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Journal Entries - Nature & Wildlife

Excerpts from Personal Journals of Phil Roets

December 19, 1982.
We have a gray cool late fall day. Last night when I went out to walk, there was not a cloud in the sky. The stars were shining like tiny pieces of gold. The moon was just a thin strip of yellow light shaping up for the first quarter. Tuesday will be the first official day of winter.

As I look out on a morning like this, I see a challenge to work. The trees have worked a long season since last march and now they are resting, waving in the wind but firmly anchored. The grass has turned a bit brown to remind us that the earth is resting up. Deep inside are clusters of earthworms keeping warm until they are called to do their soil-building next spring. The cardinals blue jays and sparrows are hardy breeds who sing at the thought of cold and snow. They have the skyways and the trees to themselves.

The domestic animals come out to romp around a bit but head quickly back into the shelter of barns and sheds and a sure meal. The farmers set up a daily routine of chores but the hurry and hustle of summer and fall are over. They may grumble a bit about the prices but most of them feel quite good about the year.

In short as I look out on the world of winter, I see a time of fulfillment and a time of promise, a time of challenge and a time of security, a time to be treasured, a time to be used.

September 25, 1983.
A beautiful fall day! The air is just nippy enough to let you know summer is over. The wind rustles through the leaves in a kind of warm-up trial run. The leaves cling firmly as they wave back and forth but the wind promises to be back in a few weeks to shake them loose from their moorings. The horses, sheep, roosters, & cattle were all chiming in on a barnyard symphony as I went outside. The air was fresh and clean from its midnight bath.

October 11, 1984.
I can really get excited as I realize that each of those falling leaves has been working as a solar factory for several months and now stores within itself energy that can be released by slow decay, quick combustion or stored for thousands of years to be released in a piece of coal.

Many times in my life, leaves have held great fascination for me since the first year at Kirkwood when old Father Becker talked to us about the life of the grove and the pond.

I have about ten kids at school who come up a couple times a week with some tidbit of nature. As I stand there on the playground, I point out various phenomena that can be seen or heard. Certain kids pick up the fact and then begin to report back. Some come by almost every morning.

May 17, 1985.
Every cloud has disappeared and the sun is shining brightly. The grape leaves look a bit cold and seem to say, “Wait till that sun gets up and puts a little spark in the air. You’d look cold too if you’d been hanging out here all night.”

September 21, 1985.
Good morning! 50° at 5:30.- a bit of rain has fallen during the night - and the fall season of 1985 officially opens today. Everything about the day says it is a true fall day - a day when it’s great to be on the inside working - a day when all the leaves seem to say, “The work year is over. Let’s fade.!” The work year for the plants and trees is over and the leaf factories close up. Their last supply of chlorophyll is produced and when that’s used up, their true colors show, they drop off and enter the second phase of their existence in the web of life.

Farmers look at their corn, beans, hay and figure how long the harvest will take and how good it will be. The sense of completion, urgency, and satisfaction takes over. The gamble on weather, moisture, germination and insects are all part of the past. Now they crank up their giant combines and spill the yellow corn or brown beans into the combine’s mow, the wagon’s belly and the bin’s haven. Over all is the sense of fulness that comes with the fall harvest and another crop year is laid by.

December 13, 1985.
Good morning! -10 (below zero) and I could see the poplars shaking steadily as I looked out the window at 5:30. They reminded me of someone standing in the cold and shaking his hands and fingers to keep them warm. In the spring, when the green leaves glisten on the poplars, the steady breeze makes the leaves dance like the fingers of the ballet queen. When a stiff wind blows and makes the whole poplar bend, it’s as if the tree is laughing at the wind as it snaps back into position. When the tree is whipping back and forth, it is the wind shaking the naughty child to get its attention. But when those same winds are whistling overhead through the tall elms, the story is quite different.

That’s a long disquisition on weather and wind and seasons but it seemed appropriate for a brrrrrrr! day.

December 25, 1985.
Merry Christmas! -10° (below zero) with a windchill factor between 40° & 50° below. That’s cold. I looked out the bedroom window at the neighbor's horses. They were frisking and running and eating. I’m sure they have their built-in long johns to keep them warm. Their owner pulled a big load of hay into the field for the horses and another for the sheep. They have their barn to shelter them against the wind so they’ll weather fine.

April 7, 1986.
The grackles are standing on the eaves of neighbor's house as if waiting for the bird population to be up and about. They get up early every day but they don’t really go to work until about 7:30. A lot of their work is “busy” work. They walk fast, pick furiously, almost fall on their heads because of their short tail, then flutter their wings, stand still and survey the environs, then start all over again. They are often call the clowns of the bird world. They surely have the staccato movement.

September 27, 1986.
I enjoyed the ride and walk down by the river. The herons seem to be statues as they wait for the fish to swim into range. When they take off, I wonder whether they’ll get their legs and feet tucked in. They must take a lot of tumbles in the progress of learning.

September 30, 1986.
I’ll be very happy when this rain decides to let up for awhile. The ground is saturated all the way through the subsoil. It won’t be long until it is dripping through on the Chinaman’s feet.

The first time I studied the globe was in 4th grade. Sister Zita pointed out that the Chinese were on the other side from us. I couldn’t understand gravity or the rotation of the earth too well so I had a hard time figuring out how they could hang on by their feet. Then I wondered why they didn’t dig holes and come through. We had quite lively discussions about these topics. Then we asked Father Mueller during Catechism class. He was quite knowledgeable in this area, as I learned later, and he satisfied our questions.

I am still fascinated by the idea that our earth is a space ship and we are rotating completely around every 24 hours and rotating through space at a fantastic speed. Yet we walk around in the same atmosphere every day without being bothered by the speed or distance.

November 9, 1986.
As I looked at the “de-leafed” trees from now until spring, I almost see a sign on each. It reads, “Closed for the winter. Inquire below.” Then, if I want to know what is going on, I would have to go to the end of the root system and find that peacefully awaiting the call of spring to begin working again

After seeing the barren land of Nevada, I appreciate our trees the more. The palm trees look nice but their rough bark and scraggly exterior make me think existence is a struggle for them.

March 6, 1987.
I just heard a bird singing in the yard. It had the early morning sound of a bird who woke early and was doing his damnest to bother everybody.

June 21, 1987.
Yesterday, I watched a wren in the grapes while I was eating lunch. It was diligently snapping at insects I couldn’t even see. Suddenly, out came a large fly or beetle and the wren in swift pursuit. The fly cut a couple of quick A-turns and got away. The wren returned to the grapes. In short order, a white moth was flitting by. Out popped the wren and taken was one moth. Then the wren left.

June 24, 1987.
I surely see why the bug-eating birds spend so much time in the taller grass. The taller grass seems to swarm with 100’s of insects. As soon as I get the lawn cut the birds sweep in and get bugs. I sat down by the pump to cool off when I finished cutting. In flew three robins and started bug-picking. They looked at me for awhile. When I made no move they ignored me and went about their food gathering. One came within a yard of my foot.

October 13, 1987.
I’ve seen some huge loads of corn headed for the elevator on the side streets when I got out of to the high school. I followed one man for about 3 miles on the Pella road. A few kernels of corn were coming off the load at every turn of the wheels. The whole amount lost would amount only to a few handsful but I bet the sparrows and crows thought it a bountiful treat.

November 18, 1987.
It’s amazing what the temperature does to the tone of the sky. On a warm summer evening, the bright stars in a clear ebony sky twinkle merrily & warmly. In the cold clear weather of fall or winter, the stars glitter like spots of gold-colored ice pushing the mercury lower.

December 12, 1987.
The wind is a great invention. When I remember how it actually gets in circulation, rising from the equator and taking off for the Poles and then coming in low as it travels to the equator again, I come up with even more stirring pictures. I don’t like it when it bites and whips me on the playground but that’s a circumstance I endure for a few minutes.

Ventus ventorum veniet (Great winds come)
Ventus ventorum reveniet. (Great winds go)
Sed homo stat (But man stays)
Et remanet orbs terrarum. (and earth remains.)

January 31, 1988.
32o on the 31st of January at 7:45. The sky is overcast with rain or snow clouds and the wind is a-blowin' and a-huffin' and a-wheezin' and a-teasin' outside. We could get snow, we could get rain, we could get sleet and we might be lucky and have it all pass by. If the sheep are any sign, we should have just the wind. They are out contentedly grazing.

April 5-6, 1996.
The pelicans on Black Hawk Lake were certainly a sight to behold. I like it when I see them fly but I think I appreciate them more paddling about in a sort of “going nowhere” and “idling." I imagine they are talking over the trip so far and projecting what will come next. They also probably discuss key incidents in the past.

April 8, 1996.
You mentioned the crows adapting to city life. Crows have been known to adapt to every situation all the way back to Julius Caesar & Ovid. Both men describe these birds as ravenous eaters. In fact, the word “ravenous” is a Latin adjective which means a big eater that eats anything. The “Raven” comes from Ravenna, Italy - a town where these birds were especially known. I sometimes wonder whether the “Crow” talk - “caw, caw caw” - is a form of old Latin or some such. I must admit I admire the brazen avians even though they are so destructive of farm crops.

April 9, 1996.
The birds are on the fly already. Yesterday, I wrote about the crows or ravens. I recalled a lot more data. Ravens are only one kind of crow. When we were translating Virgil’s Bucolics in the 4th year of seminary, Father Flanagan would frequently dramatize some of the ideas. His famous one was his mimicking the “corvus” or raven as it struts back and forth. Virgil had a whole poem about the raven describing his proud strut up and down the ground.

The crow can not only fly well but has excellent feet and legs for walking fast and far. They do get into the grain of the farmer but the good they do in devouring insects and small pests far outweighs their harm. They have big appetities and always prefer the insects, bugs & small animals to grain.

They apparently have a whole system of “caw-caw” talk when they are roosting or flying. They fly out a long way, each day, to feed and then back to a roosting place for the night. They keep a great distance from hunters. They are hard to trap because they suspect anything unusual. They have been known to spring traps and take the bait. If one of their group is in trouble, they fly in from every direction to cry their distress. In fact, the raven was quite a favorite of the Romans according to Virgil.

July 11, 1996.
Good morning! It’s 56° at 6:30 a.m. and delightful on the deck. I get to see all the birds as they fly about on their early rounds. Some of them seem to be out for a leisurely look at the neighborhood. Others fly as if they have definite errands in mind. I don’t know whether any of them has a regular mail run or a quick trip to the store or deli. I know the crows have a definite pattern of roosting by the river off Euclid Avenue. Then they make phenomenal flights out into the country to eat. They are really “herd birds.”


Additional entries will be added as Phil's personal journals are reviewed.

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