Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Defence of Open Space

(This one was written for a college writing class, where Dad waxed philosophical.)

"Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles." This is how one city-reared woman described parts of the west. This is a typical attitude of those people who have been reared in a completely machine-dependent environment, and are machine-dominated to to the extent that they feel vulnerable and helpless when isolated from their mechanical master, and are far away from the place where they will be fed and housed with little effort on their parts, even those who are not self-reliant enough to provide for themselves. These people bring to mind a story by Frederick Brown, in which the world's greatest mechanics (called scientists by the people) had managed to connect all of the greatest electronic brains by a world-wide electrical circuit. When the circuit and feedbacks were all completed, the first question the head mechanic asked was,

"Is there a God?"

"There is now," was the reply. A sudden fear chilled the spine of the scientist, and he reached for the switch to break the connection. However, a bolt of lightning instantly fused the switch permanently closed.

It appears that man moves ever closer to an idol worship of his one-time mechanical slaves. The great leaders of the human race, even as early as Biblical times, recognized the danger of placing one's dependence upon a blind trust in some unseen power of a detached, inanimate force. Whether one feels that the guiding force of humanity arises from within, is a universal force embracing all mankind, or emanates from an all-wise and all-powerful Super-being to us, most thinkers recognize a danger of detioration when mankind entirely loses its self-reliance.

How else can one develop self-reliance, without being placed in a situation where one is dependent upon himself at least for entertainment and moral strength. A retreat from the pressures exerted by fellowmen has been recognized as valuable by many great leaders. Some of them, of course, emulated Pascal, who liked a quiet room in which to think and grow mentally and morally. Others, like Christ, preferred to get out where the very force of life is evidenced in a quiet and forceful way.

This impression of sagebrush and grasslands being miles and miles of nothing, demonstrates the ignorance and poor observation ability of most city dwellers (And I speak from my own past.) Since one need not worry about danger as long as he faithfully obeys traffic laws and other ordinances, and pays large taxes to support an efficient police department, he is enabled to walk through life with his thoughts withdrawn into himself, and brood about his own ill fortune, seldom noticing the worse plight of others. With head bowed and eyes perpetually downcast (Perhaps in the hope of finding a billfold of good living), if it weren't for the summer heat, he might not even realize that the sun still shines.

Even most deserts have something besides "miles and miles." I once thought of the Mojave desert as a place where life was improbable, if not almost impossible. After I saw an eagle flying away with a jack rabbit, and found that there were great numbers of kangaroo rats, pocket mice, bobcats, owls, songbirds, coyotes, insects, and snakes which are well adapted to desert life, and began noticing the various forms of well-adapted plant life, such as tiny annuals which bloom after a shower, produce seed, and die, all in a span of a few days, I gained some realization of the toughness of life, and also gained inspiration and courage to face and solve problems in my own life, instead of regarding myself as the pawn in a game between two gigantic forces called Good and Evil, each of which was so tyrannical there was little to choose from between them.

I have learned to love sagebrush county since I have become acquainted with some of the "citizens" of this type of country. Unlike some farmers who feel an urge to bulldoze out all brush of whatever description in order to make a quick fortune, regardless of the welfare of America (Which suffers every time good topsoil is blown or washed away), I feel that there is much to be learned by the study of every type of terrain in the world. Mankind is still too immature to build a brave new world, although we have the tools now which would make it only too easy to do. At least, we could build a new world, perhaps comparable to what the earth look at its beginning.

It is possible that all of us, even the most self-reliant and individualistic, could be brainwashed to the extend that we could live uncomplainingly in a bare town of brick and concrete, and even do away with trees and grass in order to make room for more people and more hydroponic gardens to feed them, but I have a feeling, perhaps a premonition, that the decline and fall of the human race would soon follow.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another Letter to Rose

June 7, 1964

Hi, Dear Sis,

We got your letter, and the card from Greenes. This is a late spring - the lilacs bloom a little, and then the weather gets cool, and stops further development for a while. The same thing happens with the apple trees, so some of these plants look rather shaggy, and unkempt. Of course, after bearing so heavily last year, we didn't expect them to repeat so soon. It looks as though the serviceberries might produce a bumper crop this year, and maybe the choke cherries, also. The Hansen's bush cherry is loaded with blossom, and also the mountain ash and wild plums. I want to look for gaint puffballs as soon as I can - there should be quite a few. I found some good messes of sponge mushrooms, or Morchellas, in our neighbors cottonwood grove. There are many, many birds around this spring - it makes it very enjoyable, and also profitable, as far as the garden is concerned.

We've planted quite a bit of garden, but some of the seeds appear to be defective. We'll have to be sure and buy from someone else next year.

*Kandy just brought me a Raggedy Anne and a Raggedy Andy doll-I'm not sure why-maybe they are a present, to show how much she loves me. She is a little interrupter, but it is nice to have her around, and very interesting. If we didn't have any kids, I would work with Scouts, just so I could maintain contact with the only humans who still retain the natural honesty of our ancestors, to a great extent. Older people become afraid of being childish if they still play with dolls, or marbles, around the hills wondering what makes the world works as it does.

Children are the most natural philosophers of all-everything is interesting to them. They don't take so many things for granted as we do, when we become blase, as most of us do. I'm glad I went back to college-it has really rejuvenated my outlook on life.

I hope things have worked out for the best for you-I almost welcome slow times here-its gives me a chance to fish, dig cattails, and write and draw. Many things which I don't take much time for, as long as there is work available.

Love to you, from all of us-


(*Kandy is my sister, and the oldest child of the family.
I love his comments on children; how true it is!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts:Ecological Indicators.

"Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts:Ecological Indicators"

by Lou Jonas

If you're the type of person who does a lot of observing and thinking as you drive across the country on vacation, here's a question you can spend quite a lot of time on. "Why are there so many different kinds of swallows? Why can't one species do everything all other swallows do?"

If your experiences are similar to mine, you will see that in country areas like the Piedmont, where the air is less polluted, and buildings farther apart, as well as there being a few barns here and there, and some banks along road cuts or along streams, the air is divided up into something like "precincts", with each species having a niche fairly well separated from those of other kinds. The layer next to the ground and up to a little above treetop level, is generally patrolled by barn swallows, and by bank and rough-winged swallows when they are present, near banks or gravel pits.

Chimney swifts will generally be higher, quite a distance above the treetops, in this sort of environment.

However, when you near one of the cities with a great deal of pollution, such as Knoxville and other Tennessee cities, you seldom see a barn swallow, and I can't ever remember having seen them in smaller cities with cleaner air, where they sometimes build their nests in sheds, or on a porch ceiling.

In the cities, the chimney swift will work close to the ground as well as higher in the air. Why this change? As near as I can figure, it is due to the barn swallow being more efficient at the fast maneuvering required close to the ground, where there are more objects to run into; yet, when the barn swallow finds it impossible to exist, as it evidently does in dirty air, and is absent, the swift can and does take over the barn swallow's "job".

Where homes are provided for the purple martin, they are apt to become established, but they, too, seem unable to endure the sooty air as well as the swift. They seem to spend most of their flying time at a fair distance from the ground, perhaps because their soaring flight adapts them well to more open spaces.

In hot, dry weather, chimney swifts tend to move out of an area, probably because insects are more numerous in times of occasional rainfall. It was interesting to see the different in Warrenton and Culpeper in the fall of 1970. Culpeper had a good heavy rain, while Warrenton and surrounding areas had been missed for weeks. There were numerous swifts over Culpeper, while they had all apparently moved from the Warrenton area.

Thus the swallows of various sorts serve as good ecological indicators. They indicate habitat conditions. Are the barn swallows getting scarcer, and the swifts flying close to the ground much of the time, around your home? Then ask yourself, "Why?" and "When will I begin to suffer from bad air?".

(We do have an awful lot of mosquitoes, and not very many swallows for a rural area. Could it be all the spraying the farmers do to their crops?)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Prospector, a Poem

"The Prospector"

By Lou Jonas

A brand new day's at a virgin mountain stream
Where every minute corresponds to sand, or treasure's gleam.
I operate, so patiently, the gold-pan of my mind
To wash out worthless particles, until the prize I find.

And when the stream's completely worked,and I retire once more
The glowing memories increase my happy store.
And thus I find a peace of mind, though I'm hardened miser-
My hoard of of gold will not be stolen, and I'm happier and wiser.
(Dad actually was a prospector for a bit, while trying his hand at being a mountain man in northern California. He lived in a friend's cabin and trapped furs. This poem makes me think of the Lord as a prospector, and each of us a panful of silt. He swishes us around with the waters of life, to see if any gold may appear. Some of us may prove to have no gold in us at all, and we'll be cast back into the stream of judgment. The good Lord knows that He has swished me around for quite some time! I hope He finds a few nuggets worth keeping.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Organic Gardening

(This was presumably written for the Piedmont Virginian newspaper.)


Herbert Spencer said, "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is a proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in ever-lasting ignorance; this principle is contempt prior to investigation ." Many people who live by this principle scoff at organic gardening and farming being impractical, and regard the organic gardener as somewhat of a fanatic. But the thinkers are slow to condemn; they wait until they have a chance to compare the taste and looks of organic produce, and to if it really does appear to be impractical in this modern age.

The best turnips, radishes, carrots, sunflowers, and most other vegetables and fruits I have seen were those produced in a garden where the soil was good, and where there was a plenitude of natural nutrients. A good organic grower is smart, educated person, and one who is willing to work at it. He needs to understand the life cycles of pests and beneficial insects, and crop plants. For example, he knows that aphids have wings during part of the year, and during this time can invade a garden in great numbers literally overnight.

Organic gardening includes using natural fertilizers and such organic matter as lawn clippings, rather than burning them to pollute the air, or letting them wash into a stream, to cause water pollution. Of especial concern is the amount of humus in the soil. This humus is created largely by earthworms, which also, by their burrowing, help to let air and water into the soil, to keep plant roots healthy. Humus and the activity of soil creatures have a great deal to do with soil structure (And your county agent how important good soil structure is.).

The recycling of manures and vegetable waste, by returning them to the soil is part of the philosophy of the organic gardener; he gets so he realizes the important economic benefits to himself, as well as to the country, of wasting nothing, including glass and paper, and usually is most cooperative in the matter of keeping the highways clean. Chicago, and some other communities, have solved part of their disposal and pollution problems by selling the treated sewage to farmers, thereby helping the farmers also. New Jersey has gone a step further, by hauling the silt, dredged from rivers, onto farms where the sandy soils benefit greatly from it.

As the county agent in warrenton said in 1969, "A two to four-inch sawdust mulch will make a 100% difference in the productivity and ease of working, in your garden." This mulch preserves moisture, discourages slugs, sowbugs, and some other pests, keeps down many weeds, makes the soil more suitable for earthworms, which are the "soil builders" and adds nutrients to the soil as it decays.

Marigolds are planted with garden vegetables to kill soil pests, and keep many above-ground pets away also. Horseradish planted with potatoes keeps away the potato beetle. A band of sand or wood ashes around plants will keep slugs away from them. Predatory insects such as praying mantises, lacewings, and lady beetles are encouraged, and sometimes in emergencies are bought by the pint or gallon, to release where needed (However, if conditions aren't suitable for them, they may just migrate to the surrounding countryside, so here again is pointed out the need for knowing life cycles of insects.).

Now; is organic gardening really a fad, something engaged in by a bunch of health nuts who are fantatics about eating insecticides, and plants grown on deficient soils? Is it impractical? Some of the answers to those questions are beginning to come out now, through the reseasrch of various soil and plant scientists. It has been discovered that there really is a difference in the vitamin and mineral content of vegetables grown on different soils.

And when you read in the agricultural research bulletin, issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, about how the farmers in Canete Valley, Peru, had a total loss due to insect pests after having too freely used insecticides, for several years. Then, after calling in ecologists to recommend natural controls, they went back to making profits. You then begin to realize that organic farming might simply be the newest of the sciences; there is a great deal to be learned, but the rewards are great (Life, health, prosperity, and peace of mind could be some of them.).

When you further learn that a number of California farmers have turned to Dietrich (The best known supplier of predatory insects), because they couldn't afford the spraying costs, it strengthens your ideas.

Many people like organic gardening because, after building up the soil, it's easy to raise tasty vegetables, and the labor-saving makes it possible to spend more time at their hobbies, and still have the best foods. Can you think of a better reason?

(No, Dad, I sure can't!)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Letter to Rose

(This is a short letter that Dad wrote to his sister, Rose. It shows how much his love of nature permeated every aspect of his life.)

28 May, 1978

Hi, Sweet Sister,

Should have tried to get this letter and gift off before now, so you would be sure you're not forgotten on your birthday. Sounds like you're really working at dress-making.

Best wishes for happiness on your trip to Ottumwa. How's the bus service there?

It's interesting to read of those childhood memories. You know, I've come to believe fully in a life after this one; sort of looking forward to it. One more chance to begin over, and learn and progress more. It seems to me that you and Lucile and I have tried hard enough, this THIS life, that we deserve a reward, next time around.

The backpacking trip was very interesting; sure had a lot of rain there. lots of sandstone, and lots of caves to sleep in, in storms. Had to wade creeks a lot to get anywhere, so I finally went barefoot, for three or four days. mostly sandy surface, no broken glass or sand burs. Saw only ONE rattlesnake, in the whole area; diamondback, I guess; was only a foot long, with just a button.

Had lots of different plants there; we made lots of tea, from wild plants. Snowed some on our way out; cold feet for a while, but I got used to it.

Have to close, leave for Challis.
Much love,


(My mother has told me that Dad used to go out and get wood for the fire in his bare feet, in the snow. He said it made his immune system strong. I tried going out once barefoot in snow, and lasted two seconds!)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Pocket Gopher

(From the Piedmont Virginian)

by Lou Jonas

The pocket gopher is an interesting animal, with a tail which acts like a guide, so that the rodent can run as fast backward as forward, and four yellow incisors which grow about four inches per month. But since he is such stiff competition, when he establishes an intimate relationship with a gardener or alfalfa farmer, the situation becomes worse than embarrassing .

If your children rush to the house screaming, "Mama! Mama! A big mouse came up out of the ground and got a pea vine!", you can be pretty sure the "mouse" was a pocket gopher. In early summer, perhaps about the first of July, you might notice a disturbance in your alfalfa field. If you watch closely, you may see a brown head appear, clip off an alfalfa stem, and drag it down a hole. If a man is fast enough and accurate enough he can dispatch his competitor with a .22 rifle. These opportunities are rare, however, however, unless one has as much time on his hands as the family cat.

Young gophers become independent of their parents in early summer and spread out to establish their own territories. Pocket gophers are called "moles" by many westerners, although a mole is much different, being insectivorous instead of a Plant-eater. The mole's fur is soft and fine, whereas the pocket gopher has a rather ordinary, coarse coat of hair.

The name is not as important as the damage he does. The two reversible, fur-lined, roomy, external cheek pouches make it easy to carry a large supply of carrots, pea vines, parsnips, and other roots and stems (as well as buds and grass) to his underground cache.

The presence of gophers is a very good reason for not leaving carrots or parsnips in the ground over winter. The gopher works all winter - he has to, keep his teeth from growing too long. The evidence of his winter's work comes to view when the snows melt. Then "ropes of dirt" show up where the gopher has disposed of it by packing it into a snow tunnel.

The long, overhanging front teeth and the long claws on wide front feet, together with the large, strong shoulders, enable the gopher to dig about three hundred feet of tunnels in one night. Many tunnels are used only once. The short hairless tail serves much like a blind man's cane, being a tactile organ which makes it possible to travel rapidly in reverse. This ability is especially desirable from the gopher's position, since he can't turn around until he reaches a junction of the tunnel.

The pocket gopher seldom stays above ground any longer than it takes to dump his dirt-filled pouches, or to steal some bit of herbiage, but in a heavy rain or during a fast spring thaw, he will have a water-filled burrow and travel on the surface to higher ground.

Geomys (earth mouse) and his western cousin, Thomomys, who are well-fitted for their niche in the ecology of America. He seems easily trapped in the midwest, but not so easily in Idaho and Montana. The most practical way to remove him seems to be with poisoned grain, dropped into small holes in the roof of the tunnels. The tunnels are located with a pointed steel rod (This of course would not be wise around pets or small children).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Mourning Dove

Here is another article from the Piedmont Virginian newspaper.

"Hunting of Doves Bothers Many"
by Lou Jonas

Is the dove a songbird or a gamebird? Grain thief or weed seed eater? The dove has been a subject of controversy for many years. Many bird-lovers would like to see dove-hunting outlawed forever, but the sportsmen dislike having to sit by and rest their guns while about 90 percent of each year's crop of birds is taken by disease, parasites, and predators.

Much research has been done on the dove by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many state Fish and Game Departments, including that of the state of Idaho. It was found that, under usual conditions, hunting has little effect on the dove population. Doves usually live about twoyears and have a high mortality rate.

Whether hunted or not, the carryover of breeding birds will be about the same. The number of doves in any area depends upon the amount and type of food available and cover available.

The mourning dove (or turtle dove) is easily recognized by its distinctive dihouette, with pigeonlike head and pointed tail. Specialists call it a small brown pigeon, which makes it sound like a very dull bird, indeed. Actually, the irridescence of its plumage makes it one of the most beautiful.

Its voice is also distinctive, though many city boys call it a "hoot owl". Its mournful cry has a faraway effect, even though it may be perched directly over one's head.

Another "trademark" is the loudly whistling wings oas they flush from a weedpatch or perch, or as they fly overhead. Besides, the white feathers on each side of the tail are very noticeable as the bird flushes.

The corkscrew flight which the dove resorts to when in dangers is a fine defense against gunners as well as against the praire falcon and duck hawk. Few bird-hunters can hit one.

The doves eat pine nuts occasionally and also ripe grain which has fallen to the ground, but the craws are more often stuffed with seed seeds, even when they have been feeding in grain fields. Almost 50 percent of the diet of 57 doves examined in New York was found to be foxtail seeds. They occasionally also eat snails.

Most doves leave this region for warmer climes long before fall is officially over, and the ones which get caught in an early snowstorm seem rather miserable and confused. However, a few do winter in areas where snow seldom covers their food.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Life with "Flash" the Lively German Shepherd

(This paper was written for a writing class at Montana State University; I love the humor!)

A friend asked us to harbor her German Shepherd pup until she could find a place for rent in the suburbs, since the pup was terrorizing the surrounding city neighborhood to the extend that the worried owner could feel the general hostility increasing daily. Many people, you see, find it difficult to tell whether a charging, loudly-growling and barking German Shepherd is joking or in earnest. And even if a person likes dogs, a pair of big dusty or muddy paws planted on his chest can be irritating.

She apologized for its name, "Sassy", saying that her little daughter had hung that tag upon the dog. We couldn't quite accept that name, and though we felt that "Savage" might have been appropriate, we compromised on "Flash", knowing that it sounded enough like "Sassy" so that the dog was not apt to become confused when her owners came to visit. Little did we know how handy this name, and its easy rhyming, was to prove.

This is not Flash, but a fitting substitute!

Flash soon established a "play pen" and "crib" on the sofa which sat on our front porch. She really preferred being inside, but she has the biggest muddiest feet of any dog we've known. Besides, where an ordinary dog would affectionately greet you with slobbering kisses, Flash chews. If she likes you, she bites you: I would think she was cutting teeth, if she didn't already have such a find complete set at seven months of age. When she affectionately raked her big fangs over our baby's skull, we refrained from using the rifle, since my wife detests blood-stained floors and walls. Instead, we exiled her permanently, except in the event of a fire, when she will be allowed to come in and rescue us.

Like any immature animal, Flash likes toys, so she scrounged the entire farm, selecting the best. The "best" includes old dirty gunny sacks, an old throw rug, any gloves or shoes carelessly laid within reach for a few minutes, tree limbs of various sizes, horseshoes, pieces of clay tile, meadow mice, and a full-grown pigeon. I can't say how she obtained the pigeon, but I saw her crouching and creeping like a coyote toward our pet magpie, so I do have a hypothesis. I suppose she would have "played" with the magpie, eventually, if our pet fox hadn't scored first. Perhaps a full-grown eagle or ostrich would be safe around here, but I don't feel that any lesser bird would long survive. Flash's choice of toys caused us to change her name to "Trash".

Later, my wife decided that "Splash" would be more suitable. We have never known a retriever or water spaniel who likes water any better. Usually, instead of traveling the path beside the irrigation ditch, she walks IN the ditch, and when we irrigate, and the lawn has two inches or more water on it, Splash is exhilarated. She would probably be very sad in an arid environment, since she seems to need a drink and a foot bath every few minutes. The result is that whenever we pet her, we get wet or muddy.

"Clash" is a fitting name, also, since it describes the reaction between her and the skunks who formerly found security under the house. The odor seems to be much weaker nowadays, so I assume that either Clash or Fire-eye, the fox, or both, have driven the skunks from their home. She also clashes with OUR personalities when she scratches on the glass of the front door with her claws, begging to be let in. This is much like the screeching of hard chalk when it is dragged across a slate. Clash is also a garden-trotter, and since we have spent so much time and energy combating a solid blanket of Canadian thistles, and feel we are winning, we are unsympathetic to big-footed, careless trespassers, especially when the trespasser carries away the bean poles. Worse yet, when she gets on the trail of a pocket gopher, she travels mostly
underground, so there isn't much choice between her efforts and those of the gopher. We do feel rather sad about scolding her, when she is only trying to help.

"Brash" makes potential company hesitate and consider, before leaving the safety of their car. One friend told me, "I'm not going in that house unless you carry me." So maybe we don't have as many visitors as if Brash were not her, but the song which says, "When you live in the country, everybody is your neighbor. . ." isn't entirely wrong, so we still have enough company to satisfy our social instincts.

Flash is a handsome dog, big, rugged, but with a vivid imagination. When she first arrived, a screen door banging in the wind signified the beginning of the end of the world. A coat hanging on the fence kept her busy barking for hours, trying to scare it away.

The reader who has had experience with working dogs knows that all these trying habits could be sublimated by giving Flash a lot of hard work. Like humans, an idle dog has to find some way of burning excess energy and developing muscles. Even though we have little time, we will have to get a strong leash and training collar, and begin obedience training so she will be well-enough behaved that we can take her on hikes, and use her as a pack animal. This winter, she will make a fine substitute for a Malemute-Why deprive her of the pleasure of hauling in wood?

Life with Flash, Trash, Splash, Clash, and Brash has been much different than it was without her, but when she is gone, we will miss the big, rough and tough mischief-maker. For one thing, she likes our little girl, and it would be worth a lifetime of putting up with an energetic dog's mischief, if she saved Kandy (our daughter) from drowning in a creek or irrigation ditch.