. Although we tend to use the word “bug” interchangeably, a bug is an insect whose mouthparts consist of a piercing tube made for feeding on liquids. Spiders are neither bugs nor insects. Spiders are arachnids. Arachnids have two body parts: the cephalothorax (head and thorax combined) and the abdomen. Arachnids have eight legs.

The term “bug” being applied to computer issues started with a lady name Grace Hopper. She was the operator of one of the giant electromechanical computers when it suddenly stopped working. She traced the problem to a large moth trapped in one of the computer’s relays. She tapped the moth to the computer’s log book claiming it had a “bug.” The term stuck and we use it for all sorts of things nowadays — just do not use it for spiders.

What is “puckerbrush?”

It is not a particular species but rather a term applied generally to thick brushy areas, 5 or 6 feet high, and hard to walk through.

You missed your chance when writing about the tiger beetle the Terminator stomped. If she hasn’t pounded you for calling her that, could have explain the difference between the six-spotted beetle and the green ash borer?

I prefer to use the acronym EAB instead of “emerald ash borer” out of concern for the many parents and teachers who are trying to read the columns out loud. Try to say Emerald Ash Borer three times fast. As far as identification, EABs are very tiny beetles. A large adult is about the same size as a cooked grain of rice, never more than a half inch long and about 1/16th inch in width. They have long wing covers running the whole length of the body and they are — quelle surprise — green.

You listen to what you call the dawn chorus. What is the bird going “queety queety queety”?

I stand about as much chance of answering this one correctly as I do of having the baby Jesus meet me for lunch at McDonalds this afternoon. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I suggest if the call is dropping in pitch through the song and the last queety sort of trills, you are probably hearing a veery. Cornell has a good site for checking out bird songs. Check it out here and see if it matches your bird: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Veery/sounds

Are we going to get a plague of locusts this year along with the virus?

Some areas of the Northeast are due to have another emergence of the 17-year periodic cicadas. These large insects spend 17 years underground feeding on the sap from tree roots, emerge as adults in their last year, make a horrendous amount of noise attracting mates, lay their eggs to start the process over again and die. I always loved seeing the dangerous-looking shed exoskeletons hanging off the trees after the cicadas emerged from their final metamorphosis. As far as a plague goes, unlike true locusts, cicadas do not eat in the adult stage so, apart from disturbing our sleep with their singing, there is little to be upset about. There are also different cadres of 17-year cicadas in different areas as well as periodic cicadas that have a life cycle less than 17 years. When the emergence of some of these different bunches happens to coincide, the number of cicadas can seem to approach Biblical proportions.

We saw literally hundreds of fat salamanders crossing the road. We had to stop and wait to avoid running them over. It was at night and raining. What was going on? Were they flooded out or something? It was weird.

You are so lucky. You were observing a breeding migration of, probably, spotted salamanders. They move from their normal woodland homes to small vernal ponds where they mate and lay their eggs. There are areas, like the one you encountered, where you can sometimes see dozens of individuals moving along together. I have always wanted to observe one and, to date, have always managed to be there a day before or a day too late. Thank you for noticing and not simply running over them. Vehicles are a major mortality factor for spotted salamanders in the spring.

Now it is time to find some aspirin before I become roadkill. ...

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

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