Back To Nature

There are many ways to develop a relationship and worship the Creator. Many hear the voice of God best while observing and enjoying His creation whether this be playing with a Shorkie or watching a sunset.

B. K. Chance

Uplifting text and awe-inspiring images from B. K.’s 2009 backpacking trip into the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Sierra Navada Range.

Renewal of the Spirit

The images presented here are from a recent two week backing trip that my wife and I took in late August and early September of 2009. We married when she graduated from college in 1964 and assumed a teaching position in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was in engineering school at the time and we spent many hours with friends hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was to become a lifetime adventure for us in the outdoors. During our 45 years we have been fortunate to travel and hike on all seven continents. And I have been fortunate enough to climb three of the seven summits. We attribute our health and stamina to this love of adventure and the outdoors.

The freedom, inspiration and our spiritual development have been constantly expanded and renewed as we have adventured in the outdoors away from the stress and emotional turmoil created in the life one lives today. A thrill and excitement is generated in one’s mind and body as one ventures into the unknown to see the awe-inspiring nature that can surround one when you venture away from the noise, pollution, and job pressures. The expansion of person’s spirit in visiting areas free of the everyday pressure of our life today is more than can be expressed through words. To stand on top of a mountain and view the uninterrupted scenery and experience the lack of sound other then the call of distant raptor or the wind blowing around you makes your spirit soar and the stress and problems of daily life drift away on the wind. To sit by a stream of water high in the mountains and listen to the water rustle and bobble on its way to the sea is to be in the present of our Creator. To listen to the water that was only days ago ice from the previous winter’s snow or perhaps from an ancient glacier frees ones spirit to soar with the eagle. You take the water from the stream to renew your body, to cook with and to bathe, if you are so inclined.

My wife and I have been avid backpackers and hikers for many years with our children and grandchildren. As our children made their own way in life we often look back at the wonderful times we spent enjoying the great outdoors with them and now backpack into the mountains ourselves. Yes, we carry all of our equipment on our back: tent, sleeping bag and pad, food, cook stove and water filter. Some of our adventures have lasted for up to two weeks in remote mountain areas where we enlisted the help of porters to carry food, equipment and protection for these extended periods of hiking/climbing. These extended trips not only expand one’s knowledge of other cultures but lets one realize the great comforts and conveniences we have in our daily lives.

The visual images that I have attached I hope will inspire each of you to get out into nature and see what God had made for us to enjoy to renew our spirit and to reduce or eliminate the stress that you face each day. Enjoy, for you too can do these things. Setting Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains —Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness.

Morning Light Ltd
B. Chance

Burnie’s Critter Corner

Burnie Tompkins gives us glimpses of creation in his unique stories illustrating the love of God.

Birds of the Air!

The Great Kiskadee

One very hot morning in May, I was collecting butterflies in South Texas. I just wanted a few specimens from this area then it would be off to the bird watching. This was some years ago and this particular area along the arroyo was still pretty and uninhabited. Desert type wildlife was abundant, including some armadillos and very big rattlesnakes. Watching each step I took kept my eyes from looking up the bird life around and above me. Since this is one of the foremost bird watching areas in the U.S.A. I made sure I had my binoculars with me.

Butterflies were everywhere but so were the rattlesnakes and they both seemed to gather in the most unreachable places. Thick brambles and thorny vines were destroying my butterfly net so I just gave up and backed out of that area. From there I made my way down to the canal’s muddy banks. After getting cut up with the briars and avoiding the snakes it was time for some relaxing time with the binoculars along the canal. It wasn’t long before a little Green Kingfisher dived into the water just in front of me and this was a new life list bird. I picked up 5 or 6 new birds for my list that day. Then in the heat of the day when all other birds seem to hunt for shade and rest in quietness, I caught a flash of yellow near the far bank. What was that? Something hit the water. All of a sudden a bright yellow bird emerged from the water and flew to a nearby post. What kind of a bird was it and what kind of a call was that? Was it a flycatcher or kingfisher?

My field guide identified it as The Great Kiskadee Fly Catcher. I had never seen such a large flycatcher and didn’t know they dived for fish. This bright, yellow-breasted bird had brown wings and back. They range from South Texas all the way down through Mexico and into South America. At approximately 9-11 inches in length and with a call that almost gives its name away, it was an impressive bird to watch.

On one of my return trips to the Rio Grande Valley I found one of their nest, which appeared to be just a ball of sticks with a hole on the side. The nest was tucked away in a mesquite tree and trying to climb up and photograph that nest was next to impossible. Mesquite trees provide a safe haven for many types of birds and this one was no exception. Proceeding no more than three or four fee off the ground, I gave it up. Thorny vines and other briar covered limbs grabbed out at me from every direction. I love photographing birds and other wildlife, but this was just too much. Enough was enough.

Kiskadees can often be seen perched on top of a fence post or a low hanging limb just over the water and will not hesitate to dive for a fish or frog. They also chase flying grasshoppers and other winged insects and rarely miss with their accuracy. The Great Kiskadee mates for life and defend their territory with a vengeance and they build their nests in some pretty inaccessible spots.

After many attempts at photographing the Great Kiskadee I’ve only managed a few distant shots. These were taken in my relatives’ back yard as the birds came to eat their palm fruit. I blamed my poor performance with the camera that day on the fact that the rattlesnakes prohibited me from sneaking up on this new photo subject. This is a slight exaggeration but I was concerned and so should you be when probing in unfamiliar territory. Always be aware of your surroundings as you study and photograph nature.

God has provided some very beautiful sights and creatures in this world for us to enjoy. Satan has also provided some very interesting and deadly pitfalls within these beautiful areas so remember to look before you step. Carry a walking stick and beat the bushes in front of you to warn these creatures you are coming. Most will move out of your way or at least warn you of their presence. Have fun and I’ll meet you out on the trail some day.

Big Blue and the Baby
It was late afternoon and the shadows were getting long at the swamps edge. I had been out most of the afternoon in my canoe photographing water birds and any other thing that showed up. As I backed my canoe up under an over-hang of wax myrtle branches I began sensing that some one or some thing was watching me. I searched the undergrowth but in vain. The feeling grew stronger as I kept slowly creeping backward till I was hidden from sight. With the camera resting on the rim of the boat, in shooting position, I waited. I didn’t have to wait long. That feeling that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up just wouldn’t go away. Slowly I turned my head around for look behind me. There, not more than 15 inches from my face was a very sharp instrument of destruction aimed directly between my eyes.

You might ask, what would any one be doing out here in the middle of a swamp with a weapon such as this? Well they could be spearing frogs or keeping alligators away or maybe they were spearing fish. Yes, they probably were spearing fish and frogs but now they were trying to damage a photographer. I had been minding my own business, and doing it quietly I might add, when this hunter pointed his spear at me. He didn’t say a word to me; he didn’t have to. He screamed in my face and I ducked down in the canoe. My heart was pounding so loud I could hear it. I kept waiting for the blow to my head or back but it didn’t come. After a while I raised my head and peered over the edge of the boat and stared right into the face of that pointy nose, cross-eyed swamp creature. I still couldn’t talk. My heart was still in my throat. This was one of the worse cases of being startled I could ever remember. So much for trying stay unannounced in the woods today. This guy made such a racket that all forms of wildlife must be cowering in their dens. If I had a den I know I would have cowered. Finally I peeled myself up off the bottom of the boat and worked up enough courage to poke a paddle in this guy’s face. I backed out of there as fast as I could. If this hunter had really wanted to he could have plucked one of my eyes out as easy as you please. He didn’t and I was extremely pleased.

Well I’ll tell you a little secret; I had to make this really sound bad because I was so scared and embarrassed. What really happened was this; I had backed into the same hiding place where a Great Blue Heron was protecting its baby. Normally they fly away when people get to close but when watching a baby that’s fallen out of a nest, well, all I can say is, look out. Remember their nest is usually built up in the top of the tallest trees around. This could be 30 to 70 feet above ground so when babies fall out they don’t usually climb or fly back in. It’s hard to describe the sound these large gray birds make, but up close it sounded like a semi truck coming down on top of me. I have been startled many times by these Great Blue Herons when out fishing but nothing compared to this instance. If you have ever seen one of these big birds you surely noticed that spear they call beak. They can put that thing right through a fish or frog. I have even seen them eat small gators after spearing them. While surf fishing years ago, one got himself entangled in my fishing line and it took two of us to get him out. It took one person to hold that spear-like beak and the other to hold the legs and wings and untangle the line.

These are big, graceful, birds in flight but rather slow and awkward on the ground. When standing at waters edge though, waiting for a fish or frog to swim by, they are as still as a post. They rarely miss their target and that was what concerned me most. It would have been hard to explain to people how I lost an eye to a heron. And by the way, why do they call it the Great Blue Heron? I don’t see any blue on him, just a lot of shads of gray.

Again it’s easy to see how nature can provide some very interesting experiences, some good and some not so good. However, unless you get out into the woods or on the lakes or even in the mountains, you will never know what awaits you. Enjoy what your Creator has provided for your entertainment. I’ll see you on the trails.

Snag Bird
From high up in my tree house I could watch the world around and beneath me. I knew most of the names of the trees and many of the birds that skipped around in their leaves.

Colorful butterflies danced through the trees. Some were so hard to spot that Dad got me some books, with butterfly pictures, so I learned a lot.

If any new bird or butterfly came into view I went to the books to search for a name or a clue. It was like a new game all the time. All these creatures were friends of mine, and so all their names I had to find.

Day after day when my homework and chores where through it was off to the tree house to see what was new. Mom would put me a snack in a sack along with my bird book and I was off to the trees.

I would tie my book bag and a snack on a cord and pull them up after I had climbed to my fort. There, I sat back and watched the clouds in the sky, wondering what it would be like to fly.

Then all of a sudden the breeze rocked me around and almost made me climb down to the ground. My knees got weak but I held on tight. Right there and then I knew for a fact, I was not made to fly so I forgot about that.

When school was through some plans were made for a trip to the beach and to a state park. We took lots of pictures and I learned a lot. But, there is no place like home and I was glad to get back. But, before any exploring I had to unpack. Now to the fort high up in my tree with my books and my snacks tied to a string.

We only left for just a few days but I searched for anything new that might have moved in while I was away. I didn’t know why but something seemed special today. I was in for a treat, a real surprise.

From atop a nearby old dead tree, a flash of red feathers caught my eye. Something red peered around at me. A flash of red, there, I saw it again. A bright red head was sticking out of a hole at the top of that old dead limb.

What could it be?

Where was my book about birds? It was nowhere to be found then, I remembered it was still on the ground. I pulled up my string tied to my bag and hurried to open the bird book I had inside.

Wow! Could this really be? A Redheaded Woodpecker, something I had never seen. It was pecking a hole in top of that old dead snag. It must have been the Daddy and I called Mr. Redhead.

Chips were flying all the way to the ground and he was making that hole perfectly round. The hole was getting deeper and deeper and in a short time all I could see was his little black tail poking of that tree.

Soon it was done and he jumped inside. But, then all of a once out popped his head. He called out so loud that everyone heard and even I knew what he had said. “I’ve finished my house and I am moving in. I’ve come to live here and make a lot of new friends.”

In just a few minutes another bird came. It was dressed just like him and they both looked the same. It must have been the mommy, to myself I said, and they were dressed just alike in black, white and red.

Now I have two new friends and I already know their names. Mr. And Mrs. Woodpecker have moved in upstairs and will be protected by the One who cares. I know God must have sent them to live in that old empty tree so I could watch them raise their new family.

Slinky Skinks
When looking for a word to describe the little 5 Lined Skink, the word slinky came to mind. Things that slither, slide on their bellies and slip around and hide under rocks are slinky. My introduction to the slinky little skink family was anything but proper. These little lizards seem to appear out of nowhere and are so quiet that unless you are looking for them they will go unnoticed. You’ll find them in your garden under rocks, boards, or piles of limbs. When I was in the 6th grade I met my first skink face to face in a cemetery.

Dad was an avid Florida historian and often stumbled on to old hidden cemetery sites in the northern Florida woods. Early one Sunday morning we went to one of these old 1800′s graveyards, which was located under some big, old, lumbering oaks and magnolia trees. It was about mid-morning and a beam of sunlight broke through the overhead canopy and shown on a rather large moss covered tombstone. As we knelt down to record information from this particularly old granite tombstone, Dad had to remove some of the moss to read the name engraved there. While he entered this information in his notebook I stood up to take a look around. Scattered here and there were very old tombstones and some old cypress grave makers with no names. I don’t think any of them were straight up and down. Most were leaning at angles or partially sunken into the soft leaf-covered sand. All were covered with bright green moss and actually presented a very peaceful setting. I had never been to movies or had scary stories read to me but the idea of standing on sunken-in grave sites did give me an eerie feeling.

As in most graveyards this old site was very quiet and peaceful. Birds sang from the surrounding thickets and squirrels fussed at us for interrupting their acorn gathering. I stood there, being as respectful of the ones laid to rest there as I could possibly be. As I surveyed this pleasant spot, I slowly turned and not more than 10 inches from my face was a very large broad headed skink. His head was massive for such a lizard and was bright reddish-orange. He was opening and closing his mouth and licking his chops right in my face. At that time I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t care and I wasted no time trying to find out. I was so startled I just plowed right through those old cypress grave markers. My movements were so rapid I don’t think I left any tracks as I headed for new territory. When I jumped, hollered and ran I scared Dad so bad he dropped his notebook and headed in the opposite direction, not even knowing what he was running from. After we both stopped he came over to check me over.

Are you hurt?

No Sir.

What in the world happened son?

My whole body shaking and I was gasping for air. Before I could catch my breath to tell him he knelt down and peered into the woods for some unknown villain. I pointed to that still undisturbed, redheaded beast perched on top of the big tombstone. Now, if Dad had ever seen one of these large lizards before, I certainly wasn’t impressed with his assurance of how harmless it was. He proceeded very slowly to retrieve his notebook and all the time flailing his hands in the air to frighten away this life-threatening creature. Judging by Dad’s movements, I really think if that lizard had made even the slightest movement towards him, I would have lost a Dad somewhere in the North Florida swamps. The lizard very begrudgingly gave up his warm place in the sun to hide under the tombstone from this excited, hysterical historian.

Skinks, like most lizards, are harmless and like most reptiles in nature they won’t hurt you, but can startle you into hurting yourself. I don’t remember how many old wooden grave markers I knocked down that day. However, I was fortunate to have avoided the stone monuments or would have ended up with more than a few scratches. I’ll always remember that startling experience every time I see another beautiful skink.

Skinks, like snakes, like to sunbathe to warm them up and help with their digestion. They are very helpful around your house by eating insect pests. The most common skink we have here in the Eastern part of Tennessee is the 5-lined skink, the one with the beautiful, bright blue tail.

It takes a lot of time and effort to get to really know nature but the rewards are well worth it. The more you learn the more you will appreciate and respect what your Heavenly Father has done for you. Go out and turn over a few rocks and get personally involved with God’s creations.

Camp Trail Tusker
When four teenage boys get together, without a clear thinker among them, anything can happen and usually does. The chances that it would be something that Mom would not approve of are usually the rule and not the exception. There are usually only three things boys 16 to 18 years old think about and they are adventure, girls and food, but not always in that order.

Bob and his younger brother Wally, Richard and Mungo were chosen to represent their church at a statewide youth conference. Mungo was a nickname that had been shortened from Humungo, which was shortened from humungous. He was the largest of this foursome and, in fact, he was really large. This guy was a lot of fun be around and was always game for anything adventurous. This group thought of themselves as Christian young men and would never purposefully misrepresent or embarrass their church or family.

The youth conference was held at Camp Kulaqua in northern Florida. In its earlier days Kulaqua was a wild and beautiful place. A big, deep spring that was surrounded by large cypress trees and deep swamps was its central attraction. For housing in those days, there were only tents with sawmill shavings for floors, one bare light bulb hanging in the middle of the tent, and tent flaps for doors. The boys’ campsite of four man tents was located on one side of the campgrounds and the girls on the other. Adult representatives were scattered here and there among the campers for supervision. They had their hands full and slept very little during those two days. With over 200 young people in attendance, socializing was bound to take place and at any hour.

Friday night was both fun and informative. Our four young men saw many of their old friends and heard some fine preaching. Most of the sermon that night was targeted at challenging the young people not to be afraid or embarrassed to be different, to step up and do things without concern about being noticed.

That very Sabbath morning the boys took the preacher up on his challenge. Maybe not in the context of his sermon, but they did get noticed. That morning found my four friends among some of the first to the food hall and then back to the tent to get dressed and ready for early services. Things were going well and because they were early, they were compelled to take an early morning stroll down to the river. The trail was well-kept and posed no threat to their church clothes or shoes. However, as they progressed down the trail, there was evidence that some wild hogs must have been visiting during the night. They had rooted furrows across the trail in several places, which was not an uncommon thing in this river hammock. Some of these animals were tame hogs that had become wild and others were the old wild breed that folks around there called piney woods rooters. These old rooters were smaller than the feral hogs, but they did have scary tusks. Their tusks stuck out about three or four inches on either side of their snout and could pose real danger if the animal were cornered. Bob and his Granddad had been run up an orange tree and kept up there for a couple of hours by one of these mean old tuskers. It almost killed his hunting dog by taking all the hide off on one side of his body. This earlier incident kept Bob alert to the possible need to take to a tree. However, surely no self-respecting wild boar would harass four nicely dressed young men on a Sabbath morning walk.

The woods smelled earthy and a heavy fog was lifting as the boys ambled down the river trail. They could hear a couple of owls getting in their last hoots before going to bed for the day. Then they heard a sound that they did not want to hear. From somewhere in the foggy thicket to their right, came the snorting grunts of wild hogs. Although they couldn’t see them, their low rumbles were unmistakably threatening. The boys stood quietly and listened, but detecting no movement in their direction, they continued down the trail. Common sense screamed at all of them to turn back, but the call of the wild was just too strong. Suddenly the grunting sounds shifted, now they were coming from behind them and getting closer. This was the time for an escape plan. It was clear that Mungo was not going to be able to shimmy up a tree. He had spent too much time at the dinner table, too often. There was no turning back, so they double-timed it toward the river. They figured that since this trail formed a big loop back to camp that they would lose those hogs once they rounded the bend. As they jogged down the trail and around the bend, suddenly they came face to face with the tusker and his harem. Now that tusker began tossing clods of muck into the air as he sized-up the boys while planning his attack. Two old sows backed him up and echoing his threatening grunts. There was no doubt that the boys were not welcome in their hammock.

Cut off from the trail back to camp, they turned and headed back to the river. There, to the left, was a deep stream near the trail with a big log lying across it. The log seemed just made for their escape, since hogs don’t normally walk logs. Three of the group made it without a speck of mud on their shoes or clothes and stood proudly on the other side marveling at their accomplishment. That moment of glory lasted only a briefly as they watched poor Mungo get baptized in black swamp water, church clothes and all. He had put considerably more pressure on the log than it could bear. After all four were on the other side, it was discovered they were on an island of muck and grass. The only way off that little island was the way they came, over that deep stream. The log bridge was gone and now it was for certain that their Sabbath go-to-meeting clothes were not going to church. Just as they were about to start to wade across, the tusked rooter reappeared with his girl friends. This threat cut off any possibility of returning to camp on that trail. The boys threw sticks and mud balls at that ugly warthog, but he didn’t scare and only got madder.

After a long discussion, the four decided to pull off their shoes and swim across the swamp to another trail. It was time to put some swamp between them and those pigs. Perhaps those rooters had never been taught about the normal behavior for their breed because they immediately proceeded to swim the stream in pursuit. After about 45 minutes of wallowing in swamp slime and ooze, the hogs were finally evaded.

A new concern loomed heavy on four young minds. With the swine incident behind, they would have to face people – and girls. The only way back was right through the girls’ campsite. Surely the girls had all gone to church – no such luck. It seems that the boys were not the only ones to be skipping services. As they approached the tents from the dark woods looking like four dirty swamp monsters, girls screamed and ran in all direction. Some girls watched and some giggled as those poor backsliders with no dignity left, slipped into their tent. A while later, after getting cleaned up, they quietly entered the food hall to find all eyes turned toward them. They felt the humiliation and despair that only a backslider, caught in his sins, could feel.

Their good clothes were ruined and their shoes had shrunk two sizes. The new church pants had dye all around the waistband from their leather belts. However, the preacher’s challenge from the night before had been met, and they had overcome at great sacrifice. They had stepped out and done something and gotten noticed.

The next Sabbath this adventure was recalled from their local pulpit. How did their pastor find out about this escapade? They had each agreed never to mention this adventure to anyone, especially at church. Now that it was out in the open, the pastor said he would hog-tie them for a report on the plans for the youth for the coming year. The congregation chuckled.

After reading this story a person could conclude all kinds of object or moral lessons. However, the four involved learned their lessons well and over the years have handed down much wisdom and advice to their successors. Not that it has ever been taken seriously, especially when directed toward 16-18 year olds.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge (log) since those days. All those big, youthful adventures have supplied a lot of good memories over the years. By necessity, due to normal aging processes, some priorities have changed over the years though. However, these four old friends of mine still have only three things on their mind. That would be Heaven, a good night’s sleep, and I can’t seem to remember the third.

Creatures in the Water!
Lets assume that since you are reading this nature nugget that you learned to read in school or were taught by your parents. After a few basic lessons you might have been able to learn a little on your own. As you grew older your imagination grew and you learned even more about life. Let me ask you this: who taught you about danger or not to stick your hand in a fire? Most likely your mom or dad trained you in all the things that you needed to know about how to keep from getting hurt. When I was very young I saw my Dad drop a big ladder on his great toe. A few days later, while on the roof, he poured hot roofing tar on that same exposed toe. By watching him I have never jammed my toe with a ladder and have always been very careful with any hot liquids. Seeing him lose his big toenail taught me many valuable lessons.

Now lets pretend that you are a fish. Who will teach you about danger and when to run (swim) away from danger? Who is going to keep you from being shark bait and out of the tentacles of a man-o-war or an octopus? All things are very important if you are just a small fry of a fish. In fact it means if you don’t learn quickly you are going to be in somebody’s food chain. You will be at the top of the food pyramid for some larger fish. So how does a little fish learn to fend for himself with no mother or daddy fish around to help? Lets think about one thing. Most little fish don’t want their mom or dad around because many adult fish don’t ever see their own little babies hatch out. As far as they’re concerned any little fish is good to eat.

Lets take the Pompano fish for example. Their mom goes somewhere along the Gulf or Atlantic coast, and lays thousands of eggs on the grassy bottom. After thousands of mother Pompano lay their eggs, millions of little pompano hatch out all by themselves. Mom has gone back out to the open ocean leaving the little ones to raise themselves. How in this world is a little fish suppose to learn own its own. Well guess what? All these little Pompano break up into pods or little schools. Now instead of just one lonely little fish there are many little friends swimming together. They learn to swim in a tight, straight formation and how to turn very quickly and to go the opposite direction. It’s like follow-the-leader all day long. Nature has implanted into their tiny little brain cells what food to eat and how to run from enemies.

As these millions of babies grow they also join in larger schools and head for the open ocean. There they have to learn very fast how to avoid danger. They form their own little schools that swim so fast they are hard to see. The school stops only for food. As soon as a pod spots a colony of mole crabs, commonly known as sand fleas, they all break for lunch. With mouths made for crunching up crab shells it’s not long before they are full of crab sandwiches then it’s back to fast-forward. These little fish grow to be up to 15-20 inches long and travel the shallow waters just off the shoreline. Here they are able to spot the mole crabs as the crashing surf churns up the bottom where the little crabs hide. Many time as I have wadded out to surf fish and schools of Pompano dart past me. All these Pompano are moving in the same direction and all turning at the same time and all showing their bright silver sides.

The oceans of the world are full of many kinds of schooling fish. Large schools act as protection. There is safety in numbers most of the time. When a predator comes to get just one fish for a tasty bite, the whole school scatters causing mass confusion and many times the predator gets nothing. On the other hand, some large whales or dolphins would find it hard to get enough food if it weren’t for the smaller fish in large schools.

There is balance in nature if man would only let nature takes its course. Our Creator has provided for even the smallest of creatures to have a means to survive, even without a mom or dad around to teach them. I am just very thankful that I don’t have to stay in school all my life just to stay alive aren’t you? Our moms and dads show us what we need to know, so learn well. Let’s thank our Creator for moms and dads who take to time to teach us.

Critter Corner Extras!
Out of the early morning mist a flutter of wings announces the first bird to our feeder. Long before the sun rises the male cardinal arrives at the feeding station followed by his mate. For about 30 minutes or so they feed in the quietness of the dim morning light. However, as the sun casts its first rays on the treetops on the hillsides, the flutter of many other wings announce the arrival of the mourning doves. There are usually about 17 to 20 in all. Most all other birds fly off to the nearby trees and wait for the doves to leave. The doves feed heavily in the morning and again in the afternoon. When the sun finally shines on the dove’s feathers there is a beautiful, shininess that is hard to describe. It’s a lavenderish, brownish color. I really don’t think there are such words but I’ll use them anyway. During mating season they squabble a little at the feeder but by the end of the day they all go away full and happy.

They get their name from the mournful call they make as they talk to one another during the day. We have raised some of these little doves that have fallen out of or should I say off of their nest. I made a syringe to look like a mother doves head. There I glued two glass eyes one on either side. They wouldn’t open their mouths to feed so I put an extra black spot on either side of that syringe head and I guess that fooled them. Once I put the spots on either side of the head the babies opened their mouths. I think they were nearsighted cause they gobbled down almost a whole syringe full each. Ground up seeds and some soy milk worked just fine as mother’s crop milk. They grew up and soon joined the flock. I bet they never saw another dove’s head like the one that raised them.

A dove’s nest is a very simple stack of sticks just placed on top of one another. These are usually placed in or near a fork in a tree limb. I’ve never understood how these nests keep from falling off the limb. The mother dove lays about 3 eggs and sometimes starts setting on them soon after she lays the first egg. There can be 3 different size babies in the nest at one time. When storms and strong winds sway the trees the mother dove guards the nest with her body and wings. She keeps the little ones safe and dry. Often after a rain you can see them taking a bath right out in the street in a rain puddle. Birds can do this but it is not recommended for little children.

I would imagine that Noah used a member of the rock dove family, maybe a homing pigeon, to send out of the Ark in search for land. These rock doves can fly a hundred miles or more and return right back to their home. Doves are so sleek and peaceful sounding with all their cooing that they have often been used as a sign of peace and goodwill.

When Jesus was baptized His Father in Heaven sent down a beautiful dove that lighted upon Jesus, this represented the Holy Spirit that came to anoint His Son. He said “BEHOLD YOU ARE MY BELOVED SON; IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.” What a beautiful picture this was, and what other bird or animal could ever represent such a symbol peace.

A little lamb has always represented innocence and purity and Jesus said, “I AM THE LAMB.” Now when I look at my new, little grand daughter and touch her soft, blushed cheeks, its not hard for me to think of her as a sweet little lamb. This just helps me more to appreciate the great sacrifices that Heaven has made for us. Think upon these things as this Christmas Season closes out the old year and sets the stage for a brand new one. May God bless you and I thank you for all your support this past year. There are a lot more stories to come so meet me down at the Critter Corner.

- Uncle Burney

River Bull
I suppose that every country boy has his favorite story or stories about how he escaped from a charging bull. When I was only 15 years old a young bull tossed my Grand Dad around with his knobby little horns and it bruised him up pretty good. The next day Grand Dad was met at the gate by this young bull ready to do some more tossing. Grand Dad stepped inside the gate and the young bull lowered his head and charged. A well-placed thump on the head right between the horns with a two-by-four stopped him dead in his tracks. With crossed eyes and unsteady legs the youngster wandered off to graze with the cows. That two-by-four hung by that gate for as long as I can remember. Big bulls can kill people and can be very dangerous.

Since I spent a lot of my young life on a farm I found it necessary, a time or two, to jump a fence or crawl up a tree to avoid some very upset bull. If I remember correctly though, I just might have been the one to do the upsetting. When I think back, slingshots got me into a lot of hot water in those days. Take my word for it, don’t ever use a bull or an empty hornet nest for a target. Why in the world do teenagers test the limits of fate?

Later on in years when I was in my early twenties, some of my friends and I decided to take a long boat trip down the Kissimmee River in southern, central Florida. The old river was dark and beautiful. It wound around through the upper Everglades and wetlands for over a hundred miles. The wildlife was abundant and easy to see. That whole area was a giant sponge, just soaking up the water.

The Swift meat packing and cattle company owned or leased thousands of acres along this old river. Many of their cattle became wild and lived with the local wildlife for many years. This area ran all the way from lower Lake Kissimmee all the way down to Lake Okeechobee. It was wild and was still a home for the Florida Panther and black bear. Wild boar or as the locals called them, piney-woods-rooters, could be seen in the mud along the river. Bird life could be seen at every bend in the river. The first night we set up camp we were visited by two young bobcats that played like little kittens. Latter on that night we were visited by hundreds of cows that crept in, their eyes reflecting our campfire light. As the fire got lower they got closer. This was too close for comfort. Somebody threw some starter fluid on the fire and scared those poor cows so bad you could hear their grunts as they hit trees in the dark. By the large splashes we knew some stumbled into the river.

The second day on the river we often had to pull the boat through thick lily pads and shallow marsh grasses. We thought that we had passed the worse section when to our dismay we came to a sandy beach that narrowed the river to 20 or 30 feet. This bend was very shallow and required raising the motor and pulling the boat across the sand bar and into deeper water.

I was getting back into the boat when a big, black shadow appeared above us on the riverbank. The sun was low but still shined in our eyes. We could see well enough to know that it was an outline of a large bull. He was all muscle and his horns were at least 3 feet across and he wasn’t happy we were there. We also found out very soon that he was very fast. Before we could get the engine started he charged off that bank and right at us. When he hit the water it didn’t slow him down very much and he put a good crunch in the rear of our only transportation out of there. One would think that an impact like that would dislodge a horn, but not this guy. The engine was going by now but shallow water made our progress painfully slow. Splashing water in his face only made him madder but what else could we do? Soon he was out of the water and again made another run at us. This time we moved just in time to avoid those horns so he jumped in and swam after us for some distance. That was one determined bull. Right then I started thinking out loud, hey guys, we’ve got to come back this way tomorrow. That night we should have slept well but vampire mosquitoes the size of fruit bats kept us awake and we slapped ourselves all night. To late to ask who was supposed to bring the mosquito net.

Those three days on the Kissimmee were unforgettable in many ways and now I mostly remember the good and funny parts. I’m very thankful that God has allowed me to enjoy much of what nature has to offer. Let us all be thankful for the blessings that America has to offer on this 2006 Thanksgiving season. Let us also be thankful for a loving God that is patient with mankind. I don’t think it will be long before His patience will run out. Let us be ready and plan for a future in the New Earth.

Animals and Kids
Squirrels, squirrels, squirrels, I have raised quite a few. Some came without hair and some came with eyes closed. The phone would ring and someone would say, “I have two baby squirrels, no, now there are three. My kids found them on the ground, will you raise them for me?” What is a father to do?There is always some reason why no one else will take them in. They are always too little or they don’t like their bare skin. Once my kids see them I can’t let them go. I’ve tried politely to refuse but the answer is always NO! “You can raise them Daddy I know you can and I’ll help,” (SURE). What is a father to do?

I’ve raised my kids to take time to care for all God’s creatures, even the ones without hair or other “yucky” features. So now it’s baby formula and five or six feedings a day. The first thing before work and last before bed my dreams are not of sugarplums but squirrels dancing in my head. What is a father to do?

Squirrels, like rabbits are everywhere. Up in the trees or out digging up my yard. I know they are planting seeds they got from my feeder, the one with the squirrel guard. Sunflowers are coming up all over the place so why would I raise three more little diggers? “Oh daddy look at that cute little face.” What is a father to do?

It’s time for a feeding so out of their cage and up my arm and into my face, three little squirrels all over the place. They were so quiet and cute asleep in their bed. They were so small and eyes not even open yet. But a few days later they’re up on my head. Out of that cage they move like a rocket, searching for food in all my pockets. That food better be there or I’ll get a real chewing out. What is a father to do?

Very few squirrels ever go to church but these three did. They drank their milk from a bottle in front of the kids. Isn’t primary class a lot of fun? Now they jumped down on the floor and started to run. They ran between the kid’s legs and under the chairs. The kids were laughing and jumping and the girls clutched their skirts. This is the time my little one says, “Daddy, I don’t think squirrels belong in a church.” What is a father to do?

Now the kids are all big and grown and squirrel after squirrel has come and gone. But now there is a new kid that’s all settled in. She is only one year old but totes a big grin. I know that look in her eyes when she sees a new animal friend. I guess I have to start all over again. She brings me a book with pictures of baby animals and points each one out. Looks like it’s going to be fun with my new little SPROUT. What is a Grandfather to do?

All paintings are original artwork by Burney Tompkins.
Copyright © Burney Tompkins 1995 – 2007 All rights reserved.