Friday, February 27, 2009


(This undated poem was written when Dad lived in Arkansas; perhaps the 1950s?)


While I'm searchin' for the cottontail on misty autumn morns,
Or list'nin' for a coon-dog's bawl where varmints steal the corn,
I'm feelin' so forgetful of a world that's full of woe,
That it's better than a "super-drug" which "heals you, head to toe."

When that Bushy-tail is teasin' from the highest red-oak branch,
Or I'm trav'lin' on a Quarter Horse on some Wyoming ranch,
I can never keep my mind on all the "dirty politics"
That seem to be the fuel on which the av'rage gov'ment clicks.

When the lunker spanks th' water with a sort of crashin' splash,
Or I'm searchin' for a pa'tridge up in some old loggin' slash,
Then I get a sort of feelin' that I can't find nowhere else,
It's the kind of restful happiness that whips the gloomy spells.

So take your thirty-thirty, or your fly-rod; call your dogs-
And come with me to find the bucks, or wall-eyed pike, or hogs.
I guarantee that you will be the healthiest man alive,
For old Doctor Mother Nature has the "dope" to make you thrive.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Black Rat Snake

"The Black Rat Snake"
by L. Jonas
The Piedmont Virginian

The climbing abilities of this snake are almost unbelievable. George and Meg Coleman, who live near a timbered hill west of Marshall, told of watching one climb the side of their home, by pressing its body against the angle where one piece of siding overlapped the one lower down, and move horizontally for a foot or so, then move up to the next one. This was smooth, painted aluminum siding!

You might get an idea of how highly I regard the Coleman's honesty, when I say that if most other people had told me of that, I wouldn't have believed it.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Wilson, A Mother's Journal

However, I have seen black rat snakes, or pilot black snakes, as they are also called, about as frequently up in the rafters, as on the ground. they are reported as sometimes "establishing residence in cavities high up in hollow trees."

The black rat snake might be confused with the black snake, or black racer, which is much slimmer, and faster. The rat snakes are shaped like a loaf of bread in cross section, while the black racers are round.

This snake has a peculiar habit of "freezing" with its body bent at such sharp angles, that it looks like a car had run over it. This is especially noticeable when you surprise one on the road.

This snake has some enemies, of course, besides the farmer who might kill it because he thinks it is after his chickens, when it is really more apt to be catching rats and mice.

Foxes eat it, and red-tailed hawks are perhaps its greatest peril. It is amusing to see farmers kill hawks of all kinds to "protect the quail," when the hawk could easily be benefiting them, by keeping the snake population down where it isn't much of a menace to nesting quail.

Snakes play an important part in the ecology of the Piedmont, but when the balance is disturbed too severely, they might multiply to the point where they keep the bluebird population too low. It is interesting to watch rat snakes, and they do a real service in keeping the mouse population down, but it would be great to also have some bluebirds around.

There is a superstition we've heard emanating from those persons who feel that every wild animal is a menace. This story says that black rat snakes should be killed, because "they cross with copperheads, and then their babies are poisonous!" I will pay $100 to any person who can bring me a hybrid ratsnake-and-copperhead. If they cross, what do the offspring look like?

The long, black forked tongue of snakes is one of the reasons many people fear them. They even call it the snake's "fangs." The reason for the thrusting out of the tongue is that this is the way the snake picks up molecules of scent. Then the tongue is thrust into special organs inside the mouth, where the information is received.

Snakes don't hear well; they get vibrations from the ground instead. Most of the see fairly well when close up. They see, and smell, well enough so that Black rat snakes mate with their own kind, and if they hybridize, it is with other species of rat snakes, where their ranges cross.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What is Ecology?

"What is Ecology?"
-from The Piedmont Virginian Newspaper, 7 July, 1971

By L. Jonas

Have you asked yourself any questions like these:

Why were there lots of bobolinks singing around the place last year, but none this year?

Why is it that one day my roses will be free of aphids, and the next day there are dozens on them?

Why was it that I saw no deer at all on opening day, when the week before in the same places where I hunted, there were many of them?

If you've ever wondered about such things, and if you've even farther and and figured out some satisfactory answers once in a while, you're an ecologist, whether you can define the term or not.

What is an ecologist? What is ecology? Ecology is the name given to a science which studies living things "at home", that is, in the place where they normally occur.

For example, what effect does a gray squirrel have on oak forests, and on farmers? What effect does the farmer have on the oak tree , and on the squirrel?

A good hunter knows that deer will be in different places on a cold, windy day than on a warm, quiet day. He also knows that deer eat different foods at different times of year, as do grouse.

Grouse, for instance, eat a lot of buds in the winter, while during hunting season, they are looking for wild grapes, and other fruits. Furthermore, he knows grouse won't be far from water, since they do most of their traveling on the ground and like everything (food, water, and shelter, as well as a bed for the night) within easy walking distance. The hunter is, therefore, an ecologist. The good fisherman knows that trout lie facing the current, and usually in a relatively quit spot, so he walks upstream and casts his fly so it drifts behind rocks, logs, and other obstructions which slow the current down.

The good gardener knows that, at certain times of the year, aphids have wings and migrate, so that they can suddenly appear in sizable numbers. He also knows that if he spades up some sod, annual weeds will usually appear in great numbers (Seeds of pigweed and many other common weeds will lie dormant in the soil for 10 to 20 years until the conditions become favorable for germination.).

The nature-lover may wonder why bobolinks are so plentiful one spring, and are not around at all the next spring. Part of the answer lies in the weather. If a late spring keeps things so cold that birds can't find food in the northern part of their range at the normal time, when the weather does warm up, they migrate at a much faster speed than in other years.

And then there are fluctuations from year to year in the population of different animals, from disease or lack of food, or other unfavorable factors which limit the number of young raised.

For example, in the autumn of 1969, when I walked through the woods in the Bull Run Mountains, with our dog accompanying me, I could count almost every chipmunk there, because wherever the dog went there was a circle of protesting chipmunks.

In 1970, there were very few chipmunks; I seldom saw one crossing the road, and seldom did one scold when I walked through the woods. Now, this summer we are seeing young and old chipmunks quite frequently. What accounted for the great different in numbers?

One good explanation is that the acorns in 1969 were practically nonexistent, as was most other food, evidently this being due to the past few dry years, which have affected the vigor of all trees and shrubs, even the tough chestnut oaks and hickories.

The year 1970 wasn't very good for mast (The nuts of forest trees which accumulate on the ground.), either, but there was evidently enough to see the chipmunks through the winter.

However, 1970 was the poorest squirrel-hunting season I have ever seen or heard of. Two years of little or no mast has evidently affected the squirrel population. Since the grey squirrel is quite a migrator, if food is plentiful this year, they could move back in, if populations are high in other areas not many miles away.

How true is it that quail and hawks cannot co-exist? There are still many hunters who shoot every hawk they see, claiming that the redtail hawk never misses a quail which he tries for.

I'd like to see some proof of this. From what I've seen of quail, if you give him good cover and plenty of feed, he will be there, with a goodly number of descendants. Anyone who has hunted quail much in good quail country should know very well that it isn't easy to hunt out quail, unless you trail them in the snow and covey-shoot them.

By good quail country, I mean an area where there is plenty of protection, such as bushes and scattered trees, and especially plenty of nutritious feed during the tough season, especially winter.

The same goes for any game species, of course. Many studies have shown that it isn't predators which make the difference (except for man); it is the question of suitable habitat, ALL YEAR LONG.

An ecologist is a man who likes to face questions, and then find the answers.

Those amateur (or professional) ecologists I have known never wasted away after retiring from their jobs; they just had more time to spend finding out answers.

An ecologist never runs out of things to do!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Dear Reader,

I hope you will enjoy this new journal of my late father's writings; these writings mean a lot to me, since he died when I was young, and I have no real memories of him.
His words have helped me to know him better.

He wrote articles, cowboy poetry, and wonderful family newsletters, which are just too good to keep to myself!

My dad's the one on the left~ He served in the Army during World War II.

I will add to them as time allows, in no particular order.

May they be a blessing to you.