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Down on the Farm: Life in June

At five past nine a couple of evenings ago, a quick little thunderstorm passed and the sun peeked out from beneath the gray cloud to cast an eerie late-evening glow over the wet foliage.

On the other side of that short night, the birds started to twitter at 4:30 in the morning.

Welcome to the long, busy days of June in the northland.

Out on the swamp, Ma and Pa Swan appeared together for the first time in a month. After alternating incubation duties on a hidden nest for weeks, the pair rounded a cluster of cattails to present their new family, five downy little cygnets, a pretty good hatch.

Meanwhile, Mom wood duck hatched 14 ducklings.

Unlike the swans, who maintain some dignity even in infancy, the wood ducklings skitter along the water's surface like bugs. While Mom watches tolerantly, members of her undisciplined little army of avian toddlers wander far from the brood only to scamper back in terror lest they be left behind.

Or eaten.

There is a price to pay for letting the young ones wander: The disciplined and mighty swans likely won't lose a cygnet throughout the summer while the more prolific and permissive wood ducklings provide a buffet for the raccoon.

The progressive swans split parenting duties evenly, but Dad wood duck, having fathered dozens, apparently spends all of his time at the bar.

A pair of Canadian geese also hatched a few goslings, but who cares. Canadian honkers have become as common as pigeons.

When geese abandoned their pride to integrate with humans, they became pests and lost most of the beauty they once possessed. Now, they're a dime a dozen.

And what attitude should one have towards the squirrels?

A big gray squirrel has destroyed two of my bird feeders in one week. There is nothing that can stop a determined squirrel.

A person could marvel at their acrobatics and intelligence and buy enough feed for squirrels and birds both, but that goes against the human competitive gene. That feed is meant for birds. The squirrel must be defeated.

However, there are unwritten rules. Pulling out the .22 to save on birdseed seems to violate basic fairness.

So, the battle rages on.

Humans divide nature into good and bad, and we don't always agree which is which. Geese on the lawn? Bad. Swans on the swamp? Good.

Deer? It depends upon whether you are a gardener or a hunter. It would make sense to be both a gardener and a hunter, but the two habits of mind seldom appear in the same person.

We can agree that the goldfinches are pretty. So are bluebirds, grosbeaks and orioles. But most people find the oily barn swallows to be a pest.

The song of a blackbird is fine at a distance, but the dim-witted red-winged blackbird that has attacked his reflection in the front window every summer morning for past five years has worn out his welcome.

June is a month teeming with new life. Not all of it is fuzzy and cute.

A well-sourced rumor reports that an area woman recently picked 1,700 wood ticks off her two dogs. She has the evidence in a jar. It only took one tick to make me aware of the power of the tiny critters.

After mowing lawn, I felt a twinge on my side. I treated the injury like a sliver.

But when the stubborn splinter finally let loose, it squirmed. It was a deer tick.

By the next morning the red spot around the bite grew to the size of a quarter and I headed off to the doctor's office.

Wouldn't you know, my tick bite was a textbook perfect bullseye, so perfect that Doc ran to get a camera.

"Beautiful!" he said as he took shot after shot of the hideous bite, making sure to get the lighting right. "This is just great!"

As with all things natural, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.