122. Wild Things – Born Free

122.  Wild Things –Born Free

Looking back on what I learned from Mom as I experienced adventures with the wild things while growing up on Grandpa’s farm, I remember that Mom always wanted God’s wild creatures to be free, and to imagine how you would feel, if you were in their place.

 

BORN TO BE FREE

The grasshopper fiddling;
Fiddling with glee;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Frogs in the pond;
The owl in the tree;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Bunnies in the garden;
Their tracks that I see;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Barney the crow;
Walking with me;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Skunks in the forest;
A big bumblebee;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

All of God’s creatures;
Born to be free.
I’m God’s creation;
How about me?

CONCLUSION

My journey with imagination and empathy is not over.  Using my imagination to better understand people and have empathy for what they are feeling has helped me over the years.  It has helped me have better relationships with family and friends, and improved my teaching by enhancing my understanding of my students.

It has been a lifetime of years since I lifted my foot to stomp on the ants.  I cherish the memories of happy times during my childhood on Grandpa’s farm.

I continue to use my imagination to enjoy God’s wild creatures, and to practice the presence of God in my life.

This concludes my book, “Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm”.  Next I’ll share memories that are NOT in the book.

The whole book is available as an e-book and can be purchased for $0.99 that you can download to your computer or cell phone.

Use the link below to all the ebook digital stores where “Once I Was A Kid” is available:
Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks)

https://www.books2read.com/RobertZHicks

Click on the digital store of your choice to get to the book.

121. Fantasy Forest – A Place to Imagine

121.  Fantasy Forest – A Place to Imagine

Across the highway, way in the back of the farm in the extreme northeast corner, some trees had been left standing.  Bushes had grown up around the outside of the trees blocking any view of inside.  When I slipped inside the bushes, it was like stepping into an enclosed room roughly fifty feet long full of poles.  Low branches had been trimmed, and high branches arched across like a green cathedral ceiling with many leaves blocking out the sky.

A thick mat of dry brown leaves covered the floor of the tiny forest, and that covering, along with limited sunlight, probably accounted for almost nothing growing under the trees.  It was so quiet I could hear the hum of insects.  I would lie on my back on the mattress of dry leaves and stare up at the green ceiling and trace the golden rays of sunlight that occasionally snuck through a hole in the leaves to spotlight something on the floor.  I would dream of being in the jungles of Africa, or paddling a canoe up the Amazon, or sailing a boat in the South Pacific.

This was a perfect hideout for a young boy.  A secure, secluded green-leaf cathedral hidden from the real adult world, where fantasy could become the reality of the future.  It was a place of dreams where imagination could be set totally free; truly a tiny fantasy forest!  

I wish I had gone there more often!

 IMAGINE THAT! 

Let’s take a peek at God’s creation,
Through the window of imagination.
Close your eyes. What do you see?
You can be anywhere you want to be.

Imagine you’re an eagle way up high,
Soaring in the African sky.
Hear elephants trumpet and lions roar;
See crocodiles basking on the shore.

A tall giraffe looks really neat.
His ears are a long way from his feet.
But imagine what an awful note,
To be a giraffe with a bad sore throat!

Imagine a polka dot hippopotamus.
Now that is just preposterous!
He’s a big gray tank that’s always clean;
He swims underwater like a submarine.

Speaking of something quite preposterous,
Imagine a red and white striped rhinoceros.
Thundering over the African plain,
His red and white horn like a candy cane.

Imagination is the golden key,
To anything you want to see:
A blue and white zebra wearing a hat,
Monkeys in the jungle, or a big black cat.

Can you imagine that?  

120. Nature’s Beauty

120.  Nature’s Beauty

Mom and I were walking through shaded woods on a neighboring farm hunting for mushrooms when we came across a beautiful lady slipper. “What a pretty flower,” I said. “Let’s pick it and take it home.” “Oh no, we mustn’t pick it,” Mom responded. “Then it will surely die. We’ll enjoy it while we’re here, but leave it to bloom and live as long as it can. Then others can enjoy it too.”

THE PRINCESS AND THE LADY SLIPPER

Deep in the forest in a moonlit glen,
The pixies come out to play.
They always come in the dark of night,
For they mustn’t be seen by day.

They sing and dance and play their games,
In the glow of the firefly’s light.
And if by chance you’d see it,
You’d think it an amazing sight!

They tell of a magic night one spring,
When the Princess came out to play.
A prince appeared, asked her to dance,
And they danced the night away.

Was it the magic of the springtime?
Or the full moon up above?
For everyone there that night would say,
The glen was aglow with love.

To remember that magic night they danced,
Beneath the bright Big Dipper,
They fashioned a flower from her shoe,
A beautiful lady slipper.

Of course, it only blooms at night,
When the pixies come out to play,
Deep in the forest on a moonlit night.
Or, at least, that’s what they say.

119. Three Stubborn Stinkers

119.  Three Stubborn Stinkers

As I was passing through the kitchen, Daddy waved at me to come outside, and then directed me to a big cardboard box he had placed by the steps.  His words, “Be careful,” slowed my headlong approach, and I peeked cautiously over the edge of the box to see three small balls of black and white fur.  “Baby skunks! Where did you find them?”

“They were wandering around in the field looking for food,” Daddy said.  “They’re so thin and weak, they must have been without their mother for several days.”

I touched the box, and three tails went up, and I jumped back.  “Don’t worry,” Mom said as she picked one up and handed it to me.  “These guys are so young their ‘perfume’ glands haven’t developed yet, so they are safe for now.”  The baby skunk was as soft as satin as I stroked him.

“Maybe we could have their glands removed so we could keep them as pets?”  Mom just smiled and told me we couldn’t possibly keep three skunks as pets, and it wouldn’t be fair to them because removing their glands would leave them defenseless, whether in the wild or not.

Mom did suggest that if we handled the skunks a lot, maybe they’d get used to us and be tame and safe for a while.  We did handle them, and fed them Mom’s special milk and honey formula in a baby bottle, but every time we picked them up we could feel them squeezing their tummies in an effort to fire their odor defense artillery!  Three stubborn stinkers by instinct!

One Sunday morning as we turned in the driveway returning from church, we knew our baby trio had come of age, and that something had startled them.  The whole area around the drive and side of the house stunk with the scent of skunk!  “It’ll blow away,” I cried, “Can we keep them a little longer?”  My plea fell on deaf ears as Daddy said they had to go — “Now!”

When we were ready to take them, Mom carefully tucked their tails under and slipped the three skunks into a gunnysack.  Mom explained that skunks flick their perfume with their tails, as well as spray, so holding their tails down would prevent them from “firing.”  I knew from experience that with tails up, skunks can sure “flick!”

We drove seventy miles north to a large protected forest area, and down a utility road about a mile from a Boy Scout camp where I had been the previous summer.  I was told there were no skunks in that area, because the ground was sandy, and there wasn’t enough food for the skunks to eat.  Daddy thought with a lake and stream nearby, and the large forest reserve, they would be okay.  Daddy put the sack down and opened it, and the babies marched away in single file as though they knew exactly where they were going.

It was several years later when I was in my tent at that Boy Scout camp again, and just settling down on my bunk for the night, when the unmistakable fragrance of skunk drifted in to my nose.  “Wow!” I thought, “Our stubborn trio had survived in the wild, and something has startled them.”  Mom and Daddy were pleased to hear the news that our three stubborn stinkers, or their descendants, were alive and casting their scent in the woods, to live free and happy ever after.

TALE OF A TAIL

“Pick a skunk up by the tail,” they say,
‘cuz upside down he cannot spray.
Is it possible, without fail,
To pick a skunk up by the tail?

I bet it’s just a country joke,
To have some fun with city folk.
I’ll put this folklore to the test,
And any doubts I’ll put to rest!

I saw a skunk out in the field,
In knee-high grass I crept concealed.
I grabbed his tail up, yesser-eee!
But when I got him, he “got” me!

So friends, let common sense prevail,
And don’t pick skunks up by the tail!
I sure did prove this saying wrong,
I hope this smell won’t last too long.

 

118. Ole

118.  Ole

Daddy bought “me” a flock of sheep when I was ten years old.  There were about twenty ewes and a ram. They resided in the sheep shed, of course, and had the run of the barnyard and part of the grassy field north of the barn that Daddy had fenced for them.

I learned there is more to raising sheep than shepherding them and watching them eat grass.  A truck pulled in with a big sheep dip tank.  The sheep, who were filthy, were pushed up a ramp and into the dip tank to destroy parasites, and clean their wool.  They looked scared and were bleating as they swam to the end of the tank.  I could see why, because the sheep dip was black and smelled awful!

It was fascinating to watch the professional shearers who then came to cut the wool off the sheep.  They clipped fast and close!  The wool was cleaned, combed, and sold.  When lambs were born in the spring, I imagined growing rich as my flock multiplied and we had more wool to sell.  The lambs were so cute and fun to play with.

Then I discovered that the feisty ram of the flock would charge my fluttering red jacket when I waved it like a bullfighter.  I maneuvered him onto the barn floor, with the haylofts and lofty ceiling as my bullfight arena. “Olé!”  I shouted, imagining that I was a bullfighter, as the ram put his head down and charged through my waving jacket.  He charged unseeing with his head down, and ran into the barn door, breaking off one of his horns.  My “Olé” faded into “Oh no!”  Then I made a mistake.  I didn’t say anything to my parents.

A couple of days later, Mom said to me, “Daddy wants to know what happened to the ram’s horn.”  I explained my bullfight “game,” and nothing more was said.  A week later, when I came home from school, the sheep were gone.  I asked Mom, “What happened to the sheep?”  “Daddy thought you weren’t old enough to take responsibility for the sheep,” was her reply.  Nothing more was ever said.  Daddy’s discipline was never confronting, never punishment.  He simply corrected the situation in which I had made my “mistake.”

Looking back, I realize now that the sheep were really intended for me, and not a family venture.  I can’t imagine how Daddy must have felt after all the expense and work he invested to start the sheep business for me, and then I was too immature to care for the sheep.

Imagination is wonderful and exciting.  But it has to be balanced with common sense and consideration for safety for animals, and for people.

BAA BAA

“Baa Baa,” said the sheep,
“My fleece is white as snow,
I like to lie down in the dirt,
Everywhere I go.”

“I find the dirt around the barn,
And that is where I play.
I like to roll around in dust,
Until I’m dirty gray.”

“The boy would like me clean and white,
But I don’t think that way.
I’d rather lie in dust and dirt,
So this is what I say…”

“Baa — Bah!”

117. Rat Patrol

117.  Rat Patrol

During my lifetime at home on the farm, we always had a dog.  After we were there a couple of years, my parents got my dog, a black spotted Dalmatian Coach Hound puppy.  I named her Petunia — Tuni for short.  Why Petunia?  I don’t remember.  Maybe she liked the flowers Mom planted by the steps.  I learned about teaching puppies as we house-broke Petunia, then taught her to come and to sit.

The picture is of Petunia, sitting by the kitchen door.  The Hixhaven sign was made of apple twigs tacked on a board, and was going to be mounted on a pole at the entrance to the driveway when the ground got soft in the spring.  The wreath on the door indicates it is Christmas time.

When Mom didn’t like the starlings keeping the purple martins off the martin house, Daddy got me a 4-10 gauge shotgun, and Petunia and I became the designated pest control team for the farm.  Our main target pests were the starlings and rats.  When I would shoot the rats and starlings, Tuni would charge to grab them and shake them to be sure they were dead — then bring them to me.  I was good with the shotgun, and kept the starlings from hurting the other birds.

If there was evidence of a rat in the chicken coop, I’d leave the door ajar, and Tuni and I would sneak out after dark to peek inside.  Tuni was perfect; she stayed close beside me, and never made a sound.  The one bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling was enough light to see if there was a rat in the feed trough or near the baby chick brooder, and I would get off my shot.  Tuni would leap past me to do her job of making sure of the final kill.

I stepped into the shop one day and saw a big rat by the workbench.  “TUNI!” I yelled, “GET HIM!”  Tuni, who was right behind me, saw the rat and made a great leap into the shop — landing squarely above him. The rat closed his eyes and froze.  Tuni had jumped a little too far and couldn’t see the rat under her belly. She was looking all around in front of her, trying to see where the rat was.  The rat finally saw the way out between Tuni’s legs and disappeared into the mass of stuff stored nearby.  Mom and I laughed and laughed about Petunia and the rat that got away.  Petunia the hunter!

PETUNIA

Petunia was a Dalmatian Coach Hound,
The hound of Hix Haven, our farm.
When a car pulled into the driveway,
Petunia would sound the alarm.

Petunia and I were most diligent;
We guarded the farm day and night.
We watched for the rats and starlings;
With orders to shoot them on sight.

To protect the chickens and songbirds;
We patrolled the coop and the yard.
No farm pests would bother our family;
Petunia and I were on guard.

 

116. Bandit

116.  Bandit

Daddy came in the outside kitchen door with something cradled in his old bandana.  I could tell from his look that he had something special.  He put it down on the kitchen table, but before he could untie the bandana, a fuzzy brown head popped out of one end with ears at attention, and black circles around bright black eyes that locked on mine.  It was love at first sight!

“A baby raccoon!  Can we keep him?  Can we keep him?” I exclaimed.  Mom smiled and replied, “Well, he wouldn’t have been wandering around by himself and so easy to catch if he still had his mother, so we’ll have to keep him until he’s big enough to fend for himself in the wild.”

We named him Bandit because of his black mask, and he soon demonstrated what a ball of fun he would be.  Mom warmed some milk and put it in a baby bottle, which Bandit easily juggled with his four paws to drink while lying on his back.  Bandit’s second trick was to grow almost literally by leaps and bounds, and he was soon loping through the house to jump into my lap to be petted.  He would steal a washcloth from the bathroom, and bring it to me.  When I grabbed the cloth, Bandit would back off and play tug-of-war.

Bandit would climb on the back of the sofa behind my dad, lean on his shoulder, and then fish around with his paws in Daddy’s shirt pocket.  The only things he could “catch” were Daddy’s pen and pencils, but Daddy thought it was great fun!

By the time my dad’s father, Grandpa John, came to live with us, Bandit was huge!  For some unknown reason, Bandit targeted Grandpa John for aggressive play.  Bandit would run and jump to wrap his paws around Grandpa’s leg, and bite his kneecap.  Grandpa John would yell, shake his leg and buffet Bandit, until one of us ran to the rescue to pry Bandit loose.  Grandpa then stomped away, mumbling about “that dumb ‘coon.”  Bandit apparently thought it was fun.  We thought it was funny.  But Grandpa John did not think it was fun or funny!

Toward the end of summer, Bandit had grown really big; certainly big enough to go back to the wild, but before we could let him go, he learned to “nose” his way out through the screen door in the kitchen, and out he went!  At supper time, he came scampering up the porch steps, climbed straight up the outside of the screen door, pushed the door open at the top, and came head first down the inside of the screen.  How he learned that trick, we’d never know.

Bandit let himself in and out whenever he wanted, and was free to go.  He stayed outside longer and longer, and finally several days at a time.  When the cool of autumn dictated closing the kitchen door at night, and Bandit wasn’t back by dark, we reluctantly had to close the kitchen door.

It was a cold night, and the first heavy snow of winter, when we heard scratching on the inside of the basement door.  When we opened the door, in bustled Bandit making wet paw prints across the kitchen floor.  He put his cold paws up on Mom’s knees and looked up into her face as if to say, “Hi Mom. I’m back, what have you got to eat?”  Bandit had discovered a basement window left ajar, which became his winter entry for that year.

Bandit finally did not return, and in spring we imagined he had met a beautiful lady raccoon, and was out there somewhere in the woods raising his own family of baby ‘coons with black masks and bright black eyes.

WHY?

Why do raccoons wear a mask, and sneak around at night?
Why do skunks and penguins, dress in black and white?

Why are pigs so dirty, and kitty cats so clean?
Why are pretty bluebirds nice, and starlings all so mean?

Why are dodos dumb, and owls very wise?
Why do fuzzy caterpillars turn to butterflies?

Why is there a twinkle, sparkling in your eye?
Why do pretty rainbows arc across the sky?

Because my Father put them there, that’s the reason why!

115. “Hello” Barney

115.  “Hello” Barney

One spring day I rode my sister’s bike a half-mile down the highway to the hunting and fishing shop.  I met a kid there I didn’t know who had found a young crow that had apparently fallen out of the nest and been abandoned.  The kid had clipped the crow’s wings so he couldn’t fly, and tied a string to his leg so he couldn’t get out of his bicycle basket.

The crow was a forlorn sight, with wings drooping and head hanging down.  When the kid said his dad was going to help him slit the crow’s tongue so it could learn to talk, I knew he was really ignorant and had no feelings for the bird.

I traded my old baseball glove for the crow and took him home to show Mom.  I knew what she would say, we’d keep him until his wing feathers grew out, and then let him go.  I also knew that Mom would work her special magic with creatures to nurse the crow back to health, and temporarily at least, I had a pet crow!  I named him Barney.

I must admit, I was surprised when Mom fixed a nest of clean rags for Barney on top of the old refrigerator in the back room in the house.  The room was a small unheated workroom that housed laundry tubs, workbench, pantry shelves, and the old refrigerator.  Barney perked up right away with his high “command” position, good chicken feed, and lots of tender loving petting.  He must have felt safe because he didn’t try to get away or leave his nest.

Mom confirmed that slitting a crow’s tongue was a cruel myth, and wouldn’t make any difference.  In fact, after I said, “Hello” to Barney a few dozen times, he clearly answered, “Hello.”  When my sister tossed a little red rubber ball at Barney, he caught it in his beak!  He dipped his head, and flipped the ball back toward us.  It didn’t go very far, but a crow, playing catch?  Amazing!  Imagine that!

After Barney was better, I took him outside and we ran together up and down the driveway.  His feathers had grown out, but I didn’t know if he could fly or not.  He probably didn’t know either.  I gave him a little toss in the air and he spread his wings and coasted down, that’s all.  Then one day, we heard crows cawing in the tall maple trees by the side road beyond the orchard.  I tossed Barney up, and he flew away in their direction. “Well,” I said, “there he goes, I’ll never see him again!”  However, a short while later, Barney came flying through the orchard and glided down to land at my feet.  He never flew away again.  I don’t know if the wild crows rejected Barney, or if he didn’t recognize them as his relatives.

So Barney lived out his days as a pampered pet, always on the ground, and living in a cool spot on top of the refrigerator in the house.  I guess Barney never knew he was a crow.

BARNEY THE CROW

Barney didn’t know
That he was a crow.
He never perched in a tree.
He just walked with me.

Barney didn’t fly.
We all wondered why.
We all thought he would,
But didn’t know he could.

I tossed him way up high.
I thought that he would fly.
He circled once around,
As he floated to the ground.

“Barney! You’re absurd!
You really are a bird!”
I suppose if he could talk,
He’d say, “I’d rather walk.”

Barney learned to talk,
He didn’t make a squawk.
He really said, “Hello,”
Amazing for a crow!

He finally met a crow!
He flew up to say, “Hello”
Way high up in a tree,
And then flew back to me.

I guess the other crow
Didn’t know, “Hello.”
Barney came back to me
Where he preferred to be.

Barney and I had fun.
We’d walk and talk, and run.
He never lived in a tree;
He lived in the house with me.

Why didn’t he fly away?
He wanted to stay and play,
‘Cuz, Barney didn’t know,
That he really was a crow.

114. Learning From Consequences

114.  Learning From Consequences

I learned to ride my sister’s bicycle in our driveway which was dirt and gravel.  When I made a sharp turn in front of the garage, the tire slid on the gravel, and I fell and put a gash in my knee. After it healed, I rode the bike in the same place, and fell again. I put another gash in my knee. How dumb can a kid get?  Eventually I could ride the bike safely and ventured off the farm.

It was on one of my rare mile-long bike rides down the dirt side road south of the orchard to visit a friend who lived on a neighboring farm, that I learned a valuable lesson.  The lesson was something I should have already known, “Think before you act.”  Looking for something to do or see, we went to the barnyard, hoping to see where the cows were.  The cows were nowhere in sight, but movement in the lane leading from the barn caught our attention.

CONSEQUENCES

I thought it was a weasel.
He thought it was a rat.
When we hit it with a stick,
We found it wasn’t that!

We saw this little critter,
Walking down the lane.
We started chasing after it,
With no reason in our brain.

We caught up with the critter,
And discovered we were sunk.
The black and white critter,
Was a straight-spraying skunk!

A lesson learned the hard way,
It’s not too smart to harm,
The little critters that you meet,
Out back upon the farm.

So remember what we learned that day,
Two boys with childish thinking,
That being inconsiderate,
Can really leave you stinking!

113. Squeaky Drawer in the Attic

113.  Squeaky Drawer in the Attic

How was I inspired to write my book, Mouse in the Manger?  I recalled the mangers in the stalls in the barn where I released two baby mice.  Here’s the whole story.

Halfway down the long spooky dark hall upstairs was a door on the left with a step down into the space under the roof.  There was only one window in the wall at the far end of the attic, so it was always dimly lit because there were no lights.  The chimney from the fireplace below came up through the center, and behind the chimney an unused stairwell led down to the dining room.

The attic had plenty of headroom to walk in the narrow path around the chimney and stairs. The path was narrow because the room was filled with chests and trunks and shelves full of treasures of four generations.  There were trunks of clothes, and linens, and boxes of seashells from Grandma’s time in Florida.  Toys overflowed the shelves on the left — toy guns, a small wooden cart, blocks, Tinker Toys, model planes, comic books and puppets.  A heavy wooden bi-plane emblazoned with “The Spirit of St. Louis” hung from the ceiling by the chimney.

A pile of old mattresses in the corner by the window gave me a place to curl up to read or dream, or listen to the blowflies buzzing by the window.  I was in the attic, lying on the pile of old discarded mattresses in the corner reading a Dick Tracey Big Little Book when I heard a faint squeaking.  I traced the sound to a chest of drawers by the stairwell.  The squeaking stopped when I slowly pulled the bottom drawer way out.  There it was!  Tucked way in the back of the bottom drawer was a wad of shredded paper, wool, and cloth bits fashioned into a perfect rectangle so it exactly fit the space, and looked right in place with the old clothes in front of it.  Was this a mouse nest in our chest of drawers?

I carefully parted one end of the nest, and pulled the top back to see inside.  Wow!  There, nestled in the smooth interior compartment were two tiny pink baby mice.  Their pink skin had no fur, and their eyes were not yet open.  Oh, oh!  We had caught a mouse in a trap in the back room.  Could that have been their mother?  I called Mom to see.  Mom told me that it didn’t matter if mother mouse was gone or not, because now that I had touched the nest, my scent would be there, and she would not return.

Obviously, mice were too destructive to have living in the house.  I could only imagine where all the cloth and wool, and bits of many things had come from to make the nest.  I hoped the shredded paper was not one of my favorite comic books.  But how would we dispose of these tiny helpless newborn mice?  I couldn’t imagine Daddy squishing them under his boot.  Maybe we could flush them down the toilet?  It would be impossible to feed such tiny things, even if we did want to save them.

I didn’t figure on Mom’s incredible compassion for little creatures, and her ingenuity.  My sister had a baby doll with its own little baby bottle that actually worked.  With Mom’s patience and steady hand, she managed to entice the baby mice to drink her milk and honey formula from that little bottle.  Daddy shook his head in disbelief, but Mom nursed and cared for those mice until their eyes were open, and they were trying to climb out of their box.

I let them go in the barn where there were lots of mice.  The barn was the perfect place.  They could do no harm, and there was no one to harm them.  They scampered free to live happily ever after!

MICE ARE NICE

Do you hear sounds around your house,
That you suspect might be a mouse?
Just think about these little mice,
And you’ll agree that mice are nice.

The average mouse is very small;
He hardly eats much food at all.
He rarely makes a squeaking sound,
While he’s sneaking all around.

A Kangaroo mouse is really cute.
He has big ears and feet to boot.
With little itsy bitsy toes,
And whiskers all around his nose.

His shiny eyes can see at night.
His tail is long, and quite a sight.
He likes to sneak around the house,
Because he’s timid as a mouse.

Chocolate is his favorite treat,
But cheese is always good to eat.
I hope imagination will suffice,
For you to think that mice are nice.